Heart-shaped chocolates are not associated with bleak emotions, but pastry chef Prateek Bakhtiani changed that notion. Few years ago, his Mumbai-based brand Ether launched a Valentine’s day collection of black chocolate hearts, inspired by people who feel lonely in love. “Loneliness is a human experience too, and being in a relationship doesn’t change that,” he says. So, for a day that marks togetherness, he created a collection to recognise an emotion that often goes unnoticed: loneliness.
To stay true to the theme, he used ingredients like black vanilla, black pepper and black sesame. It is this sharp focus on inspiration and creativity that defines the 27-year-old pastry chef’s work. This month, he launched a magazine Cavities on his website etherchocolate.com. It’s a personal project that he intends to turn into a fortnightly feature. The idea is to interview pastry chefs and demystify their craft through recipes. The first issue is akin to a well produced recipe booklet with photographs and illustrations to show how pastry chefs make a classic dark chocolate cake.
Bakhtiani speaks to Lounge on taking the first steps to pave the way for pastry makers.
Why did you launch a magazine ?
I started to notice how pastry is being written about in mainstream media. Their stories cater to a culture of home-baking, with advice on easy ways and hacks. But, that’s not how professional pastry chefs work. I wanted to produce a resource for this community. Soon I realised we don’t need that because we were trained in culinary schools or on the job. So, I created a resource to strike a middle ground for professionals and home bakers.
Why shift the focus to pastry chefs?
I’m tired of seeing pastry as an afterthought. Pastry chefs put in a lot of work too. Our ethos is zen, controlled and fascinating. I want to let people see that this is a different way to be a chef. A cool, biker chef who is yelling in the kitchen is just one part of the narrative, and there is a sort of romanticism to that. But, pastry can be sexy and just as romantic too.
What has stopped pastry chefs from getting this kind of recognition?
I think it’s a combination of the way that cuisine is taught and how it’s perceived. Pastry is seen as one of those things that restaurants can get by without. But, now I think that’s slowly changing and pastry is coming to the forefront.
Do you see a demand for this change?
I’m going to be slightly crass here, but I don’t care. I’m doing it because I want to and hopefully demand will crystallize around it. At Ether, what we do, is very experimental. As long as it’s sustaining itself, I’m going to keep doing with the hope that demand will catch up for it to be a wild financial success. I’m not losing money on it, keeping my staff fed and doing justice to the chocolates—that’s all I care about now.
Where do you source your ingredients from?
The chocolate is the main part. We go through some classic chocolate makers in France, Switzerland, Spain, and Belgium to source single origin, farm-fermented cocoa. Some of my favourite origins are Peru, Madagascar, the Dominican Republic. Their specific notes appeal to me; Peru is floral, blue and soft, Dominican is sort of yellow with pineapple and banana which is tropical, and Madagascar is fruity with berries and cherries. Each serves different inspirations, and that’s what I love about them.
What do you source from India?
A lot of the fruit that we do is sourced from India. But one thing that I am clear about is not being a big fan of favouring ethnocentricity over meritocracy. For me, if Peru is better than Kerala chocolate, then so be it, and that’s what I’m using.
What do you think stops pastry chefs from finding their voice in India?
Pastry and chocolate don’t have to be fun, jovial and bubbly. It can be just as interesting, complex and introspective, as we treat cuisine. I worked with pastry chefs abroad, who have taken darker and depressive motifs and interpreted those to pastry, which opened my eyes. So, I don’t think there’s a lack of creativity or talent, but pastry chefs haven’t been told what’s else is possible.
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