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May 04, 2017

Shilarna Vaze And Christophe Perrin Talk About Their Adventures With Food

Text by Tina Dastur. Photograph by Manasi Sawant. Make-Up and Hair by Shreya Suvarnkar

She’s Indian, he’s Swiss, and the duo serves up everything from Mexican, Maharashtrian and Japanese to Burmese and authentic French cuisine

Walking into their Juhu residence, the first thing that catches my eye are two photo frames in the living room. In one, the pair stand proud in their chef jackets while the other shows them locked in an embrace on their wedding day. Just then, Shilarna Vaze enters and exclaims, “It’s our fifth wedding anniversary today, so we’re heading to Goa this evening!” An apt occasion to recount when she first caught sight of her better half Christophe Perrin, Vaze reminisces, “We met at a rave party in Goa, where I totally hit on him. He thought I was 12 years old and asked for my ID card. I was 25 for the record!”

Born and raised in Mumbai, Vaze’s fascination with all things epicurean started at the age of four when she was busy scarfing down crab curries, while Perrin, who grew up in the Swiss town of Leysin, knew how to whip up a pasta when he was eight, thanks to his chef father Roger Perrin.

After attaining a Diplome de Cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, Vaze was working at a few restaurants in Goa when she met Perrin, who aside from being a chef, is also a trained horticulturist. Given their culinary predilections, they decided to open their restaurant Gaia on Goa’s Ashvem Beach, in 2010. Speaking about what inspired the name, Vaze explains, “James Lovelock wrote the Gaia hypothesis about the earth as a living, self-regulating organism. It represents what we believe — connecting to the earth while cooking.”

Looking for a larger canvas, the couple moved to Mumbai, which is where Gaia Home Chef — now Gaia Gourmet — was born almost by accident, in 2011. Vaze tells me how they stumbled into the business, saying, “I missed having good sushi in the city, so I started Ninja Sushi. While that was ongoing, our first clients asked us to cater a baby shower. Since we are chefs by profession, we did it and then realised that it actually made sense.”

Today, Gaia Gourmet is an upscale catering company with a star-studded clientele ranging from celebrities like Sonam Kapoor, Farhan Akhtar and Alia Bhatt to a number of consulates as well as brands like Moët & Chandon. Vaze and Perrin personally cook in their clients’ kitchens, overseeing everything from the crockery to the decor and service. Perrin states, “This job lets you exercise your creativity. You’re not confined to a set menu. You have to constantly innovate and adapt according to different preferences — and that’s interesting and challenging.”

One wonders what makes catering so special in a city where a fresh crop of restaurants sprouts every month. “These days, people enjoy being at home in their own setup rather than going outside,” says Perrin. “And the fact that they can get the same level of food in their own private space, with a more intimate vibe, works for them,” adds Vaze.

Naturally, spending every minute of every day sweating it out in confined spaces has resulted in tempers flaring every so often. “We fight, then we don’t speak to each other for 10 minutes and then we’re like, ‘OK theek hai’,” laughs Perrin. Vaze reasons, “We only fight about work, though. Because we spend so much time working together, there’s no room for personal fights!”

The duo unwinds by doing what they love best — eating. “We are really into food. What we eat is even more important than what our clients eat, so we cook a lot for ourselves,” jokes Vaze. When they’re not in the kitchen or stretching out on sandy Goan beaches, the couple enjoys holidaying in Himachal Pradesh.

As they scramble to get things in order before their flight, I squeeze in one last question about their plans beyond Gaia. “Our dream is to have a high-end yet sustainable gourmet farm-to-table resort in a nature-centric place, where we can grow our own produce and cook amazing fresh meals,” muses Vaze.

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