When Anees Khan stepped into the kitchen of Sahar’s Leela Hotel 18 years ago as an intern, the head chef asked him for to pick a department. “Continental,” he said. Promptly, he was led to the bakery, where he spent the next two years.
Sous l'equateur 71. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Khan may want to thank the man, because that decision took the young chef all over the world where he worked with skilled pastry chefs and finally, today readies to launch his own patisserie in Bandra.
StarAnise is a boulangerie (breads), viennoiserie (sweet breads) and patisserie) pastries and cakes) where Khan gives 17th and 18th century French desserts a contemporary makeover, with a French accent. “My command over French isn’t great, but I do ensure I get the names of items right,” he says.
Aimee, a white mousse, named after Khan’s former colleague
Recalling the early days, Khan remembers how the mundane task of mixing batter and tempering chocolate gradually got interesting and landed him at Leela’s Goa property as acting pastry chef. Here, he trained under Swiss master pastry chef Beat Loffel, who is credited for changing the patisserie scene in India.
Assorted bread basket with brioche, za’taar lavash, croissant
Soon, he found his way to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Canada. “I named a dessert after an ex-colleague, Aimée. She would lift really heavy bread makers and never allow us guys to help. ‘It’s my job,’ she would snap. The culture of gender equality touched me,” says Khan, who returned to Mumbai after the 9/11 attacks.
Intense de passion
And the move wasn’t easy. “From Fairmont, I landed into friend Moshe Shek’s central kitchen at Mohammed Ali Road, and helped him set up his bakery. From sweating in the sun to buying ingredients to bargaining with vendors, I did it all,” says Khan. There, he was constantly experimenting. “One day, I made the Za’taar lavash stick, and a chef said to me, ‘People will say we are selling French papad’.”
Chef Anees Khan
Once he was satiated, he packed his bags and left for Tanzania to help a friend set up a restaurant. He even managed a stint at Six Senses Zighy Bay in Oman. His last assignment was as executive sous chef at Hyatt Regency, Mumbai. In 2010, Khan set up a catering business in Sewri and spent five years understanding the market to launch his dream.
StarAnise, done up in European beige and woodwork, will also hawk jams with flavours ranging from spiced mango and kaffir lime to buttery brioches, croissants and sour dough French baguettes. And of course, there are the signature desserts made with premium ingredients.
Chef Raghvendra Yadav walks in with the Le Petit St Antoine, the classical French haute cuisine contender (it gets its name thanks to the elaborate preparation techniques and presentation) with crispy croquantine, spongy dacoise made of almond and hazelnut meringue and buttercream, topped with sea salt and halzelnut gianjuja and a layer of milk chocolate and hazelnut dark chocolate bavaroise (Bavarian cream).
The flaky sheets of pastry or feutilltine melts in the mouth as sour cranberries and crunchy hazelnut and almond pack in a crunch. The sea salt ensures it’s not an overpoweringly sweet bite.
When Aimée (the dessert, we mean) is placed before us, it’s too pretty to eat. Crafted with rose, raspberry and lychee with white mousse, it is as light as a summer’s day. The fruity filling is proof of Khan’s finesse.
Intense de passion is a yellow alien spaceship ball made of white chocolate with a filling. “We will smoke this with maple wood for added flavour,” Khan shares. It takes a rap of the spoon to break the white chocolate. Inside sits chocolate mousse with pistachio nougat topped with blackberry compote. The initial sweet taste has a spicy aftertaste. “Chilli flakes,” Khan quips.
It is tough to continue the conversation at this moment, and thankfully, Sous l’equateur 71 arrives.
A 17th century-inspired masterpiece, it is made from single origin 71 per cent Ecuadorian dark chocolate. “For this, we toss strawberries in balsamic vinegar and pour in smoked hot chocolate ganache which melts the chocolate cup,” Khan explains while trickling the sauce onto the ball. Caving in, in slow motion, it exposes brown lava. While the classic version would have plain mousse, this modern take has the depth of tangy, smoky and sour flavours. But, the hero here is the pure chocolate.
Prices: Rs 65 to Rs 300 a piece; home delivery in Bandra
Where: Shop No 2A, Geeta Niketan, Linking Road, Bandra West
When: 11 am - 11 pm