As restaurants evolve to make desserts more than an afterthought on menus, independent pastry chefs are collaborating across brands as consultants
Kuch meetha ho jaye? The phrase surpasses just ringing a bell; it stirs something within you. Such that a leading chocolate brand in India embraced it as their campaign cry in 2000, because meetha, or desserts, are an integral part of the country's culinary customs. In fact, India has often been touted as the diabetes capital of the world, with reports indicating that approximately 72.94 million people (as of 2017) suffer from the condition. Then why are pastry chefs finding it a challenge to find platforms to showcase their talent? Maybe it's a case of kaju katli over key lime pie, but a slow and steady change is evident.
The years of baked Alaska and sizzling brownie are long gone, with restaurant menus offering so much more — from cheesecakes and crèmes brûlées to macaroons and flavoured fraîche ice creams. Forget fine dines, this trend is visible in Diwali hampers, too, where the simple assortment of mithais and dried fruits are being replaced by multigrain pita and granola jars!
Anurita Ghoshal. Pic/Ashish Raje
This transformation has come riding on the back of a battery of young and talented chefs on whom restaurants and cafés are dependent for giving their dessert menus a new-age face-lift. What is interesting though, is how much of this relies on short-term and goal-oriented alliances between establishments and independent pastry chefs working as consultants.
"Globalisation makes people more discerning. So, today, most are aware of the difference between a French and an Italian dessert. The good ol' chocolate cake is still a favourite, but there's also a large audience that wants more. And it is very difficult for the in-house chef to create everything. So, restaurants have also opened up and are looking for the best vegan, ketogenic or Spanish pastry chef in town," explains Anurita Ghoshal, elucidating on this phenomenon. The Le Cordon Bleu trained pastry chef quit her job in advertising in 2014. Last year, Ghoshal joined hands with Deli by The Blue in Khar West as their dessert partner and Uno Más in BKC, as pastry consultant.
Prateek Bakhtiani. Pic/Atul Kamble
In separate molds
But the sheer wish to meet with customer demands alone cannot betide such an important occurrence. Pastry chef Husna Jumani, who quit her full-time role with The Clearing House in Ballard Estate earlier this year to re-join as a consultant, shed lights on the other aspect of this change by talking about the availability of trained chefs and the dissemination of knowledge, which are essential factors, too. "There are multiple culinary schools in India today that focus on patisserie, giving Mumbai's culinary students access to knowledge. For me, that was the biggest problem when I started out six years ago and I had to work hard to stay up to date with what was happening in the world of pastry," she explains, adding, "Also because desserts were not given much importance, ingredients were either not readily available or of poor quality. Now, we can get anything we want."
And along with awareness, availability and the desire to do more, there is also the highly un-ignorable factor of health and eating-regime friendly foods. This opens up opportunities for chefs like Naimita Jagasia, who has a venture called the Ode to Gaia, which caters vegan desserts to individuals and businesses as well. A vegan herself, Jagasia identified a huge gap in the market when she moved back to Mumbai from London in 2017, with very few places offering diet-friendly sweet treats. Today, Jagasia has collaborated with the popular coffee shop chain, Blue Tokai, and supplies desserts to Earth Cafe.
Naimita Jagasia. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Pay for pastry
"Tying up with freelance pastry chefs is extremely cost-effective. For vegan, gluten-free, keto and eggless desserts you need a host of new products and equipment. Then comes the recipe development. Many existing pastry chefs are not trained in these genres, so it requires extensive training, R&D and imported ingredients that are a positive drain on time and money. Using the kitchens of chefs trained in the art of plant-based or paleo desserts is a win-win for everyone. You get unique pastries at a fixed cost, plus you save on infrastructure and training," she shares in between making cupcakes at her Chembur studio.
However, pastry chef Prateek Bakhtiani, who has collaborated with Cafe Zoe, Blue Tokai, Koinonia Coffee Roasters and the Vault Biennale, thinks there are still some gaps. "The elephant in the room is that nobody wants to pay for desserts. So, you can't blame restaurants for not wanting to innovate because desserts have a low profit margin. So, the brownie has become a cheesecake and the pudding a crème brûlée, but a lot of this is still is gimmicky," he laments, adding that a vibrant pastry industry should include places deducated entirely to pastry, like dessert bars, which are common in the West.
But if pouring money into desserts is not an economical choice for establishments, it further explains why getting consultants on board is the way ahead. Not only does it work out financially in favour of the restaurant, but it also allows pastry chefs to continue innovating in their own space, while signing on projects that bring in the bucks.
Masterchef India finalist Karishma Sakhrani, who works as a consultant and has recently created a healthy line of treats for 99 pancakes, echoes this when she says, "It requires a lot of time to experiment and create new recipes, which is not possible for a chef who has his own ship to steer every day. Also, pastry is different from cooking. It requires a different set of skills, interest and training," adding, "I am a creative spirit and I don't enjoy conformity to standards and rules. I love the process of creating new things and I'm okay with not knowing what's next." And that's basically what it all boils down to — a brand of pastry chefs who are just as uncompromising about their craft, as a cherry is to a cake.
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