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Tinker with temptation

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:56 IST
Ayesha Banerjee
Ayesha Banerjee
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Jamaican Mamba: A dark, moist fruit cake with Tia Maria. Chocolate Grinch: Nutty fudge with hints of toffee, caramel and French sea salt. Mocha Madness: Bittersweet chocolate cake with mocha custard. Chocolate Cheesecake: A wicked amalgamation of cream cheese and dark chocolate. Ahhh!

Now, before we chocolate and crème puff addicts get overly excited and spill morning coffees over our newspapers and go rummaging in our refrigerators for that last bit of Toblerone, let us say a short, sweet prayer for the wonderful people who create all these sweet temptations and keep us so contented with our lot...

Kishi Arora, who runs Foodaholics (the tempting confections featured above are from her menu) and Arshi Jhautia, owner of Cravings, both based in Delhi, love to get down and dirty with the sweet stuff.

The two ladies were also influenced by talented (female, mind you) cooks in the family during their childhood. Jhautia’s mother had a fascinating array of cakes popping out of the oven, which had Arshi yearning to pick up the bowl and start doing her own whipping and churning. Arora, who grew up with her grandparents in Delhi because her parents were in Singapore, got her inspiration from her naani conjuring up exotic dishes in her kitchen.

The initial steps were taken far away from kitchens, though. Jhautia, who did her graduation and postgraduation in history from Delhi University before getting a degree in law from there, has no formal qualifications when it comes to baking. While she was doing a course in interiors, something told her she was on the wrong path and soon she started thinking of her own venture — which is how Cravings was born. It started off as a very simple affair, “using mom’s old English ovens and a few cake tins”. Marketing was done by word-of-mouth. She didn’t advertise, but soon most food guides published by top newspapers started giving her kind reviews — which worked very well for her.

Arora joined the Shri Ram College of Commerce after passing out of the Air Force Bal Bharati School. It was only after getting her degree that she toyed with the idea of doing something with food, took a loan and went to study at the Culinary Institute of America. “I had in the period after college handled my dad’s business in Delhi and decided I did not want to spend my life in front of a computer and so dropped the idea of going to the London School of Economics or Australia — as planned earlier.”

“Food was always a passion and I was very inspired by cookery shows on TV, especially Yan Can Cook,” says Arora. “So, at home in naani’s kitchen, I would put things in glass bowls and pretend I was doing a live demo for a TV show and talk to myself and the cook. My maid thought I was quite loony...”

Baking happened entirely by default. A vegetarian, Arora hated the thought of “butchering” chicken and other live things and went in for something that didn’t require her to harm any living creatures.

She launched Foodaholics after stints at Four Seasons California and Singapore and doing food consultancy in the US. Then, a friend wanted her to help him introduce doughnuts in India. “After doing various flavours for him, I realised doughnuts were not the end of the world and wanted to do something of my own.

The business took off on a nice note and today I am very happy with my own little community, where I interact with people, have a fan page on Facebook.”

She pampers her clients by giving them flavours to die for and customises cakes for them. “I can do a cranberry cake with cream and blueberries for you, or even do an audacious dessert with basil leaves... flavours are something I like to focus on, and people really go for the unique stuff,” she says.

Arora invested Rs 50,000 in her business and works from home – a three-storeyed house, and delivers “everywhere” in Delhi-NCR.

The busy season for both Arora and Jhautia begins around October — during festive and wedding seasons. Jhautia has at times averaged about 200 cakes a day and Arora says she has done 3,000-3,500 cakes thus far... each recipe carefully selected by her. “No two cakes of mine are the same,” she says proudly.

What's it about?
A baking specialist creates cakes, cookies, biscuits, pastries. S/he can work at the pastry substation in a hotel or restaurant or have his/her own business.

For a specialist, the presentation of a product is as important as its taste and flavour. A cake, therefore, has to have the perfect icing, which does not only taste good, but has to look tempting enough too. From fruits like strawberries to passionfruit, to mangoes... the creativity of a baking speciality can be unfettered provided he or she is talented enough. Many baking specialists like Kishi Arora, however, want to focus more on flavours and has even tried basil with desserts

Clock Work
Someone with his or her own business might have a daily routine like this
. 7 am: Wake up, exercise
. 8.30 am: Walk into kitchen and consult order book
. 9 am: Have breakfast in kitchen 12 noon: Take a break
. 2 pm: Have lunch and discuss wedding cake design with client
. 3 pm: Clients start walking in for orders

The Payoff
The junior chef of a five-star hotel or high-end restaurant might be paid Rs10,000 a month and a senior sous chef or pastry chef about Rs48,000 to Rs50,000 a month. Anyone with his or her own cake-making venture can survive if they manage to build up a good clientele, and sometimes make profits of about Rs2lakh to Rs3 lakh in the busy season

Skills
. Creativity. You have to be innovative and creative to come up with interesting recipes
. You have to have good managerial skills to lead teams if working in a hotel or a restaurant
. You have to have a sound head for business if running your own venture

How do i get there?
A degree or a certificate course in baking after Class XII helps. Experience counts so that you can either join a restaurant or apprentice with a good chef.

A degree in hotel management is the best route to the profession

Institutes & urls
. Institute of Hotel Management, Training and Nutrition
www.ihm.pusa.net
. STEP proframme at The Oberoi
www.oberoihtels.com/careers
. National Council for Hotel Management and Catering Technology

Pros & Cons


.

You get into this profession because you love what you do — which is cooking


.

Profit margins can be very high in the food business


.

Stressful at times in the busy season


.

You deal with perishable items so you may suffer losses at times

Experience at a hotel or restaurant counts

Meet a young baker who abandoned the idea of running dad’s business, took up baking ‘by default’, and launched her own business

Foodaholics is your own baby, but is it necessary for a baking specialist to take some kind of training?
Anyone who is young has to get the experience of working in a restaurant or hotel. You should first learn to master the art of baking and once you are out of school then learn about other things like the cost of putting things together, decide on the kind of boxes/packaging you want for your products, the presentation. If you want to start out on your own, you have to work out a viable business model. Find out if you can make money out of what you are doing.

You trained at the Culinary Institute of America. What did that experience teach you?
My deans and teachers at the institute were brilliant. The truth is that if you are working hard, then your teachers also pay attention to you. They saw me studying, and multitasking, teaching maths to students, thanks to my SRCC background, helping out some chefs with their research. It was a very enriching experience there – I had to interact with all – from the dish-washer, to the dean, the person laying out the table for a party, to the host of the party.

There were all kinds of people I met when I travelled all across the US. Also, being a vegetarian, I was allowed to eat whatever vegetarian stuff the kitchens in the institute produced. In fact I came to be known as the broccoli girl there. I remember initially putting on a lot of weight because of the amount of cheese I ate. Luckily, as I had lived alone in India (my parents were in Singapore), I was not averse to trying out different kinds of foods and adapted to the culture well. I learnt a lot — in the product management class I came to know about the existence of 40 different types of tomatoes, about four types of Brussels sprouts, about breads from all parts of the world. School taught me to think of food from a scientific viewpoint.

And setting up Foodaholics, your own business? Was that easy?
The fact that I am from a business family helped. I also had work experiene at the Four Seasons – first in the US then Singapore. Then, I did consultancy for friends and decided to start my own venture.

Kishi Arora, owner, Foodaholics, New Delhi Interviewed by Ayesha Banerjee

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