ANITHA K. MOOSATH | Updated on: Jun 23, 2011

lf17_pooja1.jpg | Photo Credit: ANITHA K. MOOSATH

She gave up law to whip up a successful business in gourmet French desserts.

It's just over a year since Pooja Dhingra plunged wholly into the creamy world of gourmet French desserts. And she is already on a roll.

The baked offerings from Le15 Patisserie, her pastry kitchen in Mumbai, have been a big draw. Her clients include industrialists, celebrities, corporate biggies and expats.

Cooking was a passion for Pooja even as a schoolgirl, when her family owned a Mexican restaurant. She also tried her hand at baking, and helped her mother in her chocolate business. “I've always loved playing with flavours. You think of something innovative and try to create it. Nothing can match that joy,” she says.

The 24-year-old was just following her heart when she gave up law for a bachelor's degree in hotel management from Switzerland. “I had to intern in kitchens as part of the course, and it was like rekindling an old passion,” she says. She further got a diploma in pastry making from the renowned Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris. “We got to learn a lot from the best chefs. Also, it was fun living in a city where food and fashion blend into an exciting mix. We used to walk around the innumerable patisseries and bistros, and relish the variety delights on offer. The French are incredibly crazy about food, and they almost treat it like art,” she says.

She fell in love with France and its culinary ways, and wanted “to put her mundane experiences into some tangible form” when she returned. And when it came to naming her ‘slice of France' in Mumbai, she couldn't think of anything better than Le15, the 15th arrondissement in Paris where she lived. She also saw a business opportunity as French pastries are not much in vogue in India. She had the backing of her family, which shares her zeal for food. Her father and brother are both into the restaurant business.

At Le15, Pooja literally has a finger in every pie — she dishes out fabulous treats, trains her staff and sometimes tweaks recipes to bring out something unique. Her macaroons, which come in a dozen flavours, have been the biggest hit, and perhaps the most difficult to make. “It took a few months to perfect the recipe. The shells used to turn soggy because of humidity,” she says. And like a true Parisian, she does her packaging tastefully — in neat food-grade paper boxes that come in subtle shades.

Le15 has two outlets in Mumbai, and Pooja is scouting for a café space in upmarket Bandra. She gets bulk orders for birthdays, weddings and celebrity events such as fashion shows, besides catering to the corporate gifting segment.

She spends nearly 12-13 hours a day in her kitchen, and the dedication has paid off. Production has tripled and her income touches Rs 2 lakh every month. “It's not that easy. You have to stand for long hours. It breaks your back. For Diwali, it was a marathon baking session from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. We had to deliver 3,000 cupcakes and macaroons, and a countless number of cakes,” she says.

The food enthusiast in her is forever experimenting and innovating. She is now working on a new line of macaroons with an Indian twist, besides planning to take up a course in ice cream making.

Cooking classes are another speciality at Le15. “We held a culinary week as part of the launch. My foreign friends whipped up an exciting fare, and the response was overwhelming. So we continue doing it,” she says.

She tries to get chefs from across the globe to work at her outlet in an attempt to introduce international food trends and concepts such as molecular gastronomy. The focus is also on textures, flavours and presentation, she adds.

“More than homemakers, it's professionals, catering students and expats who stream in. There are some who fly in from Hyderabad and Bangalore for a day or two,” says Pooja. Le15 has been promoting a social cause too by giving away goodies to underprivileged children in association with the social service wing of St Xavier's College. It has been mainly word-of-mouth publicity for Le15, but Facebook and blogging have been a great way to reach out, says Pooja.

So, how authentically French is Le15? “The French Consulate and Alliance Francaise often place orders with us. That's enough proof,” says Pooja with a dash of pride.

Published on June 23, 2011
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