May 13, 2021
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Sweet Story

Credited with changing the face of desserts in the country, the Le Cordon Bleu Paris-trained Pooja Dhingra, Founder of the Le15 Patisserie in Mumbai, reveals how she had to overcome several challenges as a young woman entrepreneur before she came to become the most successful pastry chef in India.

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Sweet Story
Sweet Story

From baking macarons to owning Mumbai’s finest patisserie, your journey is extremely inspiring… Can you elaborate on where and how it all started?

I didn’t always know I wanted to bake, in fact I’d originally enrolled in law school and changed my mind pretty quick after I started! After I dropped out of law school, I enrolled in hospitality school in Switzerland and studied patisserie in Paris, where I tried my very first macaron. I fell in love at the very first ‘bite’ and the rest is history.

How does it feel to be addressed as the ‘Macaron Queen’ of India?

It makes me happy to be recognised for making a dessert that brought me so much joy when I tried it for the very first time all those years ago.

I am still proud of the first time, when after hundreds of failed attempts, my macaron recipe finally worked.

When is the first time you baked? Can you share some fond memories associated with baking during your childhood days?

I’ve been fascinated by baking for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of baking brownies for the first time with my aunt.

I was amazed at how simple ingredients like eggs, butter, flour and sugar could create something so delicious and magical.

When did you realise you wanted to venture out on your own? What kind of challenges were you faced with when venturing out as a young woman?

I have been fortunate in that sense because I haven’t faced any outright cases of sexism in my professional life. This might be because I started my own business on returning from culinary school.

The issues I faced were more because of the young age that I started my business at. The way business is conducted in India, in the past I’ve often had to deal with suppliers and vendors who wanted to speak to my father instead of me. In my own kitchens, we make a great effort to hire an equal number of men and women working.

When you opened Le15 in 2010, Mumbai didn’t have many gourmet pastry shops. What has been most surprising or interesting for you in the recent boom in the food industry in India?

Yes, in 2010, Mumbai didn’t have many standalone pastry shops or gourmet shops. I remember when I told people I want to only have a menu that was a page long and specialise in certain things, they were surprised. People are so used to seeing menus that are pages long and everyone tries to do everything. I think that’s the biggest change I see. You have a shop that will only do cookies now and one that will only focus on ice cream and that’s great.

Which chef have you learnt the most from?

My chef from Paris, Jean Charles Rochoux, from whom I learnt what it took to run your own business and how to treat your employees.

Each of your creations are like an work of art, where do you draw inspiration from?

Research and development is an ongoing process, I don’t think I will ever be done learning! From new techniques to the nitty gritties of the business, each day teaches me something new.
- Chef Pooja Dhingra

Everyday it’s something new, travel is one of the strongest sources of inspiration for me. But even more than this, I believe that the amazing and creative individuals and companies that we have collaborated with in the past such as Masaba Gupta and Nachiket barve, Design Fabric, Bombay Perfumerie, all of them doing fabulous work have and continue to inspire me. Sometimes, when I’m in a lull, I try to find a project that challenges me like the Cannes-inspired desserts we did last year! These collaborations at the intersection of food, art, fashion and design have been the most incredible experience for me as a creative and a chef.

From what we understand, baking is a lot of patience, how do you keep yourself mentally and physically fit?

Work doesn’t feel like work for me. I love every minute of it, when you love something so dearly the patience comes with it. Some of my favourite moments in a week are when I am waiting for oven timer to ring during recipe trials! Running a business can of course be stressful from time to time and I find having a regular and consistent work routine like I do helps.

What is the loveliest dessert other than the ones from Le 15 Patisserie you have tasted in the recent times?

I’m a big fan of Chef Kelvin’s desserts. His honey toast at one street over is excellent. The guava tan ta tan at Bombay canteen is also one of my favourites. One dessert that I can’t forget is called Milk and Honey at the Nomad in New York.

Is there anything in the dessert business that you are looking forward to learning?

Research and development is an ongoing process, I don’t think I will ever be done learning! From new techniques to the nitty gritties of the business, each day teaches me something new.

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