Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022
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Women in F&B: Q&A With Rachel Goenka of The Chocolate Spoon

Meet Rachel Goenka, founder and CEO of The Chocolate Spoon Company which runs a series of award-winning restaurants, patisseries and bakeries in India

Rachel Goenka of The Chocolate Spoon Company
Rachel Goenka of The Chocolate Spoon Company

How did you come to be in the F&B space?

I grew up in Dubai and moved to the States at the age of 18 for my undergraduate degree in Journalism and English. As soon as I finished my graduation, I moved to Mumbai, and that's when I decided to pursue a career in Culinary Arts. I eventually moved to Ireland for the next 3 months to attend the Ballymaloe Cookery School and with the guidance of Chef Rachel and Darina Allen completed a course in cuisines and pastry. After receiving my diploma in Patisserie in 2012 at Cordon Bleu in London, I decided to open my own restaurant “The Sassy Spoon” in 2013.

Tell us a little bit about your background in the culinary arts.

Pastry is something that has always excited me, particularly because of all the chemistry involved. Chemistry was one of my favourite subjects in school and applying that to my passion for baking made me want to explore patisserie in detail. While studying at Le Cordon Bleu in London, I also interned with chocolatier Paul A Young. The more I studied, the more I realised that what I enjoy the most is playing around with flavour combinations and techniques. That’s how The Sassy Spoon came about. This is one of those fields where you can actually learn so much about yourself.

When and how did The Chocolate Spoon Company happen? 

Everyone would often say I was so obsessed with desserts that instead of being born with a silver spoon I was born with a chocolate spoon. Initially, when I started the company my plan was to open a patisserie, so the name just fit as a parent company. Today, under The Chocolate Spoon Company we have 5 restaurant brands and one patisserie brand. People assume I’m into chocolates because of the company name and the back story is totally different as I began with The Sassy Spoon in late 2012 and never looked back.

How many restaurants do you run right now under the brand and what is the concept behind each?

I run The Sassy Spoon, a multi-award-winning European restaurant in Mumbai and Pune; House of Mandarin - a chic authentic Chinese premium diner in Mumbai; Baraza - a unique Portuguese-themed shack inspired Resto-Bar in Pune; Wicked China - a contemporary Asian delivery kitchen in Pune & Mumbai; Sassy Teaspoon - a chain of premium patisseries and bakeries across Mumbai and Pune; Saffron by Sassy - an Indian delivery kitchen, and Sassy Cafe - th perfect place for a wholesome breakfast, healthy and delicious meals as well as delectable desserts in BKC Mumbai.

Could you tell us more about your book, ‘Adventures with Mithai'?

'Adventures with Mithai' is a labor of love and years of experimentation, hard work, and dedication. The inspiration behind these 50 recipes from the book is simple. I wanted to elevate mithai in a fun way by taking our traditional favourites and jazzing them up with a contemporary twist.

Some memorable incidents on your culinary journeys? Which ones have stood out, and why?

I have met some of the most amazing chefs during my culinary journey and had the chance to pick their brains. From having ice cream with Maggie Beer in the Barossa Valley, Shannon Bennet giving me a first-hand tour of the Vue de Monde kitchen, to having drinks with Marco Pierre White and Gary Rhodes. I think the stories behind those interactions are what are the most memorable to me.

Which women have had an influence on you and why?

I draw inspiration from women who have pushed boundaries and upset the status quo. Women like Mitahli Raj, Faye D’Souza and Amrita Sher-Gil are some of my favourite bad-ass women!

As a woman in the F&B space, could you tell us what kind of challenges you have faced? Could you detail a few? And how did you resolve them?

When I first started out I was not only the youngest in my company but also the only female at the time. I didn’t have much work experience either, just my educational background from Ballymaloe and LCB. There was some pushback initially from my team, and I actually had to earn my place in the kitchen. Looking back I do appreciate having gone through that because earning your teams respect goes a long way in ensuring you are able to inspire and motivate your team too. You need to know your stuff before you can tell someone else what to do. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my team, put in the late nights along with everyone else. The rules were never different for me just because I was the boss. I worked harder in fact and I’m proud of it!

What are the plans for the future?

We’ve had to slow our expansion plans due to the uncertainty, but after the first lockdown we opened House of Mandarin at the Sheraton Grand in Pune and after the second wave we launched our first ever Sassy Cafe in the Jio World Drive mall in BKC. We're in the process of opening more Sassy Teaspoon stores in Mumbai and Pune and have launched our pan-India D2C website as well. We also launched our Indian delivery only concept “Saffron by The Sassy Spoon” in Pune and Mumbai last year. Prior to the pandemic, we had chalked out our expansion plan into NCR which would see us taking The Sassy Spoon, Sassy Teaspoon, House of Mandarin, and Baraza there. We expect to revive these plans once the industry stabilises.

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