The life of a party
Caterer to Bollywood's stars, Shilarna Vaze wants to help you execute your next party like a pro, and she's sharing all she knows in her first book
While growing up in Juhu, Shilarna Vaze had two dreams: To live in Goa and eat good food. "I realised this was possible if I became a chef," says co-owner of Gaia Gourmet, who is out with her first book, Party Like a Star (Penguin).
She says the email ID she used back in college was firstname.lastname@example.org—a sign of things to come. It turns out, in 2008, she met Christrophe Perrin, now her husband and business partner, on a Goa trip. Together, they started Gaia, a beach-front restaurant on Ashwem Beach, moving back to Mumbai in 2010 to start the sushi delivery service Ninja Sushi and later Gaia Homechef, which is now a high-end catering service.
"I grew up in a family obsessed with food, and around amazing cooks. When we returned to Mumbai, one good catering account led to another," says Vaze , who has catered for everyone from Katrina Kaif to Karan Johar's mother Hiroo and Sonam Kapoor to Alia Bhat. Vaze's menu was even served at Priyanka Chopra's engagement party last year.
The title of her book is legitimate, for she writes from experience and shares hacks she has picked up on the job. The book is for anyone who wants to throw a shindig, from an intimate house gathering of 10 to creating the perfect setting for a brand.
"We are not star struck. I grew up in Juhu and my husband is from a village in Switzerland!" Vaze humours us. From having planes set to collect ingredients to photographers being flown down to take portraits of guests, the lavish soirees Vaze has catered at are usually Gatsby-style.
The book will turn you into the host she is, someone who has everything under control. We got Vaze to share with you some first-hand tips.
What's your party type?
Vaze breaks every process down meticulously according to the type of gathering she is planning for. "First, it is crucial to identify the type of party—casual, formal, celebratory.
Chef Shilarna Vaze
All parties can be slotted into one of three categories—1 to 10 guests, 10 to 100 guests and 100 to 300 guests. This leads to the decision on whom to invite. Mixing crowds in an intimate group is something I'd never recommend," Vaze points out.
"For guests, there is only one red flag: if the alcohol is over, it's time to go home," she says. But hosts, on the other hand, should look out for lulls. "In case of awkward silences, do a round of shots, play a game, change the music or just start serving the food. Sometimes, people are just hungry and waiting to eat."
Reign the floor
In India, guests want to eat late, especially when there's a bar open. "It is something my Swiss husband never understands. 'Why can't they eat first and then drink? It won't give them a hangover,' he wonders. However, hosts should give a leeway to late eaters, but keep a timeline that is comfortable for them," advises Vaze .
When you are throwing a party, you are likely to get overwhelmed. One thing Indians don't do easily is ask for help. "It is a great idea to rope guests who want to help to set the table or fix a salad. Delegating is key." When the group is larger than 25, it's a good idea to hire a caterer and bartenders.
Menu planning and execution
Vaze's thumb rule is to use all the appliances in the kitchen. "This is instrumental if you want to simplify the menu execution. Make one dish that you can bake in the oven, one that needs the gas, a cold salad that can be assembled on a table, and think of a dessert that can be frozen and stored in the refrigerator in advance. She thinks biryani is a good main since it can be prepped three days in advance. "Do the shopping three days prior, prepare the masala, curry paste, fry the onions, ready the saffron water and garnishes. On the day, all you have to do is assemble the mix and put it on the stove to cook."
Party like a celeb
Shahid Kapoor's birthday brunch
Mira Kapoor and Vaze planned a brunch around the theme, summer sundowner and lemons, at their beach-front house with a vegan menu comprising Asian, Mexican and Mediterranean food. Mason jars were filled with sand and hung from jute ropes; wooden crates were used to set up the buffet table and a blackboard listed the mocktails. Big lemons were cut in half and used as name tag holders. Brunches are all about food, so think colourful tables inspired by Pinterest. Plan easy starters, cold food, one or two hot mains and ask friends to get dessert.
Alia Bhatt's house party
Take inspiration from Alia Bhatt's birthday party menu, which had circulating starters like lotus root kebabs with pudina aioli, gluten-free pizza, burnt garlic prawns with lemon caviar to mains of kacche gosht ki biryani, lagan ka murg and homemade baingan bharta. In the book, Bhat confesses that she loves intimate gatherings where you meet people you love, eat, drink and make memories.
Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao's Diwali bash
Aamir and Kiran threw a big Diwali party in 2017 instead of the intimate evening they usually do around the festival. It had a chaat station, galouti kebab station, a biryani station and Gaia Gourmet's famous taco station.
Be a smart host
- Make sure you clear out your fridge and freezer before you go shopping for the party.
- Finish cooking before the guests arrive. Make sure your house, nor you, smell of garlic and garam masala.
- Flowers, candles and lights are the easiest way to lift the ambiance. Once you pick a look, two or three items should help you achieve it. Focus areas must include entrance, dinner table and bar counter.
- When planning an outdoor barbeque or picnic, look up online how to set a grill and use charcoal. Ask friends and family to chip in for a potluck. These are the best parties to include all age groups. You'll need an ice box for meats.
Orange Almond Cake
Yield: One baking tray (9 inches X 7 inches) | Prep Time: 15 minutes
1 cup castor sugar
1 ¼cup almond powder
1/8 cup all-purpose flour (swap with quinoa or rice flour for a gluten-free version)
½ tsp baking powder
Orange marmalade for glazing
- Preheat the oven to 180 degree Celsius.
- Pressure cook the whole malta with peel for three to four whistles till it is cooked and soft. After it has cooled, remove the seeds and blend into a paste, peel and others. You should have ¾ cups of paste.
- Sieve and weigh the flour, castor sugar and almond powder into a mixing bowl. Add the baking powder to this mixture.
- Start whipping whole eggs and add sugar gradually till soft peaks form.
- Slowly add the dry ingredients and the orange paste. Use your spatula to make a cut in the middle of the batter and fold gently till everything is mixed well together.
- Line the baking tray with butter paper and bake for 20–30 minutes at 180 degree Celsius. Insert a toothpick in the centre of the cake to check if done. If it comes out clean, the cake is ready. If there is any residue, continue cooking until done.
- Glaze with orange marmalade.
Spanish Paprika Prawns
Yield: For 3–4 people | Prep Time: 30 minutes for the sauce +15 minutes for the prawns
The sauce for this dish is a dream to have stashed in your fridge. Toss up everyone's favourite aglio olio pasta with it or simply use as a dipping sauce for freshly baked bread. It also works amazingly well with fish and chicken.
Aglio olio sauce
1 cup chopped garlic (150 gm)
¼ cup chilli flakes (30 gm)
¼ cup oregano
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cup olive oil
(approximately 360 ml)
Spanish paprika prawns
12–15 pieces tiger prawns or
1 kg medium-sized prawns
1 tsp sea salt
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup cream
Couple of sprigs of parsley, chopped
Lots of lemon wedges
Aglio olio sauce: Add olive oil and chopped garlic to a saucepan, and let it cook slowly on a low flame for 20 minutes while stirring. Take the garlic off the heat and add chilli flakes, oregano and salt. This sauce keeps for two weeks in a glass jar at room temperature.
Prep the prawns: Keep the shell on the prawns. Use kitchen scissors to cut down the middle to remove the vein. Wash and pat dry. Rub salt on the prawns.
Spanish paprika prawns: Take 1 tsp of just the oil from the garlic-and-chilli-flakes mixture. Heat a large, wide pan till very hot. Add oil and prawns.
Press the prawns down so that the shell gets a nice char. After 2 minutes on each side, add about ½ cup of the aglio olio chilli oil and cook for 5 minutes or till done.
Add lemon juice and cream.
Serving: Take it off the heat and top with chopped parsley. Serve with crusty bread and lots of lemon wedges.
If you have a group of friends over to watch a match, make sure the food is easy to pick with forks or fingers. Keep things simple. Don't slog in the kitchen. Opt for a one-pot dish like khao suey, sort out dips, or ask you mom to send her signature dish over.
Setting the table
Your table should have one hero dish, a roast or a big bowl of burrata roast pepper orange pasta, for instance. It is your big presentation. All other dishes will be supporting actors. One tip is to place food at different heights: use a big bowl, a platter, deep dishes and smaller utensils on stands. This gives your set-up a lift. Decorate with plants, pebbles or flowers.
Keto, vegan, gluten-free preferences, a quinoa salad can be one safe item on the menu. In case of severe allergies or fussy kids, it is okay to ask your guest to carry their food.
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