New Delhi: In a quiet corner of a Chattarpur farm — a neighbourhood haunted by the ghosts of millions of mass-produced pineapple pastries and Tutti-Frutti ice-cream consumed at weddings hosted at its rented-out open spaces — Shivan Gupta decided to do something defiant. From Paris came heirloom recipes for desserts of fairytale delicacy, ingredients imported from abroad, and pastry chefs with the years of brutal training needed to bring them together just so.
At the height of the pandemic lockdown, while the rest of us were conducting ill-fated experiments with banana bread, Monique Patisserie began creating the authentic Parisian experience.
It’s expensive and makes no concessions for taste buds ruined by decades of exposure to artificial flavours and industrial quantities of refined sugar. But incredibly, it’s working, drawing in Delhi millennials willing to pay for that incredible cake or pastry.
A patisserie — in India’s first certified bakery, pastry, and chocolate expert Chef Sahil Mehta’s words — is different from a regular bakery or pastry shop in terms of the skillset and ingredients it offers.
Shivan Gupta, founder and creative director of luxury events space Amaara Farms, who launched Monique in 2021, echoes the sentiment as he underlines what sets a Parisian bakery apart from any other: the technique, intricacy, and delicateness of its desserts.
Variants of French bakeries have made their way into Delhi but there was still a gap, said Gupta, inspiring him to bring French pastry chef Maxime Montay on board. Interestingly, the patisserie is named after Montay’s grandmother Monique, and the menu boasts of Le Paris-Brest, Le Saint-Honoré and La Tarte Tropézienne, all heirloom recipes. Nestled in a luxurious farm space in Delhi, Monique Patisserie claims to offer an authentic Parisian experience.
Lessons from France
Although the business aspect of Monique is being run by an Indian national, chef Maxime Montay runs the kitchen. Chef Sahil Mehta, who spent his early years in Paris and studied at Lenôtre, the “Harvard of bakery schools”, acknowledges the high-class training and education one can get abroad, but also aims to bridge the gap between aspiring chefs/bakers in India and quality education.
Mehta, now in his forties, has years of experience in the baking and hospitality industry as a chef and consultant. He has helped build and launch brands like L’Opera, The Artful Baker, Honey & Dough among others. He has now teamed up with Tedco Education Private Limited to offer a seven-month patisserie course to a select batch of 10 students.
Recalling his “toughest years” as a chef/consultant in India, Mehta said Delhi has the “biggest Michelin critics” as he highlights how a dearth of refined taste palettes has been a persistent problem. “Our [Indian] food is so spicy that our taste sensibilities are set in that way. We can not sense anything mild. People are not used to that,” he said, adding that it is hard to find authentic chocolate in the country as most bakers are known to use bogus chocolate and synthetic creams.
Mehta said that he has observed that there are many chefs/bakers who studied overseas, came back, and resorted to unauthentic raw materials to cater to the preconceived taste of Delhiites.
“All my ingredients are imported from abroad — chocolate, cream, butter, essences, and colours. Just the flour, eggs and sugar are locally sourced. These are crucial to delivering high-quality, authentic products. Considering the import costs, the desserts are priced accordingly,” he said, adding that not everyone can afford a pastry worth Rs 400, but the certain segment that can, must realise their responsibility and educate others.
His own brand ‘Paris My Love’, based out of South Delhi, is a passion project launched only to educate people. “I am very happy being a consultant. The only reason I opened Paris My Love was to educate a regular person about the quality and significance of ingredients in a dessert. The idea is not to make money. If I can do it, I am sure there will be five others wanting to do the same,” he added.
Designer to baker
Not every artisanal baker has a connection with France. Rhea Wadhawan, a design graduate from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, quit her corporate job to pursue a pastry arts course in Dubai and three years later, is a full-time home baker based out of Noida.
However, in hindsight, she feels an indigenous culinary school such as Lavonne Academy of Baking Science and Pastry Arts in Bengaluru, Karnataka, would perhaps have been a better choice.
With her eccentric and striking designer cakes, she has managed to create a niche for herself and her brand — Torte — in the fairly male-dominated baking industry, but the journey was not a bed of roses.
Wadhawan confessed that she faced discrimination due to her gender but considers herself lucky to have received plenty of opportunities much sooner in her career that facilitated her transition to an independent businesswoman.
Besides the social construct around her, another hurdle surfaced when she discovered that she was allergic to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in every product made of wheat, which could prove to be detrimental for an aspiring baker.
“The culinary schools teach you what gluten is but not how to work with gluten-free flour. Nor is it a popular concept in India. I took some time off to learn and research about gluten. In the process, I found several other allergies that people have. I thought of launching a brand that would circle around health desserts but the market did not respond well,” she said, recounting her journey.
Cut to three years later, she has a niche and loyal base of over 8,000 followers on Instagram and is planning to expand it by launching a website soon.
Cakes are normally priced around Rs 2,000-2,500 per kg because of the high-quality ingredients being used, coupled with innovative designs. “Studying design definitely helped me develop a better eye and understanding on how I would want to present a dessert. I try to create desserts that look and taste different from what is readily available in the market,” said Wadhawan.
After the renaissance of ‘banana bread’ during the Covid pandemic, this niche market is evolving to fuel Delhiites’ appetite for luxurious baking goods.