What is love? While some may say love is found in the little gestures of kindness, some may argue and make a grand romantic gesture to counter the argument. The question, although very simple, is at the same time very complicated. It's soothing like the sun that warms the soul and brings a sense of comfort and belonging, the foundation upon which true happiness is built and the guiding light that leads us through the darkest times. Well, this is my interpretation of the emotion it evokes. It's not just a feeling, but a force that shapes and defines us.
Love is the one thing that we all share, the one thing that makes us human. We all yearn for it and it surely does bring with it true fulfilment. And although online dating in 2023 is a popular way to meet potential romantic partners, we've got some old-school love stories of a few leading ladies in the food industry. Their stories have everything from high-school sweethearts to finding romance at a rave. In our conversation with them, we asked them how they met their partners, their favourite spots for date-night, if their partner cooks for them, and what role food plays in their relationship.
As we follow the alluring stories of chefs Shilarna Vaze, Seefah Ketchaiyo, Niyati Rao and Anahita Dhondhy Bhandari, get ready to live vicariously through their stories and maybe learn a few things about relationships ourselves.
Edited excerpts from the interview.
Chef Niyati Rao
If we had to talk about a slow, budding romance that steals your heart, Chef Niyati Rao and Sagar Neve, co-founders of Ekaa, KMC and Mundo, have the perfect narration. The power couple, who very recently tied the knot, also featured in the Forbes 30Under30 list. Their's is a love story that blossomed seven years after they initially met and it fills you with butterflies as the sparks fly. To let you in on an adorably cute detail is that Ekaa stands as the genesis of their romance. Chef Niyati starts us off by saying, 'it's a story right out of a book. 10 years ago during the course of my education we were required to complete industrial training. I completed my training at JW Marriott and this is where I met Sagar for the first time, but we didn't talk much. 7 years later I received a text from him regarding a project (which would later be known as Ekaa). We started off as professional colleagues, but hours upon hours of conversations, planning sessions, meetings and a whole lot of other things, we found love and companionship in each other. Our first date, per se, happened sometime during the lockdown at Madh beach, when Sagar visited Madh Island for some work and I lived close by. But of course now when you ask me about our favourite date spot, it's Kofuku, hands down. Although once in a while, we just like to kick it back and stay in.'
We've all dreamt of finding the perfect love story at some point in our lives. But what we sometimes overlook are the clashes that happen in due time once the honeymoon phase is over. 'Sagar is very dependable. If he commits to something, it will be done and that's a quality that I admire a lot. He's kind and compassionate and he has always been very supportive of my dreams and aspirations. In a way he balances me, because I am a die-hard romantic and he is the chill and practical guy. Even though we've known each other for long, he still puts in his efforts, be it cheesy pick up lines or dancing to Govinda's songs. I think what we have when it comes to balancing our personal and professional lives comes very naturally to us. We do have our agreements and disagreements, but the trick for both of us is the right time to express these difficulties. We argue like professional colleagues at work but the goal remains to figure solutions together. And on bad days it still is the little things we do for each other, like passing him a doughnut or him leaving me little notes. We find joy in the little things we do for each other, like this one time when Sagar prepared the best buttery mash potatoes ever, knowing how much I crave decadent and comforting dishes made with a sincere heart. Gobbled it right up. If I may say so, food is the reason we are together. Ekaa is the reason we started talking or even met each other. One is always looking for a relationship as wholesome and real as food and that is what this turned out to be. Endless conversations about food as well as making and eating food is the epitome of what we are,' gushed chef Niyati when we asked her about the details of her chemistry with Sagar.
Chef Shilarna Vaze
Shilrana Vaze, or more popularly known as chef Chinu (thanks to her quirky instagram account that quite captures her bubbly personality) shares a love story with Christophe Perrin that's right out of a romance novel. She start's from the very beginning, telling us 'funny you ask, because I just put up a reel about this. We met at a rave in Goa. I thought Chris looked really cute and he thought I was underage. He even asked me for my ID to make sure. So that's how our story began. We had our very first date at Ashwem Beach and had our first kiss in the ocean and it was all so romantic. What I love about Chris is that he's just the sweetest person in the world. He's never rude to anybody. And he also tolerates all of my drama.'
