Pooja Dhingra on facing the lockdown, Le15s FMCG line and her newest cookbook Coming Home
Psst She might have even let us publish one of her scrumptious chocolate cake recipes
''Do you even like baking anymore?'' was a question that one of India's top pastry chefs, Pooja Dhingra, asked herself in the time that followed the closure of her much-loved cafe in Colaba, Le15. Much like for the rest of us, 2020 brought its set of unprecedented challenges for her. They say, perseverance is key and after speaking with Dhingra, we're reminded why that statement stands so true. The baker, author, entrepreneur, podcaster and now, YouTuber is back, and better than ever. After successfully launching her own line of FMCG products, India's very own macaron queen is all set to launch her sixth book—Coming Home.
Edited excerpts from an interview
Your book is a lockdown baby—tell us how what you experienced during that time has found resonance in Coming Home?
The lockdown truly changed my outlook on many things. Last year in April, I had to ask myself several tough questions. Whether it was about who I am outside of my work, what baking meant after 11 years (and if I even liked it anymore) or even, finding the meaning behind what I do. That made me look within and Coming Home is a reflection of all that soul searching.
How did you get Pierre Herme to write the foreword?
Pierre Herme is the chef who has deeply impacted my life and work. Le15 probably wouldn't exist if I hadn't tried his passion fruit macaron as a student in Paris. I met him in Paris two years ago as a representative of the Young Leaders Program by the French Embassy. I am an Alumni Youth Ambassador for Education in France and I had help from Campus France to make this happen.
How would you say you have evolved as an author?
My approach to books has always remained the same—I write books that make baking accessible to the Indian baker. It's a problem I faced growing up, where I couldn't relate to recipe books because of the lack of ingredients and equipment. As an author, my writing has become more vulnerable open and also, less fearful. I've realised life is too short to not express what you truly feel.
The exigencies of the pandemic forced you to shut your cafe down last year. What was going through your mind at the time and how did you cope with the situation?
Closing our Colaba cafe was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make as an entrepreneur and chef. I went to hospitality school because my dream was to own a cafe someday. And Le15 Cafe was a realisation of that dream. So, it was difficult for me to let that go. But I just knew that I had to do what I had to do in order for my business to survive. Looking back, it was the smartest thing I could have done.
You managed to launch a whole line of Le15 products during a pandemic. How did you pull that off?
Honestly, it looks like it all happened in one year, but the entire packaged product line is something that I had been working on for about three years. The lockdown accelerated all the launches and made sure my entire focus was on the project. For many months my R&D team and I worked on getting things right. But working on packaging, logistics and launching a website through the pandemic was definitely not easy. The idea is to scale these products and reach every part of the country. Once I do that I can retire and become a yoga teacher!
You have recently entered the YouTube space. What kind of content can we expect from you in the future?
My Youtube channel is something I was contemplating for many years. I just took the opportunity of the lockdown to launch my channel. To be very honest, I haven't done full justice to it at all. I'm still trying to figure out what kind of content I would want to share on it.
After the whirlwind that was 2020, and keeping in mind your own achievements, what is the one piece of advice you would like to give to new chefs/ entrepreneurs?
For me, last year was all about trusting myself and the thought that everything will work out if you have the courage to make hard choices quickly. My advice would be to listen to your instincts and not be afraid of being real or vulnerable.
For all the budding bakers reading this, we have a little treat for you. Dhingra gave IFN an exclusive sneak peek into Coming Home with one of her favourite recipes from the book–the chocolate olive oil cake.
Flour 160 g
Powdered sugar 125 g
Chocolate chunks 75 g
Cocoa powder 15 g
Baking powder ¾ tsp
Baking soda ½ tsp
Milk 220 ml
Olive oil 85 ml
A pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 165C and line a 7-inch cake tin with parchment paper.
Start by adding all the dry ingredients into the blender.
Then, pour olive oil and milk into the mixer and give it a quick blitz until all ingredients are well combined.
Pour the batter into the lined tin and bake at 165 C for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
De-mould only after the cake cools down completely.
Eat as is or top with ganache or Nutella.