For the grand celebration of Bollywood superstar Salman Khan’s 50th birthday last December, his family ordered a 50kg cake for Rs1 lakh. The cake was made by Mumbai-based Mish Mash Bakery. “It (the order) was very challenging, especially due to the name attached. Being his (Khan’s) 50th birthday, we did a 50kg cake,” says Shikha Murarka, a co-owner of the bakery with Shweta Somaiya. The order was given to them by Le 15 Patisserie and Studio Fifteen Culinary Centre’s Pooja Dhingra.
Murarka rattles off their impressive client list, including actors Sonam Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan and Anupam Kher. “These celebrity cakes come with a lot of challenge and a huge amount of madness, but are always fun,” she says.
With the advent of social media, we are able to get a glimpse of our favourite superstars—from the world of films or sports—on a daily basis. Social media is littered with stars’ photos with their favourite food or nutrition advisers on platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat. This creates good publicity not only for the restaurants they frequent but for the chefs working there as well. Dhingra, often featured in the social media posts of Sonam Kapoor, Parineeti Chopra and designer Masaba Gupta, has over 93,000 followers on Instagram. The 30-year old, who trained in French pastry-making at the Paris-based institute Le Cordon Bleu, has been featured in the Forbes’ 30 under 30 Asia 2016 list.
“There’s been a big shift in the last couple of years in the way people perceive food. This can be credited to travel and shows like MasterChef. People are more open to experimenting with their food and trying new things,” she says. When asked how different her celebrity clients are from regular ones, Dhingra clarifies, “Their choices are similar to our other clients though there might be some requests like gluten-free, sugar-free, etc.” She recently opened her first café in Mumbai—Le 15 Café—in collaboration with Pablito Naranjo Agular, a friend and fellow chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu.
The fine-dining experience in India, earlier limited to five-star hotels, has now moved to speciality restaurants. Apart from newcomers like Dhingra, seasoned chefs are also adapting this format. Manish Mehrotra, the chef behind the kitchen of Delhi’s Indian Accent, the only Indian restaurant to be featured in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list this year, says the reason for this shift is that stand-alone restaurants are becoming better than those in hotels.
“Indians are travelling more, and our per capita spending has increased. Eating out is just not about food any more, it’s about the whole experience,” says Mehrotra, who has worked in the Taj Hotels and Oberoi groups, among others.
He adds that the impression of Indian food is changing and people don’t associate “our food with just curries any more”. People are more aware and know their food and wines,” he says.
Indians are now ready to try new cuisines and flavours. But when dealing with celebrity diners, he says, the experience has been diverse. “Some celebrities who we have served left it completely to us but some have asked for so many exclusions that they ended up eating just steamed rice and stir-fried vegetables.”
Sanjeev Kapoor, who is one of the most well-known chefs in the country and runs his own chain of multi-cuisine restaurants, says the fine-dining experience in India is evolving every day. “Today, the purchasing power of people in major metros and tier II cities has increased, as has the exposure and willingness to experiment. This change in attitude and lifestyle, coupled with the availability of concepts such as pop-ups, restaurant weeks and degustation menus, makes it possible for people to enjoy the fine-dining experience without burning a large hole in their pockets,” says Kapoor, who stars in Asia’s longest-running cookery show Khana Khazana and owns the FoodFood channel.
“Nutritious, healthy and flavourful food—is the common denominator—celebrity or not,” he added.
Chef Ranveer Brar is no stranger to Indian food aficionados. Beginning his career with Taj Group of Hotels, he went on to become a judge on popular food reality show MasterChef India and host several other shows. “Fine-dining in terms of waiters in stiff collars carrying long menus has now been restricted to a niche. It has become more open and accessible to everyone,” says Brar, who has over 590,000 Twitter followers. Celebrity diners, he says, are now focusing on eating seasonal and local food, with an emphasis on high-protein diets.
Get on the health bandwagon
Exercising is crucial to staying healthy, but so is eating right. Rujuta Diwekar, one of the most well-known nutritionists in India, is credited with curating the diets of Reliance Group scion Anil Ambani and actress Kareena Kapoor to get them into shape. She also authored a series of bestsellers on eating right, including Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight and Women And The Weight Loss Tamasha, and believes in the concept of “eat local, think global”.
“It is a timeless idea and now there is a slow but sure trend of nutrition-regulating bodies adopting it too. Until now, they were coming across more like spokespersons for food companies instead of focusing on public health. My clients are firm believers in the concept of sustainability. In fact, it is one of the main reasons why they choose to work with me…. Planning is key here, so is adaptability,” she says.
When asked how her celebrity clients manage to stick to a diet plan, despite their hectic schedules, she says: “Choose local ingredients, make room for exercise…stay consistent with 150 minutes of exercise per week and fit that in your schedule at the start of the week. Learn to sleep on a hotel bed or on a flight, don’t complain and be grateful for the work opportunities that come your way—these are the few things that I have seen busy people do.”
With a rising awareness of food and health, India is on its way to becoming a culinary superpower. “People always spoke about Indian food, but no one considered it gourmet or a part of something special. But we are gradually getting there. We have had concepts for a long time, but haven’t been able to market them well,” says Mehrotra.
Red Velvet Cupcakes
Serving: Recipe makes 24 small cupcakes
55 g butter
150 g caster sugar
1tbsp red food colouring
1tbsp unsweetened cocoa
Half tsp vanilla essence
100 g yogurt
A pinch of salt
120 g flour
Half tsp cider vinegar
Half tsp baking soda
Preheat oven to 180 degrees
In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and caster sugar until very light and fluffy, for about 5 minutes. Add eggs. In a small bowl, whisk together the red food colouring, cocoa and vanilla essence. Add to the batter and beat well. In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the yogurt and give a slight whisk. Add to the batter. Now add the flour. In a separate bowl, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth. Line the moulds of a mini cupcake pan with liners. Pipe the batter into the cupcake liners till full. Bake each tray for 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for 1 hour. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
Cream Cheese Frosting
125 g cream cheese, cold
50 g butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla essence
300 g icing sugar, sifted
For the frosting, whisk the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the vanilla and beat well. Gradually add the icing sugar, whisking continuously, until smooth and creamy. Cover and refrigerate the frosting for two to three hours, no longer, before using. Pipe on cupcakes using a piping bag.
The Red Velvet Cupcakes recipe by Pooja Dhingra has also been featured on Sonam Kapoor’s app