After listening to just the first half of the story we couldn't stop ourselves from knowing more about this cutesy duo. After almost 16 years of togetherness we had to know what was their secret to a long lasting relationship. 'There is always an ongoing struggle when it comes to balancing our personal and professional lives. But I find comfort in the little routines of our day-to-day life like making it to yoga twice a week. I feel it's what keeps me calm and collected. When we do miss out on our personal time, we simply head out to the beach for a walk whenever we can. We love travelling together, exploring places that are known for good food. But when it comes to date night we both definitely prefer staying in, especially considering Chris is an outstanding cook. From a mean morel and truffle bucatini to making one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I've ever had, when we got home super late one night, he is a fantastic cook. And I say this because food defines us and many aspects of our lives. From our work, conversations, travel adventures with our daughter Zanskar, food is the foundation of our bond,' says chef Chinu.
Chef Seefah Ketchaiyo
We are all very familiar with the mastermind duo behind Bandra's Seefah restaurant (and if you aren't, you ought to visit this Thai and Japanese restaurant at the earliest). Married to Karan Bane, chef Seefah met her now-husband at Four Seasons' San Qi, where they worked together and slowly cooked up not just great food but a fantastic love story as well. 'Our first date was almost 12 years back. I asked him out for a movie and he picked out X-Men, which we watched in Sterling Cinema. But if you ask me now, we'd rather stay in for a date night, considering we always spend most of our time outside and in the kitchen as well at Seefah. So, home is always our favourite place to be, it's just more relaxing and comfortable. The cherry on top is that Karan is actually a great cook. He's always cooking for me, he knows what I like and my taste in food. His food can make me feel better anytime. Food has always played an important part in our story. It was the reason we met and are still together. Our lives revolve around it, in a way to speak,' said chef Seefah.
Been together for 12 years, they surely had their own ups and downs and of course in due time a solution to overcome these troubles without any compromises on their relationship. To this she said, 'we are very clear about our work and boundaries in terms of duties and responsibilities, we will not cross each other, but yes, we do try to advise each other on the matter at hand. The mantra we follow is "when you don't have a problem at the professional front, the personal front always remains happy". When things get a little cumbersome or we lose out on much needed personal time we just decide to go on a short trip, it helps bring back the equilibrium. And it really helps that Karan is calm, cool, honest and sincere. I have never seen him get aggressive and I think these qualities are really important in a relationship if you are looking at it in the long run.'
Chef Anahita Dhondy Bhandari
When one talks about Parsi food, it's hard to leave chef Anahita Dhondy Bhandari out of the conversation. But today as we talk to chef Anahita, it's more about her equation with her husband Arush Bhandari, to whom she's been married to for six years. 'We first met in and went on to be really good friends before we started dating. We've known each other for almost 18 years now. Our very first date was at Olive, Mehrauli. It was one of the fanciest fine-dining places and a recommendation of mine (beacuse I really wanted to go there). Fun fact: 10 years later I also worked with the brand. For date nights we mostly just order pizza and enjoy it with some wine or maybe sometimes Chinese or just whip up some egg toast at home. What I most admire about Arush is that his energy is infectious. He will make you very comfortable and at ease. He is a great person to have a conversation with. And not to forget he is a big foodie. He is always excited to spend time in the kitchen and is very hands-on. He makes the most amazing breakfasts. Recently he made shakshuka, when I was just done cleaning and let him know I was in no mood to cook. He is very understanding. Naturally with him being a foodie and me working day in and out with food, it plays a very important role and is a key factor in our relationship. Our very plans to travel depend on the food there. We love to explore street food and restaurants. It is something that, I feel, connects us.'
When we asked chef Anahita how they make up for time lost with each other, she said, 'I try and take time out equally for both my personal and professional life and prioritise when need be. I'll jump in and offer my support whenever he is tied up with his commitments and he'll do the same for me. We try to find that balance between our jobs. And when we come back home we try to take time out for each other whenever it is possible. There are times when I do miss out on family events and both our families are aware of the nature of my work in the industry and I couldn't be more grateful for all the understanding and support from Arush and our families.'
Aayushi is that friend who won’t let you take a bite without capturing it. For her, the easiest but still thoughtful way of making someone feel special is by cooking or getting them their favourite food. Currently, she’s on an expedition to integrate all her favourites: food, social media and marketing, so that you don't miss the hottest spot in town and you know where to eat those crispy and juicy chicken wings.