Life | Chic Petit Fours

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Chic Petit Fours
Text by Shreya Shah and Photographs by Sameer Mangtani
Published: Volume 22, Issue 1, January, 2014

Two pairs of entrepreneurial sisters – Neha Gundecha Varghese, Minal Thacker and Reema Godhwani, Subita Godhwani Doshi – celebrate their similarities and revel in their differences. Lounging by a pool that overlooks the Arabian Sea, draped in elegance, this is just another day in their lives where they combine work with pleasure, finds Shreya Shah

The December sun shines quite brightly overhead, making us wonder how much longer the fabled winters of Mumbai will take to arrive. We’re not complaining – the slight nip in the air and the constant, gentle breeze makes for a great time outdoors. As Minal Thacker puts it, “The weather’s started becoming pleasant, and it’s the perfect time to have as many parties as possible in the open.”

The Hotel Sea Princess directors, Minal Thacker and Neha Gundecha are adept at hosting people. The younger of the two, Minal breaks the oft-held notion of the younger sibling being more outgoing. “I used to be quite reserved, but being in the hospitality industry has changed me.” Neha is in two and more places at once, asking for chairs to be placed around just so, daintily arranging the food platters herself, suggesting positions for everyone and simultaneously finding time to check on her hair.

“I’m more extroverted, yes. Put me amidst a crowd and I won’t get uncomfortable at all. I love meeting new people.” Reema Godhwani nods and agrees wholeheartedly. “Neha is in her element when she is in between several people.” She and her older sister Subita took over their family fashion website, zooni.net, and revolutionised it completely.

If pastels and pearls are the girls’ sartorial choices for the day, the pop of colour on the table complements them beautifully. The waiter appears like a genie, bearing a tray of treats. He carefully lays down glasses filled with all the colours of the rainbow, sometimes all in one cocktail! There is a dignified scramble as everyone hastens to choose their desired drink.

Neha seems to be the glue that holds this group together, perhaps due to her social nature. With an animated smile, she confides that she loves attending parties, but enjoys hosting them even more. “Being in the line we are, we have to attend to varying sizes of groups nearly every day. But personally, I prefer hosting smaller, intimate gatherings. Then, the effort that you put in doesn’t get lost in the crowd.” Agrees Minal, “The best part is when we organise different kinds of parties. Like a sundowner, or even a simple coffee get-together, or a more formal high-tea, or a wine and cheese session. The fun is in the variety. The point is to just kick back and have a good time.” Chimes in Neha, “We did a Sex And The City themed wine and cheese party with my girls, which remains one of my most favourite parties so far.”

The girls admit that for all their overflowing wardrobes, the one thing that binds them together is the eternal question – what should we wear? Laughs Subita, “I play safe. My go-to outfits are very simple. Either an LBD, or a bandage skirt. My style is very structured, I like clean cuts and believe in keeping it simple yet classy.”

This sensibility reflects in their work, and their website. Muses Reema, “When our mother started the website in 1990, it catered to a more mature audience, say 35 years onwards. But when Subita and I came into the picture, we completely changed the dynamics. It’s been a conscious effort to make it more contemporary and we hope to eventually see it grow into a niche of its own.”

She continues, “When it comes to parties, I don’t think you can just casually call your friends and assume everything will take care of itself. Attention to detail is important. Today, the essence of a party is in the extra effort that you put in. You would want your guests to feel like they are special, that they are wanted. Entertaining is more of a way of pampering someone.”

Minal observes, “Food is very important at a party and often a talking point. I think finger food makes the most sense. It’s easy to nibble and converse at the same time.” She gestures towards the table, where fresh summer salads and a hummus platter crave for attention, but typically, the girls’ interest wanders towards the array of colourful drinks. Featuring the season’s specials, the chef has concocted fresh and swirly strawberry, kiwi and orange delights, as well as eternal favourites like creamy pina coladas and sparkling caprioskas.

Life doesn’t begin and end at socialising for the Gundecha sisters. There is a lot of running around and co-ordinating that goes into ensuring that their hotel operates smoothly, day in and day out. Their supportive family ensures that they have had a level journey so far, but it wasn’t quite so easy in the beginning. Says Neha, “Being women in a male-dominated industry can definitely get a little tough. Yes, the way was clear for us and we could have easily just fitted into the company. But I graduated from Rizvi College and followed it up with a BA Honours in hospitality from London. Minal is a Les Roches, Switzerland graduate. Having studied our industry professionally makes me better empathise with our staff.”

Minal, fresh from a skiing holiday in Austria, shares, “We both are very fond of travelling. It helps you to be constantly creative. Everything should inspire you to do better. We meet so many different people every day, with very different needs. Coming up with ideas to keep them pleased, planning the whole event for them, that’s challenging and satisfying, too.”

To have your sister working with you, in the same business, managing the same people… can it get stressful? “Not at all!” exclaims Subita. “Reems and I are a team. I think the best part about having a sister is that you can fall back on her whenever you need to. We both have specific skills and are good at our own jobs. So we complement each other and are pretty much always on the same page.”

Minal agrees, “Between the both of us, we take turns in ideating and executing. Sometimes one of us has a brilliant idea, while the other figures out the logistics of working it out. Most of the times, we thrash out ideas and their feasibility together.”

It’s this intrinsic understanding that is part of a familial bond which ensures that all four of them give their best in an industry which has newcomers rearing their heads nearly everyday. As the carefree chatter gives way to comfortable whispers, I reflect on how it’s been a girlie day to the hilt, complete with selfies and treats!

ON THE MENU

ITALIAN KISS
Vanilla, orange and pineapple juice

KIWI SMOOTHIE
Kiwi juice, vanilla ice cream, yogurt and ice

MEDITERRANEAN DIPS AND CRISPS
CLASSIC CAESAR SALAD WITH ASPARAGUS AND OLIVES
HOUSE BRUSCHETTA SALAD
CHILI SPIKED MELON DUO WITH FETA

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