Mumbai food: Read how 24-year-old revamps popular eatery's sweet-afters menu
A popular eatery in Lower Parel gets a 24-year-old prodigy pastry-chef-cum-chemistry whizz on board to revamp their sweet-afters menu
Michael Pollan is a multiple award-winning American journalist who writes about the intersection between culture and nature, whether it's in our minds, gardens or kitchens. He has authored multiple books, most notably Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, which was made into a four-part documentary series by Netflix. In it he writes, "Cooking is one of the more beautiful forms that human generosity takes; that much I sort of knew. But the very best cooking, I discovered, is also a form of intimacy."
And intimacy you will find in the carefully plated creations in Café Zoe's new dessert menu. In the viola blossoms decorating the dishes, in the hints of butter popcorn that the cream is infused with, in the odd shape of a purple-coloured sponge and in the relationship that the creator shares with each and every one of his creations.
The maestro concerned is 24-year-old pastry chef Prateek Bakhtiani, an erstwhile chemistry graduate and drop-in tutor at the University of Washington, who found himself in front of the baking oven as a result of globetrotting and multiple serendipities. "Prateek had been frequenting the restaurant. One day we got talking and figured that he is a pastry chef so, we decided to collaborate with him. He has a great eye for detail and welcomes constructive criticism," said founders Jérémie Horowitz and Tarini Mohindar.
Food for thought
The boy wonder trained under famous Irish celebrity chef Rachell Allen during his stint at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork. The school, which sits amid an organic farm, was founded by chef Darina Allen, pioneer of the slow food movement in Ireland that stressed on using fresh and organic produce and a return to traditional culinary principles.
Bitter No 14
It came up as a necessary antithesis to the speedily spreading fast-food culture, and having spent four months in that environment, it would make sense to expect that Bakhtiani emerged with a lifelong impact. But does he align himself with the movement? "I can't be called the poster boy for the slow food discourse, in that my inclination towards using fresh produce is inspired more by the palate than the ethics. But yes, I do believe in appreciating the bounty we have here in India and cultivating the habit of eating fruits in desserts," he says.
That Bakhtiani is making a conscientious effort to incorporate fruits in his creations is evident in, say, the ruby, a blanc-manger (which is best described as panacotta-like) flavoured with burnt almonds, floating in a plum consommé and adorned with English tea-flavoured mini shortbreads, plums pickled in apple cider vinegar, raspberry pâte de fruit, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Or the limoncello, a smooth and creamy lemon curd accompanied with olive-oil-drenched lemon and basil madeleines and pine nuts, butter, almond and flour crumble, donned with meringues and a spray of limoncello.
Bakhtiani misses chemistry. "I was good at it," he says, making the peace sign and adding that it came naturally to him unlike cooking. "I struggled during my year at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. I didn't know what I was doing and I wasn't creating much because I do not come from a cooking culture. Unlike most Indian kids I cannot say, 'maa ke haath ka khaana' and all that. In fact, when my mother cooks, she informs us 45 minutes beforehand because Domino's takes 30 minutes to deliver," he jokes. "So, do you subconsciously use your knowledge in chemistry as a pastry chef?" we inquire. "Oh! I very consciously use it," he replies.
"Pastry is a massive chemical reaction. Everything from procedures such as jellifying to the way temperature affects the pastry is rooted in the fundamental understanding of the molecular interactions that are contained within the elements of your dessert. One can recreate these desserts with basic knowledge like 'put it in the oven for 45 minutes'. But if something goes wrong, I can use my knowledge to retrace the steps. Take butterscotch sauce, for example. I use my knowledge of the dynamics of sugar and the caramelisation reaction to deduce when to stop deglazing. Or using my understanding of colloids to determine how much butter to add," he explains. We are a little stunned, and understandably so, but we leave with a refurbished understanding of cooking. As Pollan rightly said, cooking is intimacy. But we also learn that without chemistry, there's really no intimacy.
Chef Prateek Bakhtiani creating one of his desserts. Pics/Ashish Raje
At Todi Mills, Lower Parel.
Time 7.30 am to 1.30 am
In the pipeline
Bakhtiani is currently working on his chocolate atelier, Ether, in Wadala, which will open its doors to patrons soon. "We are attempting to immerse ourselves in an emotional ecosystem and enthusiasts can expect to taste irresistible chocolates and confectionery," he says.
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