Chef Rachel Goenka found her love for food – especially mithai – very young. As she forayed into the culinary world at the age of 24 with her first restaurant, she also bit – literally – into a lot of sweets. She tells us about the resulting book, and why we all need a little bit of sweetness in our lives
Rachel Goenka’s earliest memory connected to mithai is of eating Mysore pak with her dad. “It’s our favourite mithai and we’ve had some serious bonding sessions over who gets the last piece,” reveals the founder and CEO of The Chocolate Spoon Company, a holding company of a chain of chic restaurants, bars and patisseries. Since then, mithai has held that unique spot in her heart that brings back fond memories.
It is no wonder then that, when she brought her dream of writing a book to fruition, it had to be about mithai.
Having studied classic French patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu in London, Rachel has a deep appreciation for traditional techniques, but she also feels that there is so much more to mithai than what is seen. “I had been experimenting with mithai for a long time,” she tells us. “Every Diwali, I’ve experimented and plated contemporary desserts with mithai.” Her unique experiments are now a part of her book, Adventures With Mithai.
“Every time anyone – my father’s friend’s sister’s uncle even – visits Chennai, a box must be brought back for me from Sri Krishna Sweets.”
Rachel reveals in the foreword that her biggest weakness among the many, many Indian sweet delicacies she enjoys is Mysore pak. “Every time anyone – my father’s friend’s sister’s uncle even – visits Chennai, a box must be brought back for me from Sri Krishna Sweets,” she writes.
It is this love and delight in flavours that led Rachel to eat almost every mithai out there when writing the book. “Apart from being a lot of fun, the experience was a huge learning lesson,” the award-winning chef-author-entrepreneur smiles. “It took me out of my comfort zone into celebrating mithai in such a modern way, resulting in the 50 recipes that made it to the book.” She has made it clear that she loves all mithai, but we force her to pick just one from her book. “It has to be the Chocolate Barfi Cheesecake; it is one of my most favourite recipes,” she enthuses. “It’s so simple and yummy and it looks beautiful!”
Before she made her foray into the culinary world to train and then set up her first restaurant – The Sassy Spoon in Mumbai – Rachel had a stint in the media following her double degree in journalism and English from Pennsylvania State University. She has continued to write through her career, specialised pieces published in magazines and newspapers. The yearning, however, was always to write a book, a recipe book that hadn’t been done before. “I worked on Adventures With Mithai for a long time, and I was elated when it won the Gourmand (Award) for the best pastry and dessert book in the world.”
“Cook with love. Whenever anything comes from a place of love, it always tastes better. Why do you think we all love our mum’s cooking the most?”
What started with The Sassy Spoon – a multi-award-winning European restaurant in Mumbai and Pune – has now become a restaurant portfolio comprising 20 outlets of multiple eateries and two central kitchens across Mumbai and Pune. She believes it is her philosophy when it comes to cooking that has catapulted her to the height she has reached. “Cook with love,” she insists. “Whenever anything comes from a place of love, it always tastes better. Why do you think we all love our mum’s cooking the most?”
Extending this philosophy to the guests who dine at her restaurants, the experience she wants to offer them via her food is the perfect mix of comfort and surprise. The flavours will be familiar, but the ingredients used are different, which adds that element of the unexpected. “I love seeing a guest’s face when they have that moment of surprise. It’s so satisfying. My Basil And Chocolate Fondant Dessert is the perfect example. Guests are always wary of trying it because it sounds so strange but, once they do, their face says it all,” she reveals.
“What is life without sweetness? You have to indulge every now and then.”
We realise that she consciously and subconsciously steers the conversation towards something sweet. She smiles, “What is life without sweetness? You have to indulge every now and then. I’m one of those people who always has chocolate on me. You should see my bedside table!”
Miss Sassy, as she is fondly called, admits that her son Kabir and daughter Amalia have inherited her sweet tooth. “And how! My son loves macarons. My daughter loves dark chocolate and cake,” she reveals. This working mom is quite clear that she likes to spend time with her family, so work-life balance is necessary. “Coming home to my kids after a long day at work and having a cuddle and spending time with them is the best part of my day,” she concludes as she gets ready to head home to do just that.
Your comfort food: Wagyu burgers
A chef who has had an impact on you: Paul A Young
The first dish you ever cooked: Tiramisu
An ingredient that fascinates you: Balsamic vinegar
Three things you can’t cook without: Salt, butter, love
Photographs courtesy Rachel Goenka
Also Read: Chef Pooja Dhingra: Home Is Where The Heart Is