Chocolate Industry

From ancestral recipes to homemade pastry — 3 entrepreneurs at the service of the Parisian experience in India

New Delhi: In a quiet corner of a farmhouse in Chattarpur – an area haunted by the ghosts of millions of mass-produced pineapple pastries and Tutti-Frutti ice creams consumed at weddings held in his rented open spaces – Shivan Gupta decided to do something provocative. From Paris has come heirloom recipes for fairy tale delicacy desserts, ingredients imported from abroad, and pastry chefs with the years of brutal training needed to bring them together.

At the height of the pandemic lockdown, when the rest of us were having unfortunate experiments with banana bread, Monique Pastry started creating the authentic Parisian experience.

Credit: Monique Pâtisserie

It’s expensive and makes no concessions to taste buds ruined by decades of exposure to artificial flavors and industrial amounts of refined sugar. But incredibly, it works, attracting millennials to Delhi willing to pay for that amazing cake or pastry.

A patisserie – in the words of chef Sahil Mehta, India’s first certified bakery, pastry and chocolate expert – is different from a regular bakery or patisserie in terms of the skills and ingredients it offers.

Shivan Gupta, founder and creative director of luxury event space Amaara Farms, which launched Monique in 2021, echoes this sentiment by highlighting what sets a Parisian bakery apart from others: the technique, complexity and delicacy of its desserts.

Variations of French bakeries made their way to Delhi, but there was still a void, said Gupta, inspiring him to bring in French pastry chef Maxime Montay. Interestingly, the patisserie is named after Montay’s grandmother, Monique, and the menu features Le Paris-Brest, Le Saint-Honoré and La Tarte Tropézienne, all age-old recipes. Nestled in a luxurious agricultural space in Delhi, Monique Pastry claims to offer an authentic Parisian experience.

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Lessons from France

Although the commercial aspect of Monica is run by an Indian national, chef Maxime Montay is at the helm. Chef Sahil Mehta, who spent his early years in Paris and studied at Lenôtre, the “Harvard of Bakery Schools”, recognizes the high level training and education one can get abroad, but also aims to bridge the gap between aspiring chefs/bakers in India and quality education.

Mehta, now in his 40s, has years of experience in the baking and hospitality industry as a chef and consultant. He helped create and launch brands like The Opera, the crafty baker, honey and dough among others. He has now partnered with Tedco Education Private Limited to offer a seven month pastry course to a selected group of 10 students.

Recalling his “toughest years” as a chef/consultant in India, Mehta said Delhi has “Michelin’s biggest critics” as he highlights how the shortage of fine taste palettes is a persistent problem. “Our [Indian] the food is so spicy that our taste sensitivities are defined that way. We cannot feel anything sweet. People are not used to it,” he said, adding that it is difficult to find authentic chocolate in the country as most bakers are known to use fake chocolate and synthetic creams.

Mehta said he observed that there are many chefs/bakers who studied abroad, came back and resorted to non-authentic raw materials to cater to the preconceived taste of Delhiites.

“All my ingredients are imported from abroad: chocolate, cream, butter, essences and colorings. Only flour, eggs and sugar are of local origin. These are essential to provide authentic high quality products. Considering import costs, prices for desserts are accordingly,” he said, adding that not everyone can afford a pastry worth Rs 400, but the certain segment who can must become aware of their responsibility and educate others.

His own brand’Paris my love‘, based in South Delhi, is a passion project started purely to educate people. “I am very happy to be a consultant. The only reason I opened Paris My Love was to educate a regular person on the quality and importance of ingredients in a dessert. The idea is not to make money. If I can do it, I’m sure there will be five more who want to do the same,” he added.

designer to baker

Not all artisan bakers have a link with France. Rhea Wadhawan, a design graduate from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, quit her corporate job to take a baking course in Dubai and three years later is a full-time baker based in Noida.

However, in hindsight, she thinks an indigenous culinary school such as Lavonne Academy of Baking Science and Pastry Arts in Bengaluru, Karnataka might have been a better choice.

With her eccentric and striking designer cakes, she has managed to create a niche for herself and her brand — pie – in the fairly male-dominated baking industry, but the journey hasn’t been a bed of roses.

Credit: Rhea Wadhawan |  pie
Credit: Rhea Wadhawan | pie

Wadhawan confessed that she was discriminated against because of her gender, but considers herself lucky to have received many opportunities much earlier in her career, which facilitated her transition into an independent businesswoman.

Apart from the social construction surrounding her, another obstacle appeared when she discovered that she was allergic to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in all wheat products, which could prove detrimental to a budding baker.

“Culinary schools teach you what gluten is but not how to work with gluten-free flour. It is also not a popular concept in India. I took time to learn and research gluten. In the process, I found several other allergies that people have. I thought about launching a brand that would revolve around healthy desserts but the market didn’t respond well,” she said, recounting her journey.

Cut three years later, she has a niche and loyal base of over 8,000 followers on Instagram and plans to expand that by launching a website soon.

The cakes normally cost between Rs 2000-2500 per kg due to the high quality ingredients used coupled with innovative designs. “Studying design has definitely helped me develop a better eye and better understand how I would like to present a dessert. I try to create desserts that look and taste different from what is readily available in the market,” Wadhawan said.

After the revival of “banana bread” during the Covid pandemic, this niche market is evolving to fuel Delhiites’ appetite for luxury baked goods.

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