Good things come to those who bake and Chef Neha Lakhani is one of them. Known for her inventive and passionate stint in leading hotel chains, Chef Neha brings fresh and innovative culinary skills to the art of baking. Neha‘s desserts and bakes have a distinctive French influence and she is an expert in making wide range of chocolates, truffles, alcohol truffles, chocolate show pieces and delectable cakes. Chef Neha has also trained with some popular international Chefs like Chef Fredrick Monti, Stephane Treand, Stephane Glacier and many more.
Recently being awarded by the Indian Federation of Culinary Association for excellence in her career and contribution to the industry, Team AAW gets in a fun freewheeling chat with this beautiful baker.
1. When did you decide that you want to become a chef?
This is more of a funny recollection than inspirational. I didn’t know for the longest time that I wanted to be a chef. When I was studying in Le Cordon Bleu even then I didn’t know I wanted to be a chef. It was not until I took a job at ITC Maurya, and got my first salary that possibilities began to emerge as ideas in my mind. At ITC Maurya, I experienced work outside my comfort zone. That feeling of being independent and doing what I love is when I made up my mind that this is where I want to put all my energy into. That’s when I realised I wanted to be a chef.
2. Tell something about struggling days?I wouldn’t call them days of ‘struggle’. See in every profession there are some days when you put in more effort than you do on other days. Obviously the initial days when you are trying to establish a foothold in the industry would be harder, struggle makes you realise how desperately you want something. It is good to struggle to get a job, it is great I struggled to convince my parents to let me go out of the way and pursue this career, it was great for my self esteem to struggle to fit into what is perceived as a male dominated industry. There is a daily struggle in every profession – of doing good quality work, the struggle for recognition, sometimes. But when I look back, the most effort I put in was to convince my family to let me do this. My parents weren’t that much aware of the hospitality industry so there was struggle to explain why I’m out for long hours. This is something I continue to be scolded for (laughs). I don’t think you can achieve heights without struggling with altitudes. Every dream fullfilled makes the struggle so worth it!
3. Changes in the food and beverage industry in last 10 years?
There have been massive changes in the last decade. People are more well traveled, educated and aware. They know the new food trends. Molecular gastronomy has taken a huge turn in the industry. New techniques, new style have created a lot of pressure in terms of competition as well. People are now going out of their way to innovate and it’s being well accepted.
4. Who is your favourite Chef and why?
My favourite chaff is Antonio Bachour. He has magic in his hands and the way he does things is a remarkable change in pastry industry. He sets the trends and people follow, that’s what I’d like to do someday. He is my inspiration to better what I do every day.
5. Do you think reality shows like Master Chef India have lent glamour to the term ‘chef’ in India?
Oh yes! Absolutely! I think shows like Master Chef have made chefs glamorous. But more importantly, Master Chef has made many people realise that it is good thing to love your dream and pursue it. It’ has a great example and given a platform to a lot of people to go ahead, take the leap of faith, cross boundaries and take a shot at their passions and dreams.
6. How do you describe your style of cooking?
My style of cooking is very classic and simple. I don’t like doing too much ‘drama’, my food should look good and taste better.Also I love adding flavours and using natural and fresh fruits. My desserts always have layered textures – so an amalgamation of tastes is what I love to do.
7. Which is your favourite cuisine?
8. Favourite food destination both in India and World?
In India favourite food destination is Bengal and outside India I love the food in France – whether it is fine dining or regional traditional French.
9. How often do you cook at home ? Are you asked to cook at family gatherings too?
I don’t really cook at home that often, even though I enjoy it a lot. This is probably because of the odd hours at work. But when I was young and before I started working as a culinary professional I’ve always cooked for guests at home and otherwise for family as well. I cook good home style food and I have learnt all classic Indian recipes from my mom.
10. Any message for amateur cooks?
Just cook with your heart and feelings for your loved ones. Don’t be afraid to experiment – but do taste your food and learn from the experiences. Passion is what drives us, rest everything will just fall in place .
11. Share your favourite recipe
I love Coffee Eclairs
Here is the recipe:
– 50g (2oz) butter
– 65g (2½ oz) plain flour
– 2 medium eggs, beaten
– 300ml (½ pt) double cream
– 5ml (1tsp) vanilla essence
– 100g (4oz) icing sugar
– 15-30ml (1-2tbsp) strong black coffee