Ranbir Kapoor won’t part with his pasta, Arjun Kapoor can’t stand the sight of greens, and Akshay Kumar seeks a healthier variant of butter chicken. Mirror profiles the culinary magicians who are up for the challenge
Kunal Guha (MUMBAI MIRROR; January 22, 2017)

While filming the romantic comedy Befikre in Paris, Ranveer Singh would often snack on a chocolate berry tart. Going by his chiselled frame in the film, this would seem barely believable. But this tart had a protein bar base and an eclectic mix of berries doused in a sugar-free chocolate syrup. The bespoke treat was just one of the creations that his chef Mohit Savargaonkar came up with while travelling with the actor during the 80-day schedule in France.

Given the intense diet and workout regimen chalked out for our filmi folks, it’s unlikely that they’d cave in to their cravings. And since looking the part is non-negotiable and self-restraint is a rare virtue, a team of fitness experts and chefs cumulatively ensure that no cardinal culinary sin is committed. While some consult by being a “WhatsApp message away”, others travel along to supervise every supper.

Savargaonkar remembers fine-tuning everything the hyperactive actor was fed. “Ranveer had to be pumped for the entire shoot, but for the days his body had to look exceptionally ripped, we eliminated salt from his diet and included fibrous veggies like broccoli and asparagus. Consequently, we could extract more salt from his body and his nerves popped out, rendering a shredded and ripped look,” says the 27-year-old chef who spent his days scoping markets in Paris to source ingredients. In the first phase of filming, Ranveer was on a seafood-and-eggs diet to cut down fat and give his body aesthetic definition. So Savargaonkar came up with a salmon dish with strawberries and rocket salad with walnut and avocado in a balsamic dressing. “These are all rich in fats, but in the absence of carbs, nothing was breaking down into sugars in the body, so he needed a fat-heavy diet,” he reasons, adding that Ranveer loved his eggs and oats porridge the most. “There were days he’d get cranky. So on Sunday, which was his cheat day, I’d give him a spoonful of Nutella with his porridge.”

Savargaonkar bonded with Ranveer during their time in France and joined him for Euro Cup matches where they chomped on fried chicken, something that was accounted for in the diet. “For a certain portion of the film, his character had to look beefed up. So, for the last 20 days of shoot, he gorged on beef, lamb and duck.” But a “sucker for Indian food”, Ranveer requested for rajma-chawal when his mother and girlfriend Deepika Padukone visited him in Paris for a few days. Even when he decided to eat out, Savargaonkar kept a close watch and even identified a couple of restaurants, including King George V, which served authentic French cuisine.

“Sometimes, he’d WhatsApp me the menu and I’d tell him what to eat. But in France, if you order pan seared cod, you won’t get a lemon wedge as a side and it would be insulting the chef if you requested for one. So, one is assured that he ate nothing beyond what he ordered.”

Mind your menu
And ordering at a restaurant is indeed an art — something nutritionist Pooja Makhija trains her clients on. Deepika Padukone, who has been consulting her for over four years, has learnt how to read between the lines while flipping through any menu. “She knows how food can work for you and against you. I’ve taught her to find the diet gems from any menu — be it Japanese, Lebanese, Continental, Chinese or Thai, she knows just what to order,” says Makhija about her most “diligent client” who loves her rice, idli-dosa and filter coffee.

Shipping in stash
When on an outdoor shoot, an obvious challenge with delivering on a calorie-counted meal is sourcing ingredients. While Savargaonkar had no trouble in Paris, Marika Johansson, who travelled with Hrithik Roshan to shoot Krrish 3 in Hyderabad, did. A celebrity fitness trainer and nutritionist, Johansson remembers feeling helpless standing in the hotel kitchen with Roshan’s personal cook, scratching her head to find anything that was remotely healthy. “Everything in the menu was oily. So, I jotted down a shopping list, and what we couldn’t find in local markets was ordered online,” says Johansson, who flew down a consignment comprising turkey meat, a variety of seeds, seaweed, quinoa and vitamins supplements from Mumbai to meet Roshan’s dietary needs. “When Alia (Bhatt) was shooting for Shaandaar in the UK, she’d call me from the supermarket. I’d draft her shopping list and mail recipes for her cook,” she adds.

