What began as a hobby when I was 14 years old soon germinated into a deeply passionate adventure. From the little girl that baked her first cake in a pressure cooker to the person/chef I am today, my journey has been shaped by the various people I’ve met along the way. After all, where would we be if it weren’t for the people that we look up to, the ones who have mentored us and the ones that continue to inspire us.
The foundation of my baking knowledge was laid early on, thanks to my Nani. During one summer break, she taught me how to caramelise almonds and coat them in chocolate. The gorgeous aromas of toasted nuts, molten chocolate and the slow-burning sugar were so intoxicating that they still linger in my memories.
As a child when someone asked me what I want to do when I grow up, with a very enthusiastic and confident nod, I’d say that I want to start my own chocolate factory and bake cakes!
From then to now, I have come across many gurus that have taught me life lessons and shaped my journey. As a pastry chef, chocolatier or even an entrepreneur here is what I have come to learn and realise.
It is imperative that you never let the fear of failing stop you from trying. It is better to give it your all and pursue your passions.
My grandma had to escape from Lahore to Ahmedabad with three children when India and Pakistan were divided. To sustain her family, she started cooking, baking and teaching home science. She loved gardening. She would grow vegetables in her garden and ferment them into pickles for sale.
I used to visit her in the summer holidays and together we would make carrot halwa cake out of carrots growing in the garden. She was the one that pushed my parents into letting me follow my dreams and become a pastry chef and chocolate maker. She is the embodiment of a woman’s strength in my life and I aspire to be tough and resilient like her.
Living in France, among some of the most renowned patisseries and chocolatiers, my passion became more than an obsession, almost a way of life. Pierre Herme, Christophe Michalak, Claire Clark are some of the names that continuously inspire me.
I remember a time when I was adding finishing touches to a few desserts for service at Pierre Hermé’s boutique, when I heard someone comment from behind me, “C’est a la folie! C’est magnifique!” meaning “Bravo, Sanjana! As an internee, you’ve done an amazing job on the decoration”.
‘A la folie’ was an expression for something exceptional, magnificent and madness in a good way. This stuck with me as I realised that no job is too small and there is much to learn from even the smallest tasks.
Learn to Survive
Life is not a bed of roses. In all honesty, the hospitality and pastry industry is not the same for men as it is for women. You have to be tough and passionate. You have to take charge and be a good leader. But more than anything, you need to learn how to push through. There are many women today that are beacons for other women aspiring to showcase their talent in this industry. I myself look up so many of them.
Even with the current situation today, businesses and start-ups need to focus on survival. Making profits and sticking to plans is no longer an option today. You need to have good survival instincts.
Try New Things
I remember the first time I ever taught a class. No one had the slightest idea, but I was terribly nervous. I also remember when I first went to France to learn more about French pastry. Things don’t always turn out the way you want them to. People don’t always treat you like you think they will. Situations that you have dreamed of can also sometimes get scary when you are in the moment. It is imperative that you never let the fear of failing stop you from trying. It is better to give it your all and pursue your passions. What’s the worst that can happen? You might disappoint some people. But if you never try and you let your fear get the best of you, someday you will end up disappointing yourself.
So always be open to taking up new challenges. Today, as I look back to the first time I ever tried something new, I am without any regrets.
Cheesy as it may sound, team work makes the dream work. My time with Chef Michalak at The Plaza taught me the importance of teamwork. While you could be the best pastry chef in the world, when you are in a busy kitchen prepping for service, it is like a beautiful live orchestra. You must be in sync with your team. Each one makes the music better for the entire audience. The absence of even one musician does not go unnoticed.
As your team grows, so do you. By delegating tasks and believing in your employees you give them a chance to understand where their strengths lie and that allows them to become better at their work.
The most important thing that budding entrepreneurs and aspiring pastry chefs need to realise is that not every day will be sunny. Creativity and ideas don’t flow like water out of a tap. You will have good days and bad. It is only when you endure the bad, do you recognise and appreciate the good. Never, ever give up.