W. SREELALITHA learns what it takes to prepare the wedding feast
Behind all that glitz and glamour of a wedding is an important and indispensable aspect: food. Even when the couple celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, old timers talk about how the jaangiri or the rasam tasted heavenly at their wedding or how the kootu was terrible and the sambar was not kaaram enough.
Though wedding kitchens may conjure up images of cooks happily whipping up payasam in a huge andaa, it is no mean task.
“Preparations begin at least two or three days in advance”, says P.N. Suresh, head of Kovai Maavatta Samaiyal Kalignyargal Sangam (Association of Cooking Artistes, Coimbatore District). “Sweets must be prepared, the batter has to be ready for the likes of idli and dosa, and provisions must be purchased based on the menu.”
Says P. Ravi of Sai Lakshmi Caterers, who has been in the business for over a decade, that savouries are done a day before, and the rest is “spot cooking”. Incidentally, Ravi is the nephew of Angadipuram Krishna Vadyar who began the catering contract in Coimbatore way back in the 1960s, and handled seven to eight weddings in a day!
Ravi says that a lot has changed since his uncle’s time. Agrees Suresh, also the proprietor of Parvathy Catering. Nearly 25 years in the business, he says the difference is tangible. “With a paltry Rs. 1,000, one could feed a huge crowd then. But today, food expenses alone run to several lakh rupees.”
From the conventional veshti-clad servers to the immaculately-dressed butlers (with their gloves intact) now, there’s a lot of difference today. However, what has changed the most is the menu itself. “From traditional South Indian meals, many now go in for an extensive combination of North Indian items,” says Ravi. “Rumali roti, kulcha, malai kofta, and paneer tikka are all common these days at a South Indian wedding. In fact, Chettinad items too have begun finding favour among customers now,” adds Suresh.
Says Mala Murthy of the eight-year-old Mala Murthy Catering: “From the traditional elai saapadu, we are now into buffets. Beedas have replaced vethalai, and payasams by ice-cream with a sweet.”
Does everything go by plan, every time they cook for weddings? “Not really,” says Ravi. “Sometimes, the facilities at the wedding hall may not be adequate. Water, and even the floor could be a problem. Slippery marble and granite floors give the cooks a hard time. Why, even finding cooks and servers becomes a hassle, especially during heavy muhurthams.” Sometimes, the amount is decided many months before the wedding, and a huge price difference could be a bit of a bother. That’s where the customer cooperation comes into play, he says.
But the biggest worry of them all is the food shortage. How do they handle it? Says Ravi: “An excess turn out of 10 to 15 per cent can always be managed. Anything more, and vegetable biryani becomes vegetable kichdi, and the dosa batter for tomorrow becomes uthappam today, to the accompaniment of a swiftly-prepared tomato chutney.”
Most caterers are prepared and well-equipped to handle food deficit or excess to a certain extent. Mala says that they always prepare a little in excess. “Say, for instance, the crowd expected is 600, we can handle up to 700,” she adds.
“If the preparation is for 500 people and the turn out is only 300, then it is the customer’s fault. But if the preparation for 500 people suffices only 300, then it is the caterer’s fault,” smiles Ravi.
Interestingly, many of the caterers or the customers themselves arrange for the excess food to reach an orphanage. “Unfortunately, only excess breakfast and lunch can be given away, for it is past supper time by the time dinner at weddings is over,” says Ravi.
Someone recently commented that ICS was Indian Cooking Service. Well, I would like to call it serious business!