Celebrity Chef Pooja Dhingra Adds Business Wisdom To Our Sweet Tooth Over Lunch
- IWB Post
- May 11, 2017
When we entered the beautifully-lit Krystal Bar at Hilton, I made a mental note of not to stumble and break anything.
In the center, was a table where sat some of the most sought after restaurateurs of Jaipur and Pooja Dhingra, the founder of Le 15 Patisserie. For the next two hours, experiences, problems, ideas, and as Hilton’s Chef Japvir Singh calls it, “gyan” free flowed in the room.
In the words of our guests, Pooja is the “Queen of Macarons”, which is fitting because she is credited with creating the first authentic macaron in India. Pooja began narrating her journey to a very pro-active crowd.
After the latecomers had taken their chairs, Lady Boss Ana jumped right in to lead the conversation. “Why don’t we tell everyone here the 5-star qualities you think you have?” Ayesha, the founder of Tryst with Taste took the initiative and told everyone how she is very patient and can take criticism well.
She was followed by Gauri who told us, “I am open to trying out new ingredients. Also, I am an absolute neat freak.” As we moved around the table with every face now getting familiar, the conversation became more relaxed and humorous.
Ratika of the Cauldron Sisters was the last one to introduce herself, “I believe I can sell anything, I am a Marwari, you know” with that the ice was broken. The table was ready for some discussion.
In came, the Cream of Broccoli Soup with an Olive crusted toast, and it looked very appetizing. Ana had placed some paper cut-outs of Colorbar lipstick (our lunch partner) shaped like a rocket which symbolized the bold colors of entrepreneurial dreams. We “launched” them for an Instagram boomerang. After a truly hilariously awkward boomerang, the bunch dug into their soups.
Between sips of the broth, Ratika asks Pooja, “You know after a while you stop experimenting and just start serving the food every cafe serves. How do you avoid that monotony and redundancy?” Pooja replies, “You have to keep experimenting and adding modifications. That is not to say you shouldn’t give the customers what they want, but you need to stick to your cafe’s DNA.”
“What are some of the problems cafes in Jaipur face? I have often had problems with Chefs who we train but they leave for a little extra money,” claimed Pooja. Rinku, who was adorning a gold necklace that read “Peace,” got quite aggravated as she concurred, “Despite treating them really respectfully, Chefs do leave even if they’re offered a little more.”
Seeing that everyone had stopped eating their food and were fixating on the conversation, Pooja directed everyone to get back to eating. The exact thoughts in my mind were, “Can I help you finish that?” But of course, who could resist the conversation. “I too was scared of my staff leaving. But the thing is since I myself cook, I do not let the staff subdue me. You cannot let them overpower you. They shouldn’t get the feeling that you do not know your business,” Dushyant said.
As the conversation shifted to customers being finicky with paying extra money for dessert, a new participant joined the conversation.
Richa, the other half of the Cauldron Sisters chimed in, “I once had a customer argue with me for Rs. 20. This particular customer had Jaguars parked in her driveway. People just do not want to pay a lot of money for dessert.” Dushyant agreed, “People need to learn to pay for their experience, and not to fill their stomach when it comes to dessert.”
Soon the conversation moved to how Indians are just learning to taste food from around the world. Ayesha believes,”There is a need to educate and tell people about what you’re serving. You cannot expect people to just know if you’re bringing in new menu items. You need to tell them what they are.” Ayesha works with Indian coffee farmers. “Many of my clients wouldn’t even try black coffee. But now they’re ready to taste even Ethiopian coffee.”
Ronak & Aditya of Thank God It’s Healthy seemed to agree with Ayesha. “Spreading consciousness is essential. There is a need to create opportunities for people to explore. You need to be particular to think of the restaurant industry as the whole, not just your restaurant.”
Rinku seemed to have stalked Pooja quite well. She mentioned her Instagram often and briefed the table that Pooja made the cake for Arpita Khan’s wedding. Which led our Social Media Manager, Anvita to inquire, “Are celebrities helpful when you’re working on your marketing strategy?” Pooja replies, “Celebrities build a relationship if they like your product. In India, Bollywood endorsements are awesome, but it’s not a coherent marketing strategy. It can only get you eyeballs. We want people to come for our product.”
Soon enough the star-chef of Hilton, Mr. Japvir Singh, walked in. A jovial man, his enthusiasm for his work was almost dripping from his affable swagger. He really wanted to join the conversation, but work comes first (especially when work is food). Though, he made his presence felt with the next item, the Summer Salad.
The smell of the melted Cheese was filling up the air. But the diners were interested more in another ingredient of the salad which was, Avocado. Aditya told us that despite the availability of Avocado in Jaipur, the quality is certainly not up to the mark. The Indian food enthusiast is certainly tilting towards healthier options, but ingredients are still a problem.
Soon Paneer Kathi Roll and French fries were served for us peasants, too. I zoned out of their conversation and focused all my energies on the Roll. After eating just one roll (Yes, Anvita, I didn’t eat two), I returned to the main table for some more of their conversation.
Akul, of Poppins Organic Cafe, and Dushyant seemed to have a little tussle over the use of the phrase, “Healthy Burger”. Dushyant inquires how a burger can be healthy and Akul points out that the use of natural sweeteners and organic produce can make a burger healthy.
Finally, we had the pastry chef, Gaurav, walk in with some of the most beautiful looking desserts I’ve ever seen. It was so exotic I had to leave the guests and go to the chef to ask for a name. “The Apple Mousseline Millefeuille (pronounced Mill-fee),” he said. Obviously, the name went over my head so I began inquiring what goes into making it. He casually narrated the ingredients to me, “Butterscotch, Apple, Vanilla, Cream…” and my mouth began to water incessantly. I urged him to stop because temptation is a sin.
As lunch began to wrap up, Ana came to save the conversation and asked everyone to tell us their goals and dreams for the future. Pooja took the lead and said, “I want to take Le 15 the world!” Others shared their ambitious goals with Rinku’s plan to take Mamu’s infusion national, and Dushyant’s to take OTH, national. Ratika, however, had a more philosophical approach, “My goal is to reach a stage that whenever the client things of us, they get a smile on their face.”
After the lunch was over, the diners partook in an activity called “Lip read compliments,” where the ladies refreshed their lipsticks and then lip read compliments to the person on the right. As the ladies attempted to do so, Richa playfully offered lipstick to Dushyant, who blushed and declined.
Let’s just say that the most pertinent compliment exchanged at the table was, “You have beautiful eyes.” I’ll refrain from naming names.
Everybody got up to take a bunch of selfies and portraits and began to leave the bejeweled Hilton Krystal Bar. Thanking Ms. Pooja Dhingra for the luncheon, the happy-happy patrons depart. Their heads filled with new and bright ideas and their stomachs with delicious food.
Photo Courtesy: Pallav Bhargava