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Celebrity Chef Pooja Dhingra On What It Takes To Become The Macaron Queen Of India

khushboo sharmakhushboo sharma  |  Nov 3, 2021
Pooja Dhingra

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Pastry chef and author Pooja Dhingra started Le15 Patisserie in 2010 with the vision of introducing the savoir-faire of French pâtisserie to India. The idea was an instant hit. Despite all ups and downs, Pooja was living the dream until they had to shut down amid the uncertainties of the pandemic. Dejected, Pooja turned to her home kitchen for comfort and eventually it all came back to her. She remembered that she started Le15 to bring joy to people and she didn’t need a brick and mortar cafe to do that. Pooja started by sharing recipes on YouTube, writing cookbooks, selling her signature macarons online, and starting a podcast on the pleasures of doing it all. In 2020, she re-invented Le15 while discovering her true potential as a baker and an entrepreneur. 

From discovering the magic of baking at six to rediscovering it at 34, it has been a fascinating journey for Pooja. When the Le Cordon Bleu graduate first started Le15, bakeries in India were still confined to a limited repertoire: pastries, buns, cream rolls, and occasional tarts. As someone smitten by French bakehouses, Pooja wanted to bring a piece of Paris to India and found her answer in macarons. Soon enough, everyone wanted to visit that ‘gorgeous café’ near the Gateway of India.” Today, Pooja is hailed as the ‘macaron queen of India’ and has managed to impact pastry chefs and cafes across the world. However, the impact of what she has truly achieved in the past decade only hit Pooja in 2020. While relaunching Le15 online, she set a goal of selling 100 of her premixes within 36 hours. They ended up selling over 1,000 instead. What might have looked like an end in 2020, has proved to be a new beginning for Pooja and Le15. 

Pooja Dhingra

A lot has changed for the pastry chef in the past year. The one thing that hasn’t changed though? Her honesty. She never shies away from telling her story—both hits and fails. Sit with her on a laid-back day (which she has few of) and Pooja will tell you how Le15 Colaba was a labour of love and passion. She will talk about how many failures it took to perfect her famous macaroons. There’d be a mention of slow days and eventually how they had guests who’d leave them love notes. She will tell you all of it—no holds barred. Her latest book, Coming Home, does the very same. For this cookbook, Pooja has chosen recipes synonymous with her very spirit—simple, heart-touching, and the ones that invoke a sense of joy. 

All this while, Pooja’s entrepreneurial journey has been like a good macaron—a winning mix of practice and patience. In a country that often relegates women to the kitchens at home but expects to see only men as gourmet chefs, she has effectively punctured the narrative. We had to share her story on our #POPxoWomenWhoWin series to inspire the generation of women chefs and entrepreneurs ahead. In a recent chat with POPxo, she talked about turning her hobby into a profession, adapting to the new “normal” and values that have helped her sail through it all. Excerpts below:

How do you begin your day?

I usually wake up by 7:30 am and start my day with some light yoga and meditation if possible.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

No two days are ever the same! I spend my day wearing different hats at work and doing whatever is needed from me. I’m in the kitchen/office for 9-10 hours every day.

Pooja Dhingra

You started baking at six. What inspired you to turn it into a profession?

I always baked as a hobby but the real turning point was in college when I worked in a pastry kitchen. It almost felt like a bulb went off in my head and I knew this is what I wanted to do for a living.

Tell us about your first experience in a professional kitchen. How did it shape you as a baker?

I did an internship under chocolatier Jean Charles Rochoux in Paris. I think as a chef, this was a defining experience for me. Not only did I learn what discipline is needed in a kitchen I also learned entrepreneurship from my chef.

Your business incurred a huge setback in 2020 with the shutdown of your Colaba cafe. How did you navigate your way out of that phase?

It was an extremely tough time for me. The cafe was a realisation of a childhood dream for me and to have to take the decision to shut it down was extremely difficult and painful. But I decided that there were certain situations that I had no control over. I decided to put my energy and focus on the things I could control.

What would you say has been the biggest turning point in your career?

I definitely think the pandemic was a big turning point for me because it taught me many lessons. It brought my team together like nothing else could; I truly understood what it meant to be an entrepreneur.

Pooja Dhingra

What has been your biggest professional accomplishment so far?

I think getting more young girls in the professional kitchen is an accomplishment I’m really proud of. Also, getting Pierre Herme – my idol and the Picasso of Pastry to say that he was inspired by me to start vegan macarons was a big moment.

What are the skills or qualities that have helped you succeed?

My ability to work hard, adapt, and stay connected to what I’m truly passionate about has helped me in my career. I also have the ability to see things from a different perspective and live a life led by purpose.

Pooja Dhingra

A mantra that you swear by in your professional and/or personal life?

I have several I rely on to keep me motivated and going. Some of them are –

– When you know better, do better.

– Everything happens for a reason

– You don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step

Three cooking/baking lessons that you think can be life-changing?

Baking is precise and a science. I think if you can master basic formulations and understand why things work that can be quite life-changing.

What advice would you give to people considering a career in the food industry?

I would recommend they speak to as many people in the industry as they can. I also think working and doing an internship would truly help them understand the pulse of the business.

And lastly, how do you unwind?

I unwind by spending time with my family and friends. I spend time working out, doing yoga or meditation each day and that helps me disconnect from the day.

Featured Image Courtesy: Pooja Dhingra