How Bollywood eats, and cheats4 min read . Updated: 07 Nov 2019, 09:18 AM IST
Celebrity chef Shilarna Vazé’s debut book, ‘Party Like A Star’, deconstructs catering for the A-list with handy tips to avoid pre-party meltdowns
Don’t judge this book by its title. Party Like A Star is classic click-bait. You might be briefly waylaid by the celebrity references but, on further reading, this is a book about prep lists, bar checklists and advice on budget-friendly professional help.
Its author, Mumbai-based Shilarna Vazé, has earned her culinary stripes with gourmet menus for Bollywood clients such as Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Sonam K. Ahuja. Fancy some Sev Puri Verrines? That is sev puri served in shot glasses. Turn to page 22 for the recipe.
The book doesn’t follow the standard template of a cookbook, which is recipes paired with photographs of enticing but impossible-to-achieve looks. Instead, Vazé clearly instructs readers on how to use the book in the introductory pages. There are detailed instructions on pre-prep, including buying groceries, cleaning the fridge, and nuggets of advice from her celebrity clients.
“When Penguin approached Vazé, our intent was to go beyond a cookbook to create a definitive guide that would inform readers about organizing parties that go from dinners with 15 guests to weddings of 500 invitees, with food being the centre of attraction," says Roshini Dadlani, editor, Penguin Random House India.
A sprinkling of celebrity anecdotes does work as salt and spice. In the book, actor Alia Bhatt talks about her preference for intimate gatherings. “When I am planning a party, the first thing I think of is how many people to invite," she says.
“If a Bollywood celebrity is throwing a party, they consider it a cheat day. Decadence is the underlying theme, with calorie-laden cheeses and desserts. They will book a date and choose food items they want on their party menu. Then, their assistants take over," says Vazé. Discretion is key while catering for these events. Away from the limelight, all they want is to be themselves.
The first chapter of the book is dedicated to intimate gatherings, featuring a menu from Bhatt’s birthday party last year. It begins with starters such as gluten-free pizza and quinoa bites with pesto, but progresses to hearty home fare with aloo fry and moong dal ka halwa.
Who is the book for: stars or fans? Vazé says it’s for anybody who loves to cook, eat and entertain without losing their sanity. “It happens even to us professionals. ‘Of course, we can make a sorbet!’ we say, forgetting the 35 degrees Celsius heat and the fact that it has to travel from our kitchen to the location," she writes in a chapter about brunches. Her straightforward approach hinges on being a “tell-all" about a culinary business that she and her chef husband Christophe Perrin built from scratch. “I feel this book will help aspiring caterers start their own company," she jokes.
Planning party menus, from her two-year-old daughter’s birthday and Shahid Kapoor’s brunch to brand events like a Christmas spread of canapés for Louboutin, is Vazé’s everyday job. Organizing food, she insists, is not one person’s job—enlisting help is the only way to get the party started. After all, why should the host remain hungry or exceed the budget while entertaining? Don’t buy that ice bucket, borrow it. Don’t cook every dish, organize a potluck. If one of the guests is flaky about cooking for a potluck, ask them to buy dessert. A stand-out recipe for such parties is the Lamb Pasundi, a baked dish of mutton topped with eggs, from the recipe book of Vazé’s grandmother.
Alongside with celebrity menus are sample menus outlining the scope of these gourmet arrangements—but they don’t come with recipes. “Nobody is even going to try and make these. We have simplified the recipes because it’s not a book about me as a chef. I have thought about what people would like to cook," she says.
The absence of dish images is conspicuous—a food book hinges on photographs. There are some other misses. Cocktail recipes are missing from a book about throwing parties. The wedding section could have offered more than sticking to stereotypes like biryanis.
But the book does offer intriguing insider tips, such as organizing a flying buffet—a favourite at Sonam K. Ahuja’s parties. At most events, when guests stand in queue for the buffet, it signals the end of a party. A flying buffet essentially implies small portions of dishes from the main course served in a single bowl. Each bowl is then placed on trays and circulated like starters. “It offers variety because you have composed meals. For instance, Moroccan leg of lamb with a sweet potato mash and orange salsa verde topped with almond slivers and pomegranate with tabbouleh, all in one dish. It is how the chef composed the main course and wants to serve it. You eat while chatting with your guests with drinks in hand, without realizing that it’s the buffet," explains Vazé.
Vazé highlights the need to start pre-prep three days before a party and keep handy a few versatile sauces, condiments and oil blends. For the central theme of a party should be to have fun without sweating the small stuff. “It’s important to think of cooking in that sense also—what stays, what you can keep, what you can just whip out and what doesn’t take too much planning," she says.
Is there a celebrity whose inputs she missed? “I wanted Sonam to share tips for an event at her house for which we have never catered. It’s her annual Diwali party. Her home cook makes legendary food and I have always wondered how. His Punjabi dishes are to die for," she says. On further prodding about celebrity homes known for great food, she reveals that Aamir Khan’s mom makes exceptional seekh kebabs and biryani. “Those recipes have been passed on to other households like (actor) Imran Khan’s," she says.
Party Like A Star (Penguin Random House India) releases this week.