Zinobia Schroff Caterers – An Afternoon Of Debauchery And An Interview With A Wizard !

This is an article I had written for a publication called Parsi Times a few weeks ago. I just thought I’d share it on my blog as well. Here goes –
I was recently invited to a friend’s house for an impromptu lunch party. It was some of us girls kicking back mid week and catching up. Lunches like these always brighten up my week but more than the time I enjoyed with my pals was the time spent eating some delicious food. My compliments to the cook and I kept gushing over my meal when my friend very sheepishly informed me that she hadn’t cooked but instead ordered out from this lady who specialises in Parsi food. My food radar immediately started beeping and I wanted to know more about this lovely lady who’d cooked up this feast. Before I talk about Zinobia I need to describe to my lovely albeit hungry readers what a feast we ladies devoured!

To start with an excellent green herb and sour cream dip which I pretty much put on everything and ate. Some fat juicy mutton culets and to my pleasure not in the least bit oily (unlike some ghastly ones you get) the cutlets had a lovely light tomato sauce with it but I thought it was a tomato dip actually kept nibbling at it with pieces of lavache!  Of course I slathered that sour cream chutney all over my cutlets which was a great combination. Another starter was something called “prawns pataka” which I thought was a cute but very apt name. Crazy spicy prawns but delicious. I could imagine them in a curry as well but with some of that tomato dip as well as my favourite sour cream one I was literally attacking the prawns. It’s a miracle I left any for the rest!
Pataka Prawns
 
Mutton Cutlets , Green Herb Sour Cream and Tomato Sauce
 This was just to whett your appetite because for lunch she literally went the whole nine yards ! Sali boti which had a surprising spicy kick to it. I’ve never eaten a slightly spicy boti but I have to say it’s interesting . Rotli’s (as we Parsis say) affecctionately slathered in ghee to help mop up the Sali boti gravy was a delight. ( I have  soft corner for well made chapatis/rotis/rotlis). A chicken called cashew chicken which was flavourful and a nice subtle casheew flavour riding through out. This was one of the few occasions I’ve enjoyed a patra ni macchi because the chutney on the fish was made well with subtle flavours so it didn’t over power the fish and I could taste the chutney as well as the fish and the combination was superb as appose to one over powering the other. Usually the fish  gets lost in all that masala and it ends up being one green mess. I’m happy to report this was very different.
Sali Boti( Mutton)
 
Patra Ni Macchi ( Fish)
There was a kebab and mutton pulao that was lovely. I’m use to very heavy pulaos and though I am partial to them this was a great pulao. The kebabs were yummy I would eat those plain between two slices of lukkhu pao and been thrilled with myself. The pulao had ample fried onions (slurp) and little raisins to add crunch. I always talk about how I love my food to have texture, this dish had plenty of it which I enjoyed and as I always say the true test of a pulao is if you can eat it plain and enjoy it without drowning it in a heavy daal or ras or anything. This one passed my pulao test with flying colours. There was kharia which I didn’t eat because I’m not a fan but my tasting buddy was just chugging it down helping after helping. She says that Kharia is actually heavy to digest but this one was made in a light broth almost like a ras so it helped balance out the heaviness. There was also a masala ghosh daal sort of like a dhansak daal but by the time I got there my tummy was ready to pop so I had to pass. Between the pulao and fish I think my day was made. Or so I thought.. Out comes beautiful lagan nu custard. The first bite in and I squealed with delight. This lady (the caterer) who ever she is had all my blessings at that moment. The custard was wonderfully cool and had lots of crunch from the nuts added to it. The dish of the day for me was that custard and shamelessly I had more than I should have. 
Kebab and Mutton Pulao
 
Kharia with Cachumbar
 
Masala Ghosh Daal
 Parsi food is not my favourite and those who know me were shocked to hear me sing such high praise for food that I usually never eat. As a food enthusiast I am always happy to meet people who cook and run food businesses so this really was a no brainer I just HAD to meet this gifted magician.
Lagan Nu Custard

I took down the details and called Zinobia Schroff for a chat so I could learn more about this enterprising lady. Zinobia has been buzzing about in the kitchen since she was a child. Helping her mother who she says is her food hero and a fantastic cook, and encouraged by her father and all the neighbours who would wait patiently to try out what she had whipped up. She lived in Nagpur but moved to Mumbai when she was 17 yrs old. Her dream of going to catering college didn’t work out so she ended up with a job at an eye clinic in Colaba opposite the Taj hotel. She says she spent hours and hours staring at the majestic hotel dreaming of cooking in their large impressive kitchens. She was fortunate enough to eventually land a job at the Taj but much to her dismay they put her as a cashier instead of letting her in the kitchen as she had no formal training. Fed up of handling cash which she had no interest in what so ever and her food dream not shaping up she left to later join a fashion export company which enabled her to travel the world and experience life and many different cuisines. Finally exhausted with the travel and the work she decided to take matters into her own hands and make her dream a reality. She started her food business in 1987 by making homemade pickles which today have made her a household name. She’s become the unofficial pickle queen as packets of her yummy treats are sent as far as Japan, UK, Australia, Iran, Dubai, Canada and even Israel! Oddly enough while I was interviewing her a gentleman came to pick up some packets of prawn pickle so he could send it to Russia! her love for cooking made her decided to jump into the food business whole hog and along with her pickle collection she set up a full fledge catering business five years ago. What’s remarkable is everything is cooked by her magical hand in her small but efficient kitchen at home with just a helper or two to help our when there are huge party orders. She refuses to let anyone else into her kitchen. Zinobia is very proud of the fact that she uses absolutely no chemicals in her food and everything is organic, even the vinegar in the pickle is organic!

Zinobia In the Kitchen

Interestingly, enough she ran a health Tiffin service which was a rage across town. It was so successful that she eventually had to stop the Tiffin service as she couldn’t keep up with the everyday demands. Apart from being interviewed by top publications and food journalists like Rashmi Uday Singh, Zinobia had been invited by the N.E.N which is the North East network to teach them how to make pickles. They felt that there was an abundance of fruit that was just going to waste and so called upon her expertises to teach them how to pickle and jam and put these fruits to good use instead of waste and teach the folks there another skill instead of them sitting idle. A little social activity through food goes a long way as she’s very popular there and fondly remembered as the pickle lady.

A Sample Of Schroff’s Pickle Line

I can tell that  Zinobia is no stranger to having someone come and interview her and obviously has had her share of the limelight and has a fan following( you can see her wall of fame where she’s put up all her press cuttings). But what I’m really impressed with is her humility and gregarious zest for life. She’s one of those people who is just such a happy person you can’t help but feel happy after meeting her. My afternoon chat with her has been lovely and I even manage to sneak and take a picture of her in the kitchen but more than her infectious laughter, her wonderful personality or even her amazing cooking what will stay with me after this interview is that no matter how old you are or what you are currently doing, if you have a dream and you work at pursuing it, that dream will come true.