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This Chinese team will take over your kitchen

For almost the same price as a Chinese takeout, a team of chefs will prepare Hong Kong specialties in your kitchen, while you sit back and enjoy your party. They bring their own gas cylinders, woks, cooking oil and -- here comes the best part -- even clean up before they leave

When Cindy Chan answered her phone, three days before our dinner for six, she was caught in the middle of traffic. Strapped for time, she took down our details hurriedly. She wanted to know how many guests we'd be expecting, how many of them ate vegetarian food, and how many like their meat. She asked whether we had looked at her menu and if we had any specific preferences.


Chef Ng Mo On and sous chef Rekha Gurung get busy in the kitchen two
hours before the guests are scheduled to arrive. They were working in
Hong Kong, when they were hired by Cindy Chan, one of the five founders
of Chopsticks Catering Private Limited, which specialises in private
dining experiences. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar


She wanted to know if we had any allergies or special dietary restrictions, and, mainly, noted our e-mail address. Interrogation complete, Chan offered to send us a customised menu by evening and sure enough, her mail had arrived before sundown.



A native of Hong Kong, Chan runs a catering company called Chopsticks Catering Private Limited, with Catherine Walsh. The firm was launched in Hong Kong in 2008, and they hired Chef Ng Mo On and sous chef Rekha Gurung when they set up base in India last year.


Tofu in Black Bean Sauce, served with steamed rice

Chan's team specialises in bringing exquisite Chinese dishes to customers -- straight from the client's own kitchen. A few hours before your party, Chan and her team will land up at your doorstep and take over your kitchen. Rest assured, you can sit back and enjoy your party.


Eggplant with Chilli Bean Sauce

We chose to serve Chicken Portuguese (Macau) Style, Fried Beef with Pineapple slices, Coca-Cola drumsticks, Fried Prawns Fu Yung Eggs, Eggplants with Chilli Bean Sauce and Tofu in Black Bean Sauce with steamed rice, which cost us Rs 4,870. (Chan also charged Rs 600 for conveyance). While spending Rs 911 per head seemed like a bit much at first, we remembered that an Indian meal for six that we had ordered a few days ago (Kathi Rolls, Butter Chicken, Butter Paneer and Khatte Aloo) had set us back Rs 5,000.

"We will be there two hours beforehand and bring everything we need," Chan informed us, careful to point out that they don't have servers to pass the food around. "We will prepare the food, lay it out on the table and clean up your kitchen before we leave," she explained, laying out exactly what their service included.Full of beans despite their traffic-ridden drive from Kurla (E), the Chopsticks team rang our doorbell at 6.30 pm, exactly two hours before our guests were due to arrive. All they had with them was a giant cooler and a few over-sized bags which they lugged these directly into the kitchen and got to work without delay.

"Rekha, who is Nepalese, has been with us for a year," Chan said. "She was working at an upscale restaurant in Hong Kong when we asked her to come and be part of our team," says Chan, adding that the concept of private dining is very popular overseas. After experimenting with a few private functions in India last year, they decided to go live in April 2011.

"I understand the Indian palate better," smiles Chan, telling us how Indians prefer stronger flavours and more gravy in their food. "And we know how to operate according to Indian Standard Time, which means that dinner at 8.30 could mean we'd be serving it by 10 or even a little later," she laughs.

Here, there's also the matter of accommodating the restrictive diets of certain communities and though their menu includes a huge variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, Chan admits, "Chinese cuisine places a heavy emphasis on garlic and onions, so accommodating the Jain diet poses a problem."

In the manner of Mary Poppins, Rekha extracts a small gas cylinder from one of her bags, while Chef On lays out a bunch of bowls and boxes beside the stove. Some are filled with sauces, one filled with pickled cucumbers, a couple with marinated meats and one with a dark chilli sauce, which Chan points out, "is prepared with tiny shrimps, so do inform your vegetarian guests."

Most of the ingredients for their preparations are sourced locally. To ensure that the quality remains consistent, they don't change their suppliers either. For instance, their tofu is prepared by an Indonesian lady  who is married to an Indian, and is a resident of Mumbai. "When we first sampled her tofu, its texture was a lot like paneer," shares Chan, "So we told her to incorporate some changes. She altered her recipe."

We leave the team to do its work while we get dressed, and by the time we're ready, so is the food. But as our guests aren't here yet, the team decides to hold off on preparing the meats and putting on the last minute touches. Dishes are sent out one at a time when our guests are finally seated around the dining table -- it's embarrassingly close to 10 pm -- and each is beautifully arranged. Some are topped with purple orchids, others laid out simply, with an emphasis on the dish.

Accompanying sauces have been laid out on the table too as has a dish of white rice. The sweetish Coca Cola drumsticks with just the faintest suggestion of the soft-drink's flavour, and the Prawns Egg Fu Yung are the highlights of the meal and the Tofu in Black Bean sauce is devoured shamelessly. The Portuguese Chicken with its powerful coconut aroma is very good too, but the beef is a tad too well-done for some of us.

Chan is keen to expand their menu to include Fried Rice and Noodle dishes, and traditional Chinese desserts like Red Bean Soup and Tofu Blancmange. The kitchen is spotless well before we decide it's time to bring out the pastries we've bought, and the team has already made a quiet exit. We had hoped to ask them what herbs went into the Portuguese sauce, but there's no need to fret -- Chan did tell us they're happy to organise cooking demos for small groups as well.

Want to cook Chinese?
Here's what you'll need in your kitchen:
>> The wok can be used for everything from steaming and stewing, to smoking and stir-frying.
>> Bamboo steamers are used for serving as well as steaming -- they can be stacked atop each other to steam more than one layer of food simultaneously.
>> A wire strainer is required to remove deep-fried foods (like noodles for instance) from hot oil or boiling water.
>> Chinese clay pot dishes, which should be heated on stoves to keep the food hot for longer.
>> Five-Spice seasoning -- a combination of Szechuan pepper corn, cinnamon, fennel seeds, star anise, and either citrus peel, nutmeg, or cloves.
>> Most dishes would also require some soy, oyster (which comes in vegetarian Mushroom base varieties as well),  Black-bean, Hoisin which is a sweet, flavoursome soy, Chilli sauce and Sesame oil.

Call: Chopsticks Catering at 9769690924,
Mail: chopsticks.foodcatering@gmail.com

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