Luxury: Let them eat cake

An afternoon spent baking via video call with a chef in France turned out to be a sweet and informative one indeed
Natasha Celmi during the French cooking session
Natasha Celmi during the French cooking session
Published on Dec 26, 2021 01:54 AM IST
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ByNatasha CelmiNatasha Celmi

The pandemic has adversely affected many industries and one of them is the luxury brands market. People are spending less on designer bags, clothes and accessories, and ‘shopping spree’ holidays to Europe have now been reduced to #throwback Instagram posts.

But they say change triggers invention and that is exactly what Hermès, the French designer brand, is striving to do—reinvent their connections with their customers in a way that goes beyond ‘business as usual’. The objective is to have meaningful engagement between the brand and its customers in the context of the pandemic. Since the culinary arts have grown big with locked-down people learning to cook, and since most people are now unable to travel to France, Hermès brought to India a virtual taste of France.

Digging into the dough

The ‘Cook with Hermès’ event was a delightful afternoon of culinary creativity at the gorgeous Masque Studio in Mumbai. No, there were no chic scarves or Birkin bags around, but we cooked along with chef Elisabeth Thiry, senior pastry chef at the Hermès kitchen, which is located at their headquarters at 24, Faubourg, Paris.

With the streaming video of the chef displayed on a large projector screen, one almost forgot that she was halfway around the world! It is interesting how the pandemic has elevated communication technology, and reduced the need for business travel to a large extent.

“Desserts should taste good and look even better,” explained the petite chef in French, while her colleague translated in English.

The crème brûlèe
The crème brûlèe

So what was on the menu? A simplified no-bake passionfruit crème brûlée, an elegant mixed berry tart and a quick almond tuile (a fancy name for paper thin biscuits). As French pastry can get very technical, the menu was curated keeping in mind the varied skill levels of the eclectic mix of participants.

Chef Elisabeth demonstrated each step at a slow and steady pace, and we followed suit at our well-equipped personal stations, assisted by the enthusiastic chefs from Masque, who ensured that we had a smooth flow of pre-measured ingredients.

The videographer deftly manoeuvered around the work counters so the chef could approve each of our efforts, correct mistakes, and come to our rescue in worst-case scenarios. She was an excellent teacher and answered individual questions, observing every detail in the workspace and even cracking jokes along the way. The ambience was very energetic on both the Indian and the French sides, and echoes of chaotic cacophony (in a positive way) filled the air as we dug into our dough and got our hands dirty.

Proof of the pudding

It was a pleasure to cook with the best of local organic products carefully sourced from various parts of India, from free-range eggs to fragrant spices and seasonal succulent fruits.

What you need to know about French desserts
What you need to know about French desserts

“I’m a savoury cook, so baking desserts was refreshing. I especially enjoyed cooking with winter berries and working with organic fruits, wholesome milk and fresh cream,” said Sonal Ved, food writer, author and a fellow participant.

After the labour of mixing, whisking, kneading and baking, it was a pleasure to finally sink my teeth into the delectable desserts I had made. The first bite took me straight to the patisseries in France and their impeccable displays of tarts, eclairs and desserts. Our families were not with us at the cooking stations, but we got to take our goodies home in customised boxes that ensured the delicate tarts did not topple along the way.

If this is how designer brands seek to engage with people globally, through food and memorable experiences, I am all for it. It’s okay if you do not buy their latest handbag or sport the season’s haute couture. At the end of the day, what matters is that meaningful human connection.

Natasha Celmi is a chef and food writer. She is the author of the award-winning cookbook, Fast Fresh Flavourful. Her mantra is Smart Cooking: minimal effort, maximum flavour using fresh local produce

From HT Brunch, December 26, 2021

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022