By Pushpesh Pant
New Delhi [India], April 30 (ANI): We have in recent months moved far ahead of destination weddings and designer trousseaus.
The latest emerging trend is bespoke catering.
The historical evolution of bespoke catering (also referred to as designer parties carrying signatures of celebrity chefs) can be traced back at least three decades. Legendary food impresario Jiggs Kalra had curated Shiv Jatia's daughter's wedding banquet creating a sensation.
Jiggs was a man much before his time and at this do he assembled a star cast none of whom had ever stepped out of their iconic perches. Sadanand Maiya of MTR, Bablu from Rambabu Paratha Bhandar Agra, Osman to prepare vegetable galouti from Lucknow and internationally celebrated patisserie Schutzenberger, from Hong Kong. What a dazzling show was put up by performers at the Dancing Woks! Jiggs busted the myth that it is only marriage feasts that require the designer treatment.
What he laid out for visiting Royals Prince of Wales and Princess Dianna at Jaipur or for commercially important clients for Lohia Scooters at Kanpur, or at the Bajpayi Musharraf Summit at Agra were lovingly conducted flavour symphonies no less. Each one is a masterpiece. Alas, a stroke confined him to a wheelchair and the momentum was lost.
It took a quarter-century before enterprising chefs began to pick up lost and tangled treads. Just before the COVID pandemic wrecked the hospitality business designer catering had gathered critical mass. Chefs and chefs collectives were doing lively business feeding more than 1000 guests of well heeled hosts at rates over Rs. 4,000 per plate. Large base kitchens were set up with a fleet of refrigerated vans and movable kitchen brigade to be deployed on different fronts.
These events have begun to pale with Hollywood Weddings with glitterati celebrities upto 1000 plus guests at Rs 15,000 per pax with celebrity chefs performing 6-7 stations.
Chef Gautam Chowdhary, who started his culinary journey from the Taj is a pioneering veteran of 'bespoke catering'. Running a company of his own he has 'been there, seen and done it all' by now. When he was still freelancing he was part of a mega event in Ras al Khaim in the UAE with a banquet for 35, 800 guests at 145 Dirham per head! The Arab Sheiks are known to think big and spend big.
The chef admits that this was not so much a designer even as a Kumbh Mela flaunting mot austerity but wealth. A product launch (a Computer game) in Dubai had a smaller guest list but no less lavish a spread. 125 handpicked guests were treated to a very special High Tea with 125 odd delicate bites tightly packed on the table more than 60 feet long. A train of 51 Lamborghinis drove to the destination whetting up appetites.
Designer catering today is a pan India phenomenon not confined to Amritsar, Ludhiana, and Chandigarh. Tier two towns like Meerut, Moradabad are attracting the best talents in the market. Celebrity chefs leave cooking chores to their juniors their participation like the literary lions in a lit fist commands a hefty appearance fee. Hyderabad is fast emerging as the Banqueting Capital of India.
People in the city of nizams still talk about the wedding invitation card for NTR Jr printed in the Newspaper requesting everyone to come and grace the occasion. The langar continued non stop 24X7. For GVK Reddy's grand daughter's marriage, Shah Rukh Khan had consented to perform and Big B sat next to GVK. Some of the radiance was created by celebrity chefs also. However, a distinction should be made between shock and awe-inspiring mega-events and lovingly curated chiselled gems.
The memory Chef Chowdhary cherishes most is of a designed surprise all meals in a day for just three guests! This was the thanksgiving of a son to commemorate his parent's diamond jubilee. Their grandson specially flew in from Australia for the occasion. The host realized that the minuscule number of diners would raise the costs astronomically and wrote a blank cheque giving the chef a free hand. From bed tea to nightcap all meals were meticulously planned with enough variety to suit the different generational palate. This was catering a la Saville Row.
The Vegetarian Challenge is no less daunting. The Uber-rich Jain industrialists and Marwari entrepreneurs observe some food taboos. Not all exotic imported ingredients can be used. There is an increasing demand for trendy vegan delicacies.
Wild mushrooms and saffron, caviar and quails have begun to jade the palate of a generation brought up on Cakes and Ale.
Chefs have begun to dabble in territory reserved for illusionists. Food has to be not only delicious but also intriguing and entertaining. Kebab is suspended in mid-air with the help of magnets, edible tamarind balloons, Foam casting a mysterious veil over the delicacy on the plate and interactive fusion menus. The narrative has just resumed. It is difficult to foretell how it will unfold.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the above article are that of the writer and do not reflect that of ANI. (ANI)
Bespoke catering - composing culinary symphonies
ANI | Updated: Apr 30, 2022 18:13 IST
By Pushpesh Pant