Millennial chef brings chocolaty experience to the city

Updated: May 26, 2019, 08:33 IST | Phorum Dala

Ever tried chocolate that carries amarphal and ginger? Or met a chocolate maker inspired by Murakami? A millennial is about to launch a choco studio that offers not chocolate, but an experience

Millennial chef brings chocolaty experience to the city
Rs 2,000 for a box of chocolates. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Repeated rounds of receiving unusual chocolates later, we are curious to find out who Prateek Bakhtiani is. A spirits festival invite came with black mystery box, holding inside it bars and mini-bites infused with a variety of alcohol and curious ingredients. Apple gin jammed with white chocolate ganache and raspberry marzipan, whiskey with Dominican smoked dark chocolate, caramel with volcanic salt.

On Valentine's Day, came a box of heart-shaped bon bons. Cupid struck truffle ganache. And, with the onset of summer, to celebrate the luscious fruits of India came a bar of banana with caramel and coconut, amarphal with peanut ginger, and hapus paired with mustard seeds and cashewnut gianduja. Bakhtiani, 25, is behind Ether Atelier Chocolat, which launched its lab in 2018 and is now set to open its first brick and mortar store in Bandra come July.

His central kitchen in Wadala, a tastefully designed space in white, carries the vibe of a studio. In a large container, spokes are tempering chocolate at a dreamy speed. One wall carries ingredient shelves from ceiling to floor. Bakhtiani's undivided focus rests on a test gateau. "It is called an Easter Campfire Smoke which has oak smoked Ecuadorian chocolate and maple torched marshmallows," he explains without looking up as he tries to perfect a pour of glaze on one half of the disc. "It is too hot," he says after checking the thermometer.

Chocolates

Minutes later, over a cup of coffee, he tells us. "I draw inspiration from Oriental minimalism, Murakami, artists like Magritte, Rothko and Gonzalez-Torres. The cultures I have had the privilege to soak in — from classical French to Japanese. I am the annoying guy who will pick apart his food and decipher every ingredient, know the French term for a technique, and dive into theory." In 2011, Bakhtiani's teaching advisor at the University of Washington in Seattle asked him to take a year off to do something he always wanted to try, when he was offered a place in the organic polymer lab. "I thought it a very white thing to do — gap year and all," he laughs.

The job put him in charge of designing material that could react with solar energy to purify water in Cambodia. With a seat secured in the lab, Bakhtiani flew to Irish celebrity chef Rachel Allen's farm to study cooking and vinoculture. One thing led to another and his quest for food landed him in Paris where he studied at Le Cordon Bleu and subsequently staged at Le Meurice with chef Cedric Grolet known for his fruit sculptures. After a course at the Chocolate Academy in Vancouver and moonlighting as a bartender at a G&T bar, came a stint as pastry chef in Belgium. Bakhtiani returned to Mumbai in 2017 to launch his chocolate lab.

By then, the gap year had extended to four years. "I did miss the lab. Any chef who tells you that they love their job is lying. It is a difficult being a chef, the only reason they are chefs is because we can't be anything else. Food and its nuances are all we ever think about, it's an obsession." Bakhtiani has taken his time to open a brick-and-mortar outpost, and along the way, he has worked on collaborations including a seasonal dessert menu for Lower Parel resto-bar Café Zoe, developing tarts based on coffee bean roasts for Blue Tokai and creating a pastry menu for Koinonia coffee roasters.

Every collection begins with a process. He gets his team to think about the intention behind the box. "It is very easy to think about just chocolate. I think about every aspect, inter-contextually. The bon bons and bars must speak to each other," says Baktiani. While working on the invite box for Vault Biennale, a spirit festival helmed by Keshav Prakash, the two broke the idea of the chocolate box down into the spirits the fest would showcase. "We paired an apple gin with white chocolate ganache. White chocolate has a higher quantity of cocoa butter, which tastes fatty. So, we did just a thin layer, and the rest was a raspberry marzipan with a touch of juniper for spice," says Bakhtiani.

He goes by the dictum, what I make for myself, I hope you like too. With sincere confidence, that you could mistake for arrogance, he says, "I believe I have some authority in understanding the balance of design and flavours. If you just want chocolate, go buy Lindt. If you want an experience, made from a place of meaning, come to me."

To order, write to headchef@etherchocolate.com

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