An Interview with Pooja Dhingra

Pooja Dhingra is a young, renowned pastry chef and the owner and Executive Chef of Le15 Patisserie, a dessert paradise in Mumbai for every person with a sweet tooth.

Her passion for food began at a tender age. Not giving up on her “baking” dream, Pooja, trained at Le Cordon Bleu, a prestigious French culinary school in Paris. Being a die-hard dessert aficionado, Pooja wanted to do something about the huge gap in the pastry industry in Mumbai. That’s when the inspiration from French cuisine gave birth to the idea for Le15, a boutique bakery.

“Macaroon Lady”, Pooja, talks about her unique life experiences and lessons learnt as a budding entrepreneur in this candid interview:

Tell us about your culinary beginnings in baking. What inspired you to bake?

I grew up in a family that is obsessed with food. My father owned a Mexican restaurant when I was growing up and I spent all my summer holidays at the restaurant. My mother is a home baker and watching her bake rubbed off on me.

What do you think are the key personality traits for a chef?

For a pastry chef – Creativity, patience and stamina

What were your most memorable childhood experiences in the kitchen?

Baking brownies with my aunt when I was six years old. Learning how baking requires patience and simple ingredients like butter, sugar, eggs and flour and create absolute magic.

Describe that turning point in your life when you decided to give up law to pursue hotel management?

I didn’t study law for too long. I was a month into the course and realized it wasn’t for me. Hotels have always intrigued me and when I had the opportunity to move to Switzerland, I just grabbed it!

How have your experiences at the University Center Cesar Ritz and Le Cordon Bleu helped in preparing you for the role of Executive Chef at Le15 Patisserie?

I believe the two experiences have complimented each other beautifully. At UCCR, it was a business and hospitality degree so I learnt the basics of management and setting up my own business. I also got the opportunity to live, work and study with people from 60 different nationalities which opens the mind like nothing else can.

LCB taught me the basic techniques of French baking and I got to live in the most beautiful city in the world, Paris, which is my inspiration for everything at Le15.

Any food disasters as a student? Tell us about one such experience and how you tackled it?

I once dropped a chocolate cake 3 floors down at LCB. The walls were freshly painted for a culinary competition and there were chefs from all around the world at school. I finished my class and slipped on the stairs. I fell down a flight of stairs while the cake flew out of my hands and painted the white walls brown.

Le15 Patisserie is your brainchild. How did the idea for Le15 come about?

I have always wanted to run my own cafe or restaurant. While living in Paris and studying French baking, I realized that a lot of what I was learning is not available in India. I fell in love with a macaroon and decided that I needed to make these when I returned home. It started with a simple macaroon.

Are you a dessert-junkie?

Yes, the worst kind of dessert-junkie!

The desserts business is competitive. Were there any challenges you faced while setting up Le15?

Any business is competitive and one faces challenges while setting anything up. I started working on the idea of Le15 at 22 and started it at 23. Being so young and naive, I learnt several important life lessons which I am extremely grateful for.

So, then what kept you going to fulfill your dream? Who has been your role model for pursuing a career in baking?

Pierre Herme. He is a French pastry chef who I greatly admire.

How do you go about creating new flavors and recipes?

It’s all about technique. Once you know basic techniques creating recipes is very simple. All you need is an open mind. I get a lot of my ideas and inspiration from basic things around me.

Any favorite recipes?

Chocolate ganache fascinates me. It’s simple, easy and so versatile.

So has “Macaroon Lady” stuck?

Haha. Everywhere I go people invariably introduce me as “Le15, macaroon lady or cupcake”.

What are your future plans for Le15 Patisserie?

More stores and lots of exciting collaborations!

For the youth who are considering a career in the culinary arts, what would your advice be?

It is a difficult industry, so be warned. But, it’s also the most exciting, fun and rewarding thing you could do for a living. If you’re sure that this is what you love – try getting some experience in a hotel or restaurant and if you still love it – go for it!

Kritika Pramod Kulshrestha

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