How pastry chefs are cooking up a dessert storm

Forbeslife India, 27 December, 2014

Back in 2007, Neha Arya Sethi, then 22, spent nearly every waking hour crunching numbers and poring over Excel sheets. With a degree in finance from the prestigious Wharton School of Business, she was working as an investment banker in New York. Now, in 2014, numbers are still Sethi’s best friend, but the sleep-deprived and overworked analyst has traded her tailored suit for the chef’s apron and her posh New York workstation for a cubby hole in Lower Parel, Mumbai’s mill-turned-business district. Those numbers, too, are no longer tied to the volatile capital markets; instead they test her proficiency in exactitude: Of flour, butter, sugar, what have you.


Just like our mums and grandmums, Sethi was once a baker by hobby, churning out cookies in small batches and handcrafting them for friends and family. Goaded by her friends, she started selling incognito, out of a small car for a few days a week. When her wares sold out in minutes every single time her staff parked the car in some of Mumbai’s toniest neighbourhoods, she knew it was time to shed her cloak of invisibility and set up her store. The banker-turned-baker stands vindicated as her months-old cookie shop—Sweetish House Mafia—has become the talk of the town and draws in grumpy businessmen, chic socialites and school-going kids alike.


As India gets food-fashionable, the ranks of Sethi are swelling. Cakes, pastries and sweet treats are no longer relegated to the backbenches of gastronomy—they are now the talking points. Pastry chefs are increasingly being celebrated and many are leaving the confines of the restaurant kitchen to strike out on their own. As chutzpah meets business canny, brace for a dessert storm.


Kathakali Chanda

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