'Follow your gut, live in the moment'

'Follow your gut, live in the moment'

macaroN MAGIC

'Follow your gut, live in the moment'

A  chance encounter with macarons in the French capital led Pooja Dhingra onto the path of baking. That chewy meringue cookie influenced her so much that she decided to give Mumbai a taste of classic French desserts through her setup, Le15 Patisserie.

“In all my 22 years, I had eaten enough pineapple cakes and Dutch truffle pastries to last me a lifetime, but I had never tried a macaron. I was in culinary school in Paris when I tried my first macaron and it was love at first bite,” explains Pooja.

Whether you attribute her success to her hardwork or the perfect timing, the fact remains that her delicious macarons changed the way people looked at desserts. But it wasn’t always like this though, says Pooja. “The market for baked goodies has evolved so much in the last five years. The Indian audience is more open to trying new and innovative desserts, and this is encouraging pastry chefs to experiment with new flavours and textures and offer something entirely new,” she elaborates.

Set up in 2010 in Mumbai, Le15 Patisserie is named after the Parisian street of Pooja’s alma mater, Le Cordon Bleu. Studying in one of the most prestigious cooking schools of the world will definitely get one’s career up and running. But Pooja insists that it wasn’t all fine and dandy in the beginning.

With initial funding from her family, she took her first step into business. On  one hand, while many didn’t take the (then) 23-year-old seriously, on the other, Pooja struggled to protect her sweet treats from the humid weather of Mumbai. She recollects a time when it was difficult to find suppliers and real estate agents who were willing to talk to her. But she held on for the sake of her passion and today, Le15 Patisserie has branched out to four new locations in the city.

Making her mark

Growing up in a family obsessed with food, it was no surprise that Pooja chose to make a name for herself in the same field. “My father owned a Mexican restaurant when I was growing up and I spent all my summer holidays there. My mother is a home baker and watching her at work rubbed off on me,” she shares.

But there was a time when Pooja wanted to be a lawyer and she even joined a law school. But as fate would have it, within two weeks she realised that law wasn’t for her and she moved to Switzerland to study hospitality management at Cesar Ritz
Colleges.

Describing her foreign experience as absolutely wonderful, Pooja says, “Staying and working in Switzerland and Paris, I got the opportunity to meet some amazing people and it changed the way I think and made me a different person. My happiest memories are of just walking around Paris with my friends and trying different
patisseries.”

Most youngsters would have been content with the booming business of cakes and pastries. But Pooja isn’t your run-of-the-mill entrepreneur. She went a step ahead and set up Studio Fifteen, a culinary centre solely dedicated to teaching baking. “The idea behind Studio Fifteen was easy, accessible recipes and teaching methods. You don’t need to be an expert or even know how to break an egg to sign up for the class! Our teachers are the best in their field of expertise and ensure that when you leave the studio, you've mastered a lot more than just four recipes,” quips the baker, who is number one on every Bollywood celebrity’s mind when it comes to celebrations and parties. Be it Sonam Kapoor who shares Pooja’s recipes on her app or Alia Bhatt who loves Pooja’s sweet treats, Bollywood is going gaga over this young girl.
Better & more intuitive

Citing travel as her biggest inspiration, Pooja’s work mantra is simple and clear: follow your gut, work hard and live in the moment. Ask her if gender matters
professionally and she is quick to respond, “I believe you choose to see a situation as advantageous or disadvantageous. For any business, there are certain challenges while setting it up. But I do believe that being a woman makes me a better and more intuitive leader.”

It was with this conviction that she recently stepped into the non-bakery space with Le15 Café in Colaba, Mumbai, where one can relish dishes like stuffed gnocchi, sweet vanilla waffles, chocolate and almond sandwich and so much more. “The thing about dreams that become a reality is that they always lead to something more and Le15 Café is a manifestation of one such idea. Pablo, my friend from culinary school, moved from Paris to Colaba to co-create the menu for Le 15 Café. There’s lots of flavour and texture, but simple dishes — the kind of food we like,” she explains.
Pooja already has quite a few achievements under her belt. She’s been featured in ‘Forbes 30 under 30’ list; her first book, The Big book of Treats won the second place in pastry at the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards.

Clearly, there’s no stopping this gritty and talented woman. So, what should an aspiring pastry chef do to taste success like her? “First make sure that this is what you want to do — do some research, speak to people, get an internship and then if you’ve decided to go for it, enjoy the ride!”

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