My constant aim to learn everything meant that I never specialised in a particular field, dabbling with different cuisines instead and even dedicated a few hours at the butcher’s! When I was working at the Oberoi Hotels, the pastry chef quit all of a sudden, opening up a spot. This is where I stepped in, tweaking recipes first, before developing radically new ones. I experimented for months before being introduced to chocolate. I was never fond of chocolate, but I slowly started working with it, devoting more time to it while others took care of the rest.
I started off with using chocolate artistically by decorating buffet platters with a little show piece—a bunny with a carrot in his mouth for Easter, for example. That caught people’s attention to a point where I was creating small art pieces to be provided to the hotel’s guests in their room on the regular.
Crazy. That’s the only word that can sum it up entirely. We don’t understand that these people have an ecosystem of their own, a lifestyle that is entirely different from ours. Especially when you are cooking for someone like Obama, there’s a host of people who will screen what you are doing, even if it is a simple cookie. And sadly, you have to be patient through all this, knowing fully well that he might only take 1 bite with his coffee before moving on to a meeting!
I’m a big fan of Lata Mangeshkar and Dilip Kumar. They certainly top my list.
When I came back from my stint in Kuwait to start something of my own, a friend suggested that I start writing for magazines, which led me to travel extensively and realise that people aren’t deeply acquainted with chocolate. This led to me conducting workshops, trails and tasting sessions to share my knowledge of chocolate with the common man. It became my aspiration to create chocolates that people haven’t seen before by taking the ingredient, nurturing it and elevating it to new levels.
Ecuador has great climate to grow cocoa and it is my favourite region because it produces a kind of bean called criollo, which is the most superior bean in the world. While everyone talks only about Swiss or Belgian chocolate, Ecuador’s chocolate is a class apart.
In my search to do the unusual and take chocolate to great levels, I decided to combine the different flavours available to us. Nagpur oranges, Kashmiri saffron, Guntur chillies, Mahabaleshwar strawberries—they all lend a unique dimension to my chocolates.
I made something for the Prince of Kuwait with a sweet sesame seed paste called Rahash, a treasure from the Gulf. Combined with chocolate, it provided a delicious nutty profile to chocolate along with an additional layer of richness. For the Queen of Jordan, I made a chocolate incorporating rose, pistachio and mahalabiya—their version of a rice pudding.
In Paris, Boissier makes these delicate chocolate petals which are artisanal and absolutely delicious. I make it a point to stock up whenever I have the chance to visit them. Recently, in Vietnam, I tried chocolates by Marou which were delicious. Pacari is my third pick. This Ecuadorian brand has a 100% dark chocolate bar that only true connoisseurs will relish.
Memory plays a very crucial role in the way different people taste chocolate. When you taste something, you acquaint it with something similar that you have tasted in the past. A coconut-filled chocolate will remind someone of a Caribbean holiday and someone else of a modak! Both opinions are honest and spot on, but they are influenced by a past experience that emerges from their memory bank the very second that they take their first bite.
In the world of chocolate, I want to reach out to as many people as I can through workshops, books, television—the medium doesn’t matter!
Written By : Shirley Mistry