With the utmost care, Sarmishta Sheth, all of eighty, folds the powdered pistachio into the traditional home-crafted shrikhand to create her signature creamy yoghurt-based dessert that boasts a delicious crunch and green highlights. The pride, the meticulousness is the hallmark of the products and services of Sarmishta and her son, Saurin Sheth, whether they cater for 30 or for 300. No half measures and cutting of corners here.
Sarmishta, one of the first graduates of the Food Kraft institute, transmitted her love for good food to Saurin, who joined her catering business in 1986. They were joined in 2003 by Saurin’s teacher wife Vaishali and the merry trio continues to delight their customers.
The catering business flourishes in the festive season, roughly September through March. The order book is full and they work without holidays. They maintain a purely vegetarian menu and cater largely to traditional Gujarati functions. Their services are also in demand for the more recently trending baby showers and suchlike and even private parties.
In this very traditional set up, they have infused a flexible corporatization that ensures that their set up is run on oiled wheels.
They have fixed areas of work and boundaries, which Saurin Bhai admits frankly, they sometimes cross in the interests of the business. On days that they have to cater a dinner, Sarmishta supervises the cooking with an eagle eye, and can be seen in the kitchen with the chefs from morning until 8pm. The recipes are her babies, ‘generated by her and taught to the chefs’. Seldom does she interfere with the tasting and the quality check of the prepared meal; that is Vaishali’s domain. Neither does she venture into planning the menu for the event. This too is handled by Vaishali who comes in at around noon and stays to supervise the serving of the meal from the kitchen. Saurin himself goes in at around 4.30 pm to check the staff and so on.
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Saurin laughingly discloses that he is practically ‘not needed in the business anymore, unless it’s a particularly large party’. The mother-in-law – daughter-in-law duo manage just fine without him. Their equations are nicely ‘established’ says a contented Saurin Bhai. Having worked together for so long, they are fine-tuned to each other’s needs and concerns.
The bonhomie and good cheer carries over to the home, where they are a joint family. A team of old retainers maintain the home and the kitchen just the way it was taught to them by an earlier generation of women; this leaves Sarmishta and Vaishali free to exercise their skills at work. Saurin himself has diversified into supplying to other hotels and is involved in the catering only when he is needed.
With three individuals working for a single goal – a perfectly curated, prepared and presented meal – there is bound to be disagreement. They, however, resolve their issues by accepting that everything cannot be done. “For instance” says Saurin, “if I ask them for a particular thing, and they say that is the one thing that has not been done, then I get a little annoyed. But then I understand that everything cannot be perfect” Reciprocally, his mother and wife overlook his occasional oversight. “We see each other’s faces and know what the other is thinking.” Clearly, it is this understanding and mutual respect that keeps them ticking.
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Sarmishta, Saurin and Vaishali believe in finding flavor in what they do. One of the trademark recipes of the Sheth caterers is the Bhel Sanchori. It consists of a samosa patti stuffed with freshly mixed bhel, fried and served hot. If it gets cold, they fry fresh pieces. No doubt, they maintain the same scrupulousness in their unique triangular equation.
The Sheths have no children and Saurin declares, without a trace of regret – “I think I am lucky”. An incomparable recipe for contentment! Just like their sabzi takatak!