Life is uncertain. So better eat the dessert first! Quite the mantra pastry chef Neha Lakhani swears by as she whips, bakes, beats, layers and dolls up her cakes and all that’s sugarlicious at Lavaash Deli by Saby. The Queen of pastry paradise who found a ‘suitable match’ in the baker’s den, rates training as the top most must have and rose the ranks from a humble home baker to a professional chef!
HERE’S the thing: the world is not short of pastry chefs. But when Chef Saby handpicked a young Neha Lakhani to handle the pastry and bakery at Lavaash Deli, it was one of those great grand moments that deserve to be frozen in time.
Yup, she has cut quite an upper crust for herself, but not before putting up a good fight.
‘Hain? Kya cake-wake banaogi ab?’ Lakhani’s father literally blurted out his mind when she declared that she wanted to get into the world of baking. Here he was, a typical Punjabi businessman and dad, dumbstruck for he couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that his little girl wanted to exit the money spinning world of finance and bake cakes for a living. But then, Ms. Lakhani, after working for three years with her father, finally closed those heavy duty ledgers and balance sheets and opened a new account – one that would see her weigh and measure in grams, kilos, litres and ounces.
“I was baking your regular cakes at home, nothing fancy schmancy, but it was good and made me feel good,”
Lakhani gives a peekaboo into her journey…
“I wanted to pursue it professionally, something my family couldn’t understand as to why someone would pay 800 bucks for a cake!” While the home-baking continued and her family was busy hunting for a ‘suitable boy’ for her, Neha applied to all the Le Cordon Bleu across the world, and got accepted in Canada.
Nine months of LCB, three months of working in Canada and Neha was hired as a kitchen executive at the ITC Hotel the moment she stepped foot back in the country.
Glazed tarts, sparkling sugars, crunchy cookies, chocolate swirls, macarons and ganache, cakes – layered and tiered – Lavaash Deli is a heaven you could die and wake up in.
Amidst this smorgasbord of inviting goodies and bright colours is Chef Lakhani in charge, creaming, beating, curdling, dusting, icing, caramalising, coating, garnishing – phew you name it, and she’s acing it.
Consultancies, freelance work, a youtube channel, her own Patisserie Royale, workshops at culinary schools – Chef Lakhani’s balanced a fine juggling act.
While plans in the pipeline include opening her own brand of cafes across the country to a commercial kitchen, a big base in South Delhi, she still feels she’s got miles to go.
“I think I started really quick. I should’ve waited for couple of years before expanding and this is what I tell students too because no experience is enough. Merely by going to a culinary school and attaining that chef’s white jacket does not make you a chef. It takes crazy hours, mindboggling pressure, lots of experimentation, sleepless nights, incessant training and responsibility to really earn the tag,” she shoots.
Home Ground to Hallowed Grounds
Needless to say, it has been a helluva journey from a home baker to a professional chef.
How she must’ve given energy and enthusiasm to the batter-laden spatulas and apron adorned bakers cocooned in most of the homes, one shares with Lakhani. And while she agrees, she simultaneously feels strongly towards the community of home bakers and its proliferation. “I feel home bakers as a term has become a joke. People bake couple of cakes, earn a few thousand bucks and call themselves as chefs,” she rues.
According to her, if one is into sales, they should have a sales tax number. If they want to call themselves a chef, they can, post acquiring certification from a culinary school.
Lakhani, who follows chef Antonio Bashour ardently, also feels one needs to take out time for professional training now and then. “If you want to graduate from being a home baker to a chef, you have to enter the professional world of training. To get your game up, one has to be up to date with licenses, certifications, food safety rules, hygienic conditions, ingredients etc,” she says.
That’s not all – she herself takes annual training breaks, and also conducts Sunday classes, twice a month at Lavaash, to pass on her expertise to those willing to learn.
Sweets for my sweet:
Simplicity appeals to her. A traditionalist at heart who loves the classics like opera cake, panacotta, crème brulee, Lakhani’s never quite ‘understood’ fusion food much. As she teaches easy to bake recipes on her channel, she says, “people still have to get used to the French flavours.”
Chef Neha is known for her granola that sells in kilos. Then there is her signature toffee cheese cake, oreo mousse, salted caramel tarts, coffee truffles, hazelnut mousse with raspberry, orange plum cake – the list is endless.
On the spirited front, she prefers to use alcohol once things are cool to retain the flavor.
Here’s a chef who loves her cakes and pastries over chocolates and breads and chuckles how she has piled on 14 kilos in the last year because she tries everything before it hits the table (we love your passion chef !).
“I admit I have the biggest sweet tooth! But at Lavaash, we do healthy desserts with coconut, pumpkin seeds, honey, oats, chia seeds, star anise, cardamoms, a lot of simple grandma style baking.”
Finally, what’s her secret ingredient? “Anything I want to make yummy, I add another pound of butter,” she winks.
Now that’s more like it!