“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”
This quote by renowned American chef Julia Child perfectly summarises Mumbai-based celebrity pastry chef and entrepreneur Pooja Dhingra’s illustrious career in the culinary arts.
Pooja (33) embarked on this journey a decade ago, starting out as Founder and Head Chef of Le15, and earned herself the moniker ‘The Macaron Queen of India.’
She was the first to bring a ‘slice of Paris’ to Mumbai through her delicate macarons and exquisite French patisserie. Today, her desserts are sought after by Bollywood celebrities like Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Sonam Kapoor, Lara Dutta and even the Ambanis.
It all started in 2008, when she first tasted French macarons in Paris. It was love at first bite! That’s when she had an epiphany of what she wanted to do in life.
“I clearly remember the day I had my first macaron at Pierre Hermé, when a French friend insisted I try it. I stood in a long queue, entered the store, and tasted the passion fruit macaron. It was crazy, and started this whole journey for me. It was all these different textures that you could taste - it was sweet, salty, crunchy and soft, and I got hooked. I knew I wanted to come back to India and open a store,” says Pooja, in an exclusive chat with MAKERS India.
Love for baking
Pooja was only six when she baked brownies for the first time. Fascinated by the idea of using simple ingredients and transforming them into edible masterpieces, Pooja continued baking, and her desserts were adored by friends and family.
Over the years, her love and passion for food grew, as she helped her parents with their gastronomic ventures - tasting menus at her father’s Mexican restaurant at 12, and assisting her mother in her chocolate business.
Yet, Pooja was unsure if she should pursue baking or go for a stable career like Law. While she was studying Law in Mumbai (which she did for two weeks), she realised she wanted to do something more creative, and that’s when she moved to study hospitality management at César Ritz school in Le Bouveret, Switzerland.
After completing her graduation, Pooja pursued a Diploma in Patisserie from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where she learnt not just the recipes and techniques but discipline too.
“Right after Le Cordon Bleu, I did an internship in Paris that taught me how much effort is actually required when you run your own business, because I worked under a Chef who ran his own chocolate shop,” adds Pooja.
Bringing Macarons to Mumbai
In 2009, she moved from the French capital to Mumbai, and was all geared to create the perfect ‘macaron’ recipe. But alas, the first time she made macarons in her home kitchen turned out to be a complete disaster.
Pooja also realised that Mumbai’s hot and humid weather did not help with the texture and consistency of her macaron shells, and the local ingredients like chocolates, cream and butter didn’t meet the standards.
It took her a good six months of research and 60 failed recipes to finally get it right.
Finally, she was ready to bring Le15 to life. But being a woman and being young, she wasn’t taken seriously. Eventually, she secured a small commercial kitchen in 2010 in Parel, and began hiring and training staff. Finally, her dream came to life with a seed capital of Rs 10 lakh from her family.
On being asked why she chose the name Le15, she excitedly says, “Le15 is named after the 15th arrondissement or area of Paris, where I lived during my time in Paris.”.
The story of Le15
From starting out with two people to now having a team of 70, Pooja has become a name to reckon with.
Today, Le15 Patisserie has three stores in Mumbai that teems with guests from all walks of life. While some classic desserts remain untouched, Pooja often experiments with different flavours that are inspired from her travels.
She also started the chic Le15 Café Colaba in 2016 that offered a window into the Parisian way of life. Unfortunately, it shut shop last month, due to business operations being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But she has a gift for her patrons, the Le15 Café Cookbook – an e-book that consists of the most loved recipes from the Café - 45 savoury dishes and five desserts!
“To me, this is a way of preserving our legacy and taking it forward. All our recipes, all your favourites that we have been working on for the last four years will be yours now, and they will be in your kitchen. You will be able to make them and keep Le15 alive,” says Pooja, sharing that the Nutella Cheesecake and the passion fruit macaron are her ultimate favourites!
The sales from the e-book will help them with costs and ensure their team is taken care of during the pandemic.
She has previously authored The Big Book of Treats, The Wholesome Kitchen: Nourish. Energize. Indulge, and Can’t Believe It’s Eggless.
The juggling act
Apart from donning the hat of a pastry chef, entrepreneur, and food writer, Pooja also has a successful podcast - ‘NoSugarCoat’ with Pooja Dhingra - a no holds barred conversation that brings to light the stories behind kitchen doors. Every episode features a conversation with a chef or someone relevant from the food industry.
Pooja, who enjoys doing multiple things and derives creativity out of it, tells MAKERS India,
“When I started Le15, I had no choice but to wear many hats because I was doing everything myself. With time, I realised I am lucky to be in a position where I can wear multiple roles. One day I can work on my podcast, one day on my book, then my job which is the CEO of Le 15; so I get to do so much and have fun doing everything,” adds Pooja.
Every year brings with it a new learning and an opportunity to be a better person, and that’s what she loves most about what she does.
“I feel like the last 10 years have been a school and every year I learn new lessons, every year I get better at what I do. My own personal growth is what motivates me and continues to motivate me; I feel this is just the beginning. I am 33 today and I already have 10 years of experience of setting a business up and I am excited to see what is coming next,” says Pooja, signing off.
(Edited by Athira Nair)