In an exclusive interview with Foodeez Junction, Patisserie Chef Neha Lakhani tells about her food experiences and what fascinated her towards culinary journey.
Patisserie Chef Neha Lakhani is an innovator and a baker par excellence. Her bakes and desserts draw the influence from her world travels. Chef Neha, after pursuing degree in finance, decided to take it to the bakery and patisserie world. She pursued Pastry Diploma at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa under Chef Herve Chabert and Chef Christian Faure. She honed her skills in planning customized fine desserts in the pastry kitchen of ITC Maurya Sheraton, New Delhi.
Chef Neha Lakhani is awarded by the Indian Federation of Culinary Association for excellence in her career and contribution to the industry. She is a prominent judge at the Asia Food Festival. She is also a member of Penang Chefs Association, Indian Culinary Forum and Indian Federation of Chefs Association (IFCA). She is also an expert panellist for NDTV.
In 2013, she started her own venture Patisserie Royale. Read on what Chef Neha Lakhani has to say about her journey in the patisserie world.
Can you tell us a bit about your career? Being from a finance background, why and how did you get started in food?
Finance has always been my utmost love. I wanted to be a charted accountant but when my dad thought I may not clear it and also because he wanted me to get married. I thought I was too young (still think so). So there was a huge row at home but we settled on graduation in finance followed by an MBA. But definitely not chartered accountancy. But during my MBA when I was in my internship, I realised this definitely is not me! This job is just for the table.
I was already feeling bored and felt if I take this up as a profession, it will make me stagnate. I was terrified of doing the same thing over and over again everyday without any innovation.
Yes, I have worked with my father for three years in his shoe business and garments exports. But it never hooked me on. I always thought that it’ll always be an identity that I’m just his daughter.
I love him very much and I’m very proud to be his daughter. But I also wanted to be known for my own self.
That’s when I decided to switch. I was always a good baker ever since I was a kid and always had that knack of doing new things in the kitchen, trying out new recipes and so on. So I decided to be a home baker, for starters. It was actually when I realised I could not ice a proper cake, and was only making tea cakes. That’s when I decided to take professional training at Le Cordon Bleu. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
I have my own identity and I am not only my father’s daughter. I feel happy that people know me for my work.
What is your opinion about pastry industry in India?
There have been massive changes in the last decade. People are more well traveled, educated and aware. They know all the new food trends. Artistic cakes have taken the pastry industry by storm and also the amalgamation of new and unusual flavours. People are now going out of their way to innovate and it’s being well accepted.
Your desserts are full of celebration and life. How do you come up with the ideas?
I like to do new things every time. I don’t like making repetitive cakes. Personally, I like bright cakes. While I am at work, I like putting love into the cake as if I’m making it for my own self.
See a cake is for celebrations. So I like my cakes being a part of people’s happiness. It is a privilege that I am instrumental in turning their happy times into everlasting memories. And this is what inspires me to think out of the box and innovate.
What’s your Favourite Dessert?
I’m a huge coffee fan and also I like my classics. So coffee eclair and opera are my favourite desserts. More often than not, if I am eating out, for dessert, I primarily order anything with coffee..
What is your Signature Dish?
My signatures are the artisanal granola – it is a huge hit, and I say it with modest pride. The orange spiced cake glazed with almonds and chocolate is also a speciality.
Ingredients that you couldn’t live without.
Most definitely hazelnut praline paste , pistachios and vanilla pods
A cooking experience that you will never forget.
I think that will have to be one of my classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Canada. I was much influenced by Chef Christian Faure, my trainer at Le Cordon Bleu, because he is so hardworking and eager to learn new techniques. For me, he is a true alchemist of pastry, who taught me how churning out sweet delights was a sensory experience – it should look as well as taste heavenly. His attention to the artistic aspect of baking is incomparable. So he taught us this dessert recipe – Palet d’Or – coffee ganache chocolates. I still remember how he appreciated my work after the class when he was judging and how he encouraged me – that kind of appreciation and what it meant to me is incomparable to any cooking experience.
How did you adapt to the changing trends in the culinary world, especially in patisserie?
Yes it’s very important to cope up with the new trends and innovations. I do follow new techniques and experiment with lot of different ingredients. But my mantra is to innovate with flavours with a respect for what is classic..
Who is your Favourite Chef?
I’m a huge fan of Antonio Bachour. When it comes to patisserie, he’s a trend setter and I truly follow him. I refer to his books his Instagram handle for pastry guidance.
Basic tips for all the home chefs/bakers.
Basic tips for home chefs would be — be real and work efficiently.
Even if there’s just one cake that you know – make it your best.
Nobody should be able to better that! Do it perfect. That is what you will be known for if you do decide to sell. There’s no point of selling a 100 things on your menu if they are all average or below par. That’s what I believe in. Whatever you do – big or small it should be with best efforts and perfection.
If you have ordered a dessert from Patisserie Royale, share your experience. I would be waiting to hear from you through the comment section below. Till then enjoy baking!
— as told to Sara Khan