Mumbai: Tanaz Godiwala at Mazagoan . Photo by BL SONI
India is a melting pot of diverse cultures and religions. Amongst all these diverse people lies a little group that I belong to, called the Zoroastrians. Though Zoroastrians are in a dwindling minority, our achievements speak louder than words. Therefore I will be bringing to you, some of the people of my community – some of which may be known to you – who have been excelling in their own professional lives, or have had a huge impact on society. Today I will be kicking it off with a woman who has brought life to Parsi cuisine and taken it up a notch, Tanaz Godiwalla.
Zoroastrians love food and drinks. Food is the boon of our existence, therefore we don’t take food lightly. Our love for food is showcased in abundance during the communal gatherings we hold that are called ‘ghambhars’, as well as during the ‘lagans’ and ‘navjotes’. ‘Lagan’ is a marriage ceremony and ‘navjote’ is an induction ceremony held for a Parsi child when they come of a certain age. All these ceremonies and celebrations are generally held at a ‘baug’, which is a big open area.
The Godiwalla caterers are a household name within our community. It was started by Tanaz’s parents, Freny and Rohinton Godiwalla five decades ago. She carried on the mantle of her family after their passing. “I have been on the job since atleast over 30 years. I started at 15.Before that I was literally brought up in the baugs,” says Tanaz. “So basically, I was born with the sights and smells of palao dal.”
As a little girl, Tanaz did have other aspirations in life that she does not regret pursuing for the sake of the family business. Tanaz recalls that she did think of becoming an airhostess at a tender age, but “now when I think about it, my heart and I are in the right place.”
Being one of the most reputed and well-loved caterers in the community means that during the peak ‘lagan-navjote season’, Tanaz caters to more than 100 lagans and navjotes in the month of December itself. Therefore, keeping up the same quality and standard of the food and service does get challenging, but she claims that her staff help her achieve that level of quality that her catering has been renowned for over the years.
“My staff is an extended family for me. I am their mother, father, big sister, boss lady and I have their respect. Most people sometimes come to me tell me, ‘I admire the way you control these guys’, but I don’t have to control these guys,” she exclaims.“These people respect me and work with their heart.”
Not only did the then princess Tanaz keep the family banner flying in the sky, but she also managed to eventually outdo the king and queen. In the past decade, Tanaz brought further glory to the already reputed family name. “I had a fantastic base to start with and it was a hard act to follow. All the credit goes to my parents,” says the humble caterer.
“I was trained well. Yes, the pupil did sort of outdo the masters, but I think the masters would be happy about this. I think I maintained the quality and tastes, and I have also been adapting to different trends and changes. Where my parents used to systematically cater for far bigger numbers because at that time that was the trend, now there are more of what we call ‘full vanis’ where the patra is longer, richer, fuller. People want totaste three desserts, they want more trimmings. The size of the functions are smaller.”
While she does bask in the rains of success today, Tanaz has to more often than not also battle a few hardships. From the high tax percent to the rising costs of raw vegetables and meats to the higher cost of labour, Tanaz has had to deal with it all. “There are a lot of NRIs coming here during the holidays, hence work has become very concentrated over that brief Christmas period. The rest of the season is spread out thinly, but actually I have to maintain the big staff even on my off days,” she says.
Along with the stories of hardship, Tanaz also recollects a story that induces humour. “It dates back to when my parents were catering. There used to be a well-dressed guest who always used to pocket the cutlery. So on one occasion, my mother approached him as he put the cutlery and napkin in his pocket and said, ‘allow me to show you a magic trick. Here is the cutlery I am putting in my pocket. Now watch me take it out from yours.’ She did it with such jest and tact,” she fondly recalls.
Apart from her catering for ‘lagans’ and ‘navjotes’, Tanaz also has a tiffin service. She has a new project that is a spin-off of her catering business where guests can travel to her grape garden, located 7kms from Devlali. “The idea is that you come over to my grape garden, have fun with your family or friends, enjoy the good food and have a lovely weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can have your anniversary function, office party or birthday party and I will take care of everything.” She also intends to organize a Sunday ‘dhansakh and dhamal’ at the same locale where one cango swim, watch the beautiful view,have divine food and go home at the end of day.
Finally, as I say goodbye to the lovely caterer, I ask her what tips she can give to people who want to pursue catering. “Don’t cut corners or compromise on quality,” were the parting words of this down-to-earth lady.
Wah Bawa: In conversation with uncrowned queen of Parsi cuisine – Tanaz Godiwalla