Vegan vendetta
Not everything is about weight loss though: even those gifted with a good metabolism can sometimes be difficult customers. Case in point, Shahid Kapoor, a vegan and a vegetarian who hates paneer. Kapoor had to prep up to look ripped in a photoshoot for his upcoming Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. While his body had to look muscular, his face couldn’t afford to bear signs of exertion. “Some people who starve themselves can look sick and tired and their skin looks bad in photographs. But you can be chiselled and still look peachy,” explains Johansson, who assigned Kapoor on a low-carb yet balanced diet. Given his diet preference, Kapoor’s protein needs were supplemented through seeds, plant proteins, beans and tofu and to maintain his energy levels; every meal had some amount carbs such as quinoa, black or red rice. “Shahid is an ectomorph and burns fat quickly. So we ensure he gets sufficient calories to avoid burning out. He has good muscularity but if his protein intake is not met, he would lose his muscles,” she adds about the actor who loves his dal and veg burgers.

Negotiating nakhras
For those unwilling to compromise on their food coma, a consultant has to double up as a negotiator and sometimes even resort to deceit. “We have to become grandmoms and coax them into eating things that don’t impress their palate,” says Chef Harsh Dixit, who prepared meals for Arjun Kapoor when he was required to shed a few extra kilos to play a basketball player onscreen. The fact that Kapoor “hates the sight of green veggies” didn’t help. To incorporate greens into his diet, Dixit made a paste with Roman lettuce and baby spinach — offered as a dip along with his chicken. He also crafted a broccoli purée which was served along with meat.

“He actually called me to say that he loved the paste, only to learn later that I had made him have broccoli — something he hates the most,” smirks Dixit. Another foodie who refused to part with her parathas was the once-curvy Parineeti Chopra. Her nutritionist Zarna Shah, who consulted the actress for two years, wiped off butter and ghee from her rotis and banned her from biting into chicken lollipops and tandoori chicken blasted with oil. “I couldn’t give her a Keto diet as she wasn’t willing to give away carbs completely. Once, her mother requested that I don’t stop her beti from having rotis. She also added, ‘usko doodhi juice mat do, usko ulti aa rahi hain’,” explains Shah, who naturally found a suitable substitute for the bubbly actress.

Bespoke butter chicken
There are also those who want to have their cake and keep their abs too. Akshay Kumar, who loves butter chicken, requested Dixit to come up with a healthier version. Dixit came up with one that ditched the core ingredients of the dish — butter, ghee, oil, cashews and cream. He did stick to the tomato-based gravy, usual spices and used tofu cream to add a creamy texture. “‘If only I could have this with naan!’ was Akshay’s reaction when he had his first spoon. Now, we’re working on a gluttenfree way to make naan,” says Dixit about the dish which is also a hit with Sonali Bendre.

Curbing the cravings
Apart from catering to individual tastes and health objectives, diet consultants must be prepared for any kind of crisis — even if in the middle of the night. “Sushant called me at 3am to say that he had a burning craving for something sweet. So I sent him our casein pudding, which tastes like chocolate mousse but is made with protein powder, oats and walnuts,” says Nigel Jairaj, Johansson’s partner. The slow digesting protein that kills craving is a perfect midnight snack and keeps one full. Another sweet solution that Savargaonkar whipped up to power Ranveer Singh through the day was a sugar-free energy ball made with dates, almonds, cashew, desiccated coconut, lemon zest and sea salt. “It gives you slow releasing energy and for an enthu cutlet like Ranveer, this was a perfect snack,” he explains.

In-flight sustenance
Given the jet-setting life that the entertainment industry warrants, an occasion when junk food is inevitable is during transit. But Johansson has this covered too. “Ranbir [Kapoor] can’t have flight food so I have prepared this special meatball which contains oats or brown rice, minced chicken and different spices. It is very nutritional and two are enough to fill him up,” explains the fitness expert whose meat balls are flavoured with Tex-Mex and Indian seasonings. Ranbir, who is also “manic” about pasta bolonaise, wants to have it often but incorporating even gluten-free pasta in the star’s diet isn’t easy. “I have to calculate and make adjustments in other meals to allow him to have it even once in a while,” explains Marika.