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“I’ve had my share of culinary disasters, but the key is to try it over and over again,” shares popular baker, Deepa Desai

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Deepa Desai’s initiation into the culinary world happened while she was in school. Watching her parents and grandmother conjure up delicious food led her to the kitchen. Soon the kitchen became his playground and the ingredients for his new friends. From initial baking disasters to starting her business, Vanilla Beans, the 53-year-old has captured hearts with her lip-smacking egg-free cakes, cookies and other baked goods. Here, she takes us on a culinary walking tour as she reveals what went into the making of her brand. Extracts:

How did your culinary journey begin?

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love to eat and those who love to eat. I have been both. When I was in school I used to get recipes from magazines and friends, I used to try new recipes and cook in my modest kitchen. There were mistakes, burnt and charred platters full of dough and even some that weren’t cooked through to the core. But the creations that worked well gave me immense joy.

Encouraging my parents and grandmother, who were master chefs themselves, inspired me to keep improving. A fond memory that I still cherish is that of this huge square metal oven that was gas powered and used by my mother. Her moist buttermilk rava cakes are still remembered by me. Another friend’s mother had a stand mixer and I remember being fascinated by the way she used it and made cakes for birthdays. It went on for years, on and off, but still limited to a weekend gig or a fun side-hobby.

On the work side, advertising kept me busy during the days. Then came the wedding and soon after followed two children. At that time, my children needed my attention, so I quit my job in 1998 as an advertising manager at Pidilite Industries to focus on my family. And baking again was reduced to something on the back burner or even something for children’s birthdays.

How did you come back to baking?

Incidentally, a friend of mine and a colleague, Kavita Bhandari, contacted me after many years. She came to visit me with a batch of homemade muffins. In telling her about my convection baking trials, which she also used, she offered to help me learn how to use my oven. Soon I got the hang of it and started cooking more often. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of cooking disasters, but the key is to try it over and over again until you’ve mastered it.

What motivated you to turn your passion into a business?

Along with my rekindled love for baking, I always thought about doing something productive and often harassed my nieces, Ketki and Vaibhavi Samant. They insisted that I go into the pastry shop. So I put on the dusty apron and made different kinds of muffins and gave them to neighbors, family and friends for Diwali … It was in 2012.

Vaibhavi forced me to sell him a box of muffins, making it my very first sale. One thing led to another, one of our family friends ordered these boxes to give away at her workplace. I later approached Willingdon Cold Storage, Santacruz, asking them if they would like to keep my muffins at their table where they were selling Christmas goodies. They asked me to send samples, which quickly ran out. Since then, I have started keeping my muffins and cakes at tea time with them.

Have you taken specific training to improve your pastry skills?

I told myself that if I was to become a salesperson in this field, I had to learn things professionally, because my baking was amateur level. I applied to the Institute of Hotel Management in Mumbai for their three month baking course. I had taken their three-month cooking class in 1986, while I was still in college. That was in 2013. After that, I also took a crash course in decorating by fondant.

How were vanilla pods born?

After gaining skills and confidence came the part on building my brand. After thinking of many alternatives, I finalized the name Vanilla Beans for my business, as the vanilla flavor was used a lot, even in chocolate cakes. And, somehow, I really liked the ring on this one. I had it registered, designed the logo with the help of my friend’s daughter, Mallika Singh. After that, it took me about five to six months of practice to hone my skills, where I baked and offered cakes to my child’s friends, family members, etc.

The encouragement of my family kept me going. When things picked up, I hired help and converted part of my house into a work area from where I started to operate on a small scale. We quickly went online with Zomato and Swiggy which turned out to be a big boost for my business.

What role has social media played in helping you grow your business?

Social networks play an important role in winning new customers. This is handled by my oldest son, Rohit, who runs a digital marketing agency. We publish stories, posts, etc. on Instagram and Facebook. Instagram has given us a wide reach and a large following, not only from the country but also from different parts of the world.

Today we have over 34,000 subscribers. We are a mother-son team, where I take care of the cooking and he does the marketing. Grateful and blessed to be able to do this every day and put a smile on people’s faces. And fondly remind me that it all started with a little girl playing happily behind her mother’s huge square metal oven.

Recipe:

Chocolate sponge cake without eggs

Ingredients:

125 g of maida

½ dairy box

1 teaspoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of soda

2 tablespoons of cocoa powder

½ cup of water

60 g butter

1 tsp of vanilla extract

Method:

Take dairy butter and vanilla powder and start beating until all the ingredients are well combined. Then add the sifted maida and the other dry ingredients and half a cup of water and beat it. Preheat the oven to maximum for 10 minutes. Keep the cake at 180 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes.

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Posted on: Sunday November 28th, 2021 08:14 IST


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