A long evening dinner turned ambitious when Alice Helme and Ambika Seth decided to bring fine European food to Delhi’s catering scene. They are firm believers in growing your own vegetables, and strongly opposed to monotonous dining. Alice is adventurous, Ambika is precise: the combination makes them a formidable duo. In addition to catering cultural events and private parties, the girls also run a cafe at British Council – if you’re in the neighbourhood, head there for a divine slice of carrot cake. We met the CAARA duo at their farm, full of fresh organic produce (the CAARA team swears by locally produced ingredients). They shared party tips, and their favourite songs to dance to while keeping things calm in the kitchen.
What’s your drink?
AH: Depends on the time of day. But it would have to be a Campari Orange Spritz.
AS: Red wine, all the way. French and Italian are my favorites.
AH: I like simple stuff. A great apple crumble with clotted cream – I could eat that at any time of day.
AS: I have to agree with Alice on this — nothing better than a traditional apple crumble or apple pie with fresh homemade vanilla ice cream or a crème anglaise.
Your go to recipe when friends pop over last minute?
AH: Spaghetti. It’s always spaghetti when it’s last minute. The sauces get more and more eccentric depending on what’s left over in the fridge. Last time we lucked out with pork apple sausage, white wine, rosemary, and creamy tomato sauce, but it’s not always so decadent!
AS: An easy meal for me to cook last minute is often pepper chicken (a family recipe) with truffle mash (I’m obsessed with any form of mash potatoes) and a fresh green salad. It’s wholesome, easy and yummy. Keeps everyone happy and full.
What is CAARA’s one tip for easy entertaining?
AH: It’s all in the planning. Boring but true. Leave as little as possible to do once guests arrive.
AS: I agree with Alice. Make lists, finish them, and don’t bustle around when guests arrive! I can’t live without making my to-do list before an event so that those tiny details don’t get forgotten.
What is your favourite kitchen song?
AH: Anything by Louis Armstrong, or Jimmy Cliff’s “You can get it if you really want”.
AS: Any Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers duet.
What is your favourite CAARA dish?
AH: It’s always changing. The one thing that isn’t is our recipe for pesto – my sister in London makes me bring CAARA pesto in my suitcase. We’ve recently had a new executive chef join the team, Chef Atanu – he’s really pushing us to innovate. During the India Art Fair he did a duck and fig tagliatelle, which I loved.
AS: Too many! Chef Atanu does one of the best creamy potato dauphinoise, and his chicken Milanese with a watercress side salad is so simple and so good.
What is your favourite hangover remedy?
AH: A spicy Virgin Mary.
AS: A chilled Coke with lots of ice, and a big load of greasy food. The Delhi way!
Favourite gift to give?
AH: Cookery books. If in Delhi, vegetables from CAARA’s farms.
AS: It really depends on the person – I don’t have anything specific in mind that I always gift.
And to receive?
AH: My friend’s son just drew me a picture. It’s on my fridge. Can’t think of anything that tops that.
AS: Anything for my home – any form, shape and size of crockery makes me very happy.
Your party playlist?
AH: All reggae. Everyday.
AS: I’ve recently got my hands on some Edith Piaf classics – I’m not sure how much my guests are enjoying it but I’m loving playing it for small dinner parties. To make things more groovy, I tune into the latest Ryan Seacrest playlist.
One must-have kitchen tool?
AH: A sharp knife. Nearly every domestic kitchen is full of blunt knives, more dangerous than sharp ones.
It’s almost impossible to buy good knives in India. I’m super happy with my Japanese KAI Shun chef’s knife.
AS: A good garlic press! It’s my favorite ingredient and makes my mise-en-place so much more efficient.
Easiest impress-your-guests recipe in your arsenal?
AH: Pavlova. Anyone can make it and it’s delicious: cover with whipped cream, fresh strawberries and blueberries.
AS: Every year, around this time, I start getting obsessed with making strawberry tarts – they are easy, fresh, delicious, and look pretty. Served with custard or a crème anglaise.
In the kitchen, I swear by:
AH: The raw produce. Buy the best quality you can afford. Food is only as good as its ingredients.
AS: I’m with Alice on this. It really is the quality of the ingredients that makes all the difference.
For more information on CAARA, or to get in touch, visit their Instagram page.