What do you do on a weekday night when you are back home tired after a very busy day and you realise that your dinner isn’t quite ready on the table? You turn to the maps on your phone for the nearest fine dining restaurant – or probably turn to a gourmet catering service at home.
It might sound like an oxymoron, but sit down – gourmet catering at home is here to stay. The ‘maximum city’ alone has about five to six small players who operate from their small kitchens to provide a gourmet experience to the client in the comfort of their homes.
It was when Varun Sheth returned to India in October 2010 after his stint at a Mario Batali restaurant in Manhattan that he realised that there was a niche in the cuisine market that was waiting to be explored. It was the personalised dining experience – that too of gourmet food, with smaller groups of people in the familiar environment of their homes that no one had yet thought of catering to.
Varun’s venture – 1tablespoon launched in 2010 is one such place that brought gourmet dining experience to the masses – where it is not just limited to the celebrities anymore. And not just that, most of these caterers come to your home, bring their own cutlery, table décor, cleaning staff and leave the place in a way as though nothing ever happened.
Somewhat similar to Varun is what drove Chef Joshua D’Souza and Neha Manekia to open their own specialized gourmet venture called Silverspoon. Both hoteliers for more than five years, the couple met at Ritz Carlton in Bahrain and moved to India only to realise that the market for specialized catering of gourmet food was abuzz with activity.
From a two member team and a make shift kitchen, 1tablespoon has risen to five members and a central kitchen in Matunga. Silverspoon has also steadily grown from their kitchen close to Mumbai Central station and now have five permanent staff.
“The first few clients were friends and family – and when we realised that this could work we started telling our friends to suggest our services to their friends – largely relying on word of mouth,” Neha said.
This is how this gourmet dining service works – one could give them a phone call and fix the dates. This would be followed by deciding the menu which according to them, usually happens online. After the payment is made and the menu finalized – on the D-day they are there at the house ensuring that the host does not have to raise a finger.
All this at a price that is almost one-third of what a fine dining restaurant might charge for their gourmet cuisine. Joshua said, “Our three-course meals start at 800 rupees per person, so we are really not talking numbers here.”
Sometimes it is so discreet that people gift dinners to their friends, something that Joshua described with amusement. He said, “When we went to the guest’s house and told him that we were there to serve them gourmet cuisine, they were in for a surprise. It was only when we told them their friend’s plan that he realised what was going on.”
But why would people want to eat at their house when they could easily go to a restaurant. Neha feels that people have slowly come to understand that it is better to stay at home and enjoy dinner rather than going to a 100-seater restaurant where you are one of many.
“Alcohol as an accompaniment is becoming more expensive day by day. People have begun to understand that it is okay to stay in. It is just not about going to the next Chinese takeaway,” she added.
While earlier most of the ingredients used to be sourced from abroad, nowadays vegetables and fruits are available from local farms as well. Varun said, “Two years back we got broccoli from abroad. Now we get most of the vegetables in India.” Though both of them agree that the sauce, cheese, bread and some specialised ingredients have to be sourced from abroad to whip up that sumptuous taste and flavour of a gourmet experience.
Most of them have wonderful experiences of catering to various sets of people often with stories that they recount later. Varun says, “Most of the smaller parties have alcohol as well and people end up sharing intimate stories of their own lives with completely unknown people,” breaking into a mischievous grin as he says that.
But the women of the homes must be particularly skeptical of completely unknown people taking over their kitchens. Not at all, said Neha. “In fact the women are more forthcoming, considering they do not have to worry about the dishes and the cutlery for a day. More importantly, they do not have to clean up after dinner.”
Sreena Joshi who availed of the services of 1tablespoon is all praises for their service. The owner of a lifestyle service company, she said, “It is their cleanliness that makes me go back to them several times for their services. I just love the way they not only cook, but keep the house spick and span.”
But things do go wrong sometimes, like what happened with 1tablespoon when they served guests in the middle of the ocean – on a yacht! “We were not prepared to handle a situation on a vessel like that. Things got delayed, we couldn’t manage some of the dishes and on hindsight I wish we were better prepared for such an event.”
It helps that most of the people who take to this service are well-travelled and know their ravioli from their pizza, their Bolognese sauce from the Mexican. Both Joshua and Varun attribute the interest in gourmet cuisine to another effect – they fondly call the Masterchef effect. The specialized cook show has done wonders for people like them, they agree.
So, from a multi course meal for a guy proposing to his fiancé to a 50-year old couple celebrating their marriage anniversary – specialised gourmet cuisine is here to stay.