For her new café, pastry queen Pooja Dhingra has brought in a Le Cordon Bleu Colombian chef who speaks Hindi and loves pani puri.
If you have visited any of the four outlets of Le15 Patisserie in the city, you are familiar with the pretty pink walls, the pink takeaway boxes and the rose macarons.
However, on a visit to the newly opened Le15 Café in Colaba, you’ll be greeted with monotones, patterned tiles and large, airy windows. And the only pink you’ll spot will be on its owner Pooja Dhingra aka Macaron Queen.
VIDEO: Meet Chef Pablo Naranjo Agular
“I was 23 when I opened Le15 Patisserie. I am 29 now, so I wanted the café to be a more grown-up space, a reflection of me,” says Dhingra, who recently made it to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list in the arts category. She joins 299 fellow achievers including actor Shraddha Kapoor and cricketer Virat Kohli. “It feels unreal, thrilling and exciting, all at the same time,” she says.
Situated bang opposite Ling’s Pavilion and behind Regal Cinema, Le15 Café’s savoury menu has been conceptualised by half-Colombian-half-Hungarian chef Pablo Naranjo Agular, who met Dhingra at Le Cordon Bleu (LCB) in Paris. “We didn’t interact much while at the school since she was in pastry and I was studying cuisine,” reminisces Agular. “But my whole gang used to hang out at the café where Pablo used to work. That’s when we became friends,” adds Dhingra.
VIDEO: Dessert Queen Pooja Dhingra’s favourite dessert places in Mumbai
Paris, je t’aime
Born in the vibrant city of Bogota, Colombia, Agular moved to Paris with just a backpack at the age of 18. By 25, he was running his own restaurant in Paris after stints at Michelin-starred restaurants like Guy Savoy, Alain Senderens and Ze Kitchen Galerie. “At 16, I thought of studying medicine but I realised that would take 10 years. So, I asked myself what do I like to do when I am sick and don’t feel like doing anything?” he says. The answer was cooking. Agular would often browse the cookery channels on television, meticulously jotting down recipes and cooking over weekends. Thus, began his love affair with food. “Now, I feel like I got married to food and everything else seem like mistresses – friends, girlfriends… it sounds really crazy,” he adds.
For Dhingra, who returned to Mumbai after completing her course, Le15 Café had been a work-in-progress for the past four years. “It was supposed to be a café in Breach Candy, but it never took off. As soon as I found this space in Colaba, I called Pablo last year,” she says. But it took her three attempts to convince Agular, who was busy with his ventures. “I had two restaurants in Paris but I’d recently split from my business partners. I was doing some cooking classes and events to take some time off and that’s when Pooja called me. I took it as a sign,” says Agular, who will be in India till April before he moves on to his next project.
For the menu, Agular marries French cooking with fresh produce resulting in truly international-yet-familiar flavours. For instance, the beans and seeds salad features five local beans - that Agular found across markets in the city - served with pickled radish and honey dressing. The crunchy parmesan waffle (even Sonam Kapoor approves of these) comes with tomato and basil sauce and a runny egg on top. “The whole menu has been built around what Pooja likes,” he says.
Dhingra, on the other hand, has introduced plated desserts (named after French women) that are an extension of her repertoire. There’s Amélie which includes milk cake, raspberry coulis, pepper crumbs and mint as well as Carla which includes lemon curd, lavender shortcrust crumbs and honey cream.
In such a short span of time, Agular has also managed to learn some Hindi words, which he uses to instruct cabbies and his kitchen staff. “Koi problem ho, toh mujhe bolna,” he quips. The highlight of his stay so far was visiting the Ashtavinayaka (eight Ganesha temples) across Maharashtra and digging into pani puri. “I really enjoyed my time there, because I was the only white guy around. It is funny because in Europe I am not that white you know,” he adds, referring to his Colombian lineage.
This month, the two friends will be flying off to Japan and return with newer ideas for the menu. So, expect cherry blossom petals in your desserts.
Le 15 café, shop 18, Lansdowne House Building, Near Regal Cinema, Colaba
Call: 97693 41994
Time: 11am to 11pm