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“Recreating culinary school recipes challenge in India,” says Dhingra
Saturday, 30 June, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Khyati Das, Mumbai
Pooja Dhingra, who pursued a law degree in Mumbai until 2004, now dons a number of hats - she is a pastry chef, founder of Le 15 Patisserie (the first bakery chain in India that specialises in macaroons) and Studio Fifteen Culinary Centre in Mumbai, and author.

Her interest in gastronomy dates back to her childhood. While her father and older brother were restaurateurs, she learnt the art of baking pastries from her mother. She headed to Switzerland to pursue a course in hospitality, and later graduated from Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu.

Dhingra described her experience in the two European nations as absolutely wonderful, adding that she enjoyed every minute of it. She stated that she had the opportunity to meet some amazing people, and these encounters did not just change the way she thought, but also made her a different person.

In fact, it was in the French capital that she tasted a macaroon at an outlet of Herme’s Patisseries - an experience she described as love at first bite. It prompted her to attempt to make them and introduce them to the mainstream baking industry upon her return to Mumbai.

Macaroons continue to be Dhingra’s signature dishes, because they were one of the hardest recipes to master and among her personal favourites to bake.  Her maiden store opened in 2010, and six years later, she expanded her enterprise, opening a Le 15 Cafe outlet in South Mumbai.

The menu at the cafe includes a number of simple, savoury main course items and desserts which are named after French women. Her Mumbai outlet had just two employees at the time of its inception, By October 2014, there were as many as 42. She aspires to open about 20 pastry establishments across India.

Dhingra considers eggs, flour, butter and sugar her favourite ingredients to work with, stating that they have always been magic to her. She added that a number of recipes that she learnt during her stint at culinary school have proved to be challenges to recreate in India.

She has penned a book titled Big Book of Treats. It is a guide for home bakers, regardless of whether they are experienced or beginners. Containing the basics, the book encourages readers to not only experiment, but also whip up fabulous treats from the comforts of their own kitchens.

In addition to opening more outlets of Le 15, Dhingra wants to write more cookery books, which would serve as guides to those who are keen to bake and learn new variants. When she isn’t in the kitchen, she loves to travel, read, listen to music, watch podcasts, work out and swim.

Lucky lady
She considers herself as one of the lucky ones, to have found the kind of work that she enjoys doing and that creatively satisfies her. But she is goal-oriented as well. She stated that setting targets and working towards achieving them, both in her personal and professional lives, inspire and motivate her each day.

Citing ‘work hard and find your niche’ as her mantra for success, Dhingra added that although she was always passionate about baking, she wasn’t sure if it were something she wished to pursue professionally until much later. However, she decided to follow her heart.

“Fortunately, I have a fantastic support system at home. Being a woman has never come in the way of being taken seriously in the industry. But yes, I started when I was very young. And it was hard to change perceptions. I have been asked to bring my father along to sign rental contracts,” she added.

Dhingra stated that her mother was her inspiration. “She is an incredibly strong woman, who has inspired me at every stage,” she added, stating that the latter, who had the courage to pursue her passions, kick-started her career as a spiritual healer at the age of 40.

“While it is important to keep abreast of the prevalent trends, it is also of utmost importance to put in the effort to understand the customer and his/her needs better,” she added, stating that she continually and consistently strives to deliver the goods without compromising on the quality.

Dhingra stated, “I have been extremely fortunate to have turned my hobby into my profession. While that definitely gives me the ultimate goal of satisfaction, I do not believe that these tags are my goal. However, it is nice to be recognised for the work I do.”

“It is imperative for a person to learn constantly and work to reach his/her goals,” she added. Dhingra’s message, as an influencer and guide to youngsters who aspire to become pastry bakers, is improving on one’s skill sets to find success would yield positive results.
 
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