A lesson or two in celebrating love and life from a chef’s biggest muse and inspiration – their wives.
Contrary to belief, being a chef’s wife isn’t exactly a bed of roses. Consider this: They work during festivals; come home at wee hours of the morning; and their penchant for getting everything perfect is to a fault. Yet, when it comes to making any day special, they rely on no one but their better halves, who keep them happy, pampered, loved and in check – it’s a rule that at home, chefs do not enter the kitchen mostly.
I spoke to a few of the better halves to find the secret ingredient that whets these creative culinary wizards’ hearts and appetites – making their day special.
VIKAS AND PRATIMA SETH
Married for 13-years – including a year of courtship – Vikas and Pratima Seth come across, even today, as teenage lovers. The reason for this is their amazing compatibility. While Chef Vikas calls his wife his "rock", for Pratima, Vikas is the perfect"M&B" hero with more good than bad qualities. “He doesn’t complain at all, and is cool as a cucumber, even while I am jumping in rage,” says Pratima.
At home, sans chef whites: Says Pratima, “He is one of the best people to have around when you learn to cook. He is uncomplaining, and always has a thing or two to appreciate about your food. His favourite food is rajma chawal, which he can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Though Vikas is banned from the kitchen, he often sneaks in with their son Aditya to cook a good breakfast, which Pratima says, “is her big pay day in a week.”
Key to bliss: “One of the given things in our marriage is Vikas’ absence during festivals – be it Christmas, New Year, Diwali or even his birthday. But you cannot expect him to be present either – after all its season time. However, on the few occasions that he is at home, which is once a month, he is always helping around with chores, marketing and even putting the leftovers in the fridge. It’s his way of showing he cares, and spends time with me. On the days, I lose my cool, he even takes over teaching Aditya, so I can have my ‘me time’.” “Also, the last one decade has taught me that fights over petty issues are a spice of a good marriage. It ensures that you still want to have each other’s attention. The trick here is to not prolong it, and that has been one of the keys to my marital bliss,” says Pratima.
A Christmas Special: “I know that being with him this Christmas and New Year may not happen, but there is always a week to celebrate. So I have decided to make my own Christmas cake this time. I have soaked the dry fruits as per his instruction, and now let’s see how well the Christmas cake comes out. And just in case it doesn’t, there are always presents to make up with.”
PRADEEP AND JASMINE TEJWANI
A few years ago when Pradeep Tejwani traded in his chef coat for his own little venture called ‘Young Turks’, Jasmine was extremely supportive; right from managing finances to keeping her husband’s zeal to go on, despite failures and what society had to say. For Pradeep, Jasmine has always been the "worldly wise" one as well as the "beauty" in the relationship, Jasmine calls the Indian cuisine expert a “bubbly volcano ready to give helping hand in household chores or in the kids studies.”
At home, sans chef whites: Jasmine says, “Pradeep has four different avatars when at home. He is a child with the kids, peers with his elders and my best mate. Cooking, of course, is prohibited because of his habit of working in commercial kitchens. As a result, cooking is always an event. As a husband, he is dreadfully forgetful, but addictively charming purely because of his understanding and clear head. A good biryani is all he needs to get him into a good mood.”
Key to bliss: “Over the past one decade, I have learnt that some things do not need to be perfect, thanks to Pradeep. This has led to a sense of appreciation for each other. I still manage to have our time which is often, especially once the sense of monotony sets in. The fact that we both like food is a huge bonus; it becomes awfully easy to go on dates,” says Jasmine, who still dresses up for Pradeep.
A Christmas Special: “This Christmas is going to be very special as Pradeep and his two brothers are born around Christmas time. So this Christmas, given that Pradeep will be home after a long time, I plan to throw a surprise birthday for all three brothers.”
DHARMESH AND NEEHA KARMOKAR
She likes to supervise, he likes to eat. She likes to be healthy, he likes to be healthily pampered. She is a carefree bird, his attention to details and knowledge about food is meticulous. If you ever wanted to know how opposites attract, Silverbeach Café and Nom Nom owner and chef Dharmesh and his homemaker wife Neeha Karmokar are a perfect example. Yet, what keeps them going are their vows to never take each other for granted, and compare achievements.
At home, sans chef whites: “As a restaurateur, Dharmesh hardly gets time to cook, but is still a stickler for perfection, says Neeha, who humorously bemoans her husband’s habit of having every dish “Home-cooked, but served restaurant style." “You have to have everything in place right down to the salt, so a lot of time now goes in arranging and supervising that. And while Dharmesh is not complaining – he doesn’t throw a fit if the salad is not dressed well – he loves perfection in what you do. But food aside, he is still a college teenager. Love, TV and night drives still rule his list, when he is not playing with our son.”
Key to bliss: “If you think that being a restaurateur has given Dharmesh more time with us, then let me tell you it’s a fallacy. Running a business has more of its downs than ups with the no-two-days being the same. So cueing in to his mood has become imperative. And while it is a little tricky, there has been a perfect solution: Food. Over the period of our courtship and marriage, I have learnt that what works best to keep a chef husband happy is food – more so, food made with love. So now I try cooking whenever I want to make a day special.”
A Christmas Special: “Dharmesh loves black forest chocolate cake. So this Christmas eve, I will be making his favourite sweet dish along with laal-maas, despite the fact that he isn’t allowed to eat red meat. I guess this is a little treat he deserves for being good – and healthy – throughout the year.”
NACHIKET AND SHIVANGI SHETYE
A year may seem like a short time to understand the ups and downs of a married life. But for a couple that has dated as long as a well-matured Christmas cake, marriage, literally, is a step up for their years of togetherness. Owner, 36 Oak & Barley, Nachiket Shetye often jokes that his wife has turned him into an involuntary ATM. “I have had four to six vacations this year alone,” says the chef. He believes that Shivangi is what helps him remain stable, irrespective of the situation. In return, Shivangi calls him “her love and food hero” humorously adding,“I have begun my affair with food with him, which is good because we now both play second lead to food in our lives.”
At home, sans chef whites: “Nachiket”, says Shivangi, “lounges around, and has an undisputed affair with his Vaio – it’s the first thing he grabs in the morning – and often comes late from work and dozes off in front of the television. As ground rule, he isn’t allowed in the kitchen, but has to. Every morning he samples my feeble attempts at cooking breakfast, which are eggs and over-buttered toast. Though, a nit-picky person at times, the way to his heart is a simple dal – nicely made and lovingly presented.”
Key to bliss: “It was pretty early in our dating years that I had realized that for Nachiket food is going to be the first priority, which doesn’t mean I am not. So I decided to follow the same route and become a foodie, too. Though a bit tough initially, it has helped us bond better.”
A Christmas Special: “Since I cannot cook to save my life, presents are the best form to cheer Nachiket up. So we plan to travel to celebrate our anniversary, and Christmas to some exotic location with lots and lots of yummy food.”