|Photographed By Ellinor Forje|
This was Pooja Dhingra's story then, when I met her in Paris one year ago. Time is a good friend. Yes.
Pooja Dhingra is funny. That is what her classmates at Le Cordon Bleu think. Yet, she seems completely oblivious to the fact that she is charming, and to the fact that people are instinctively drawn to her. Her English accent is that of a Bollywood actress. And her beauty is blossoming. Dhingra is like an extract from the Britney Spears song, “Not A Girl, Not Yet a woman”. Her character is like a composite of three other personalities active in the profession of her intensions. She is as assertive as Gordon Ramsey, of “Hell’s Kitchen” without swearing. She has the archetype; “the boy next door, that sadly doesn't live next door to me,” of Jamie Oliver - “The Naked Chef”. And she is sassy, exotic and curvaceous like the British TV cook, Nigella Lawson. Though she is only half Lawson’s age, she is equally ambitious. And she has epic plans for herself. She is also well aware of the obstacles she will face in her pursuit of them.
Dhingra, is finishing up her “Diploma in French Pastry” at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. She plans to return home to India, to set up her own chain of pastry shops in Bombay. She is conscious that it is going to be difficult for her as a young woman, to enter the male-dominated business environment in India; “People don’t take you seriously,” she said in a soft spoken voice, yet firm in her speech. And on many occasions when she has had to contact people in relation to her business venture, they would literally hang up on her; “My father would have to call” she said.
Dhingra, who comes from a family where both parents are in the food and catering Industry, did not always know that she wanted to become a chef. After high school, she started studying law in India. But, after a month of studies, she realized that her choice of career had not been the right one. So she dropped out of her law program and moved to Switzerland to study at Cézar Ritz Colleges. In 2007, she graduated with a Bachelor of International Business in Hotel and Tourism Management. And in 2008, she moved to France, to master the art of pastry making. Dhingra, does not feel that the time she spent studying undergraduate law in India was wasted. “By trial, that’s how you learn,” she said.
Dhingra, plans to have a centralized kitchen in Bombay where the pastry will be made, before being transported to the other bakeries. She has already conceived a concept for her pastry shops, “French technique, Indian flavour” she said and continues, “the key will be to find a common ground, you have to tweak the recipes to suit the ingredients available in India, and the temperature.” The menu will also include chocolate pralines, as Dhingra did an internship with chocolatier Jean Charles Rochoux during her one year stay in Paris. Her business establishment is going to be called “Le15” after the arrondissement in Paris, where she lived and spent most of her time.
Catherine Baschet, development manager at Le Cordon Bleu is very enthusiastic over Dhingra’s entrepreneurial spirit given her young age. “She is very focused, and determined at the age of 23,” she said. Baschet, has already collaborated with Dhingra on a workshop project for Le Cordon Bleu, held in India last year, and she is planning for more to come.
Dhingra, belongs to the generation of highly educated young women who are slowly changing the business environment in India. Yet, she is modest in reference to her undertakings, “I don't think I am an inspiration yet. But, hopefully one day I could be!” she said.