Deepa Desai’s initiation into the culinary world happened when she was in school. Looking at her parents and grandmother conjure delectable fares led her to the kitchen. Soon, the kitchen became her playground and ingredients her new friends. From initial baking disasters to starting her venture, Vanilla Beans, the 53-year-old has been winning hearts with her lip-smacking cakes, cookies and other eggless bakery products. Here, she takes us on a culinary ride as she reveals what went into the making of her brand. Excerpts:
How did your culinary journey begin?
There are two kinds of people in the world: The ones who love to feed and the ones who love to eat. I have been both. When I was in school, I used to source recipes from magazines and friends, I used to try out new recipes and bake within my modest kitchen. There were mistakes, burnt and charred trays full of batter and even some that were uncooked at the core. But the creations that did turn out right gave me immense joy.
Having encouraging parents and grandmother, who were master chefs in their own right, inspired me to keep improving. A fond memory that I still cherish is of this humongous square metal oven that was powered by gas and used by my mother. Her moist rava cakes with buttermilk still lingers in my memories. Another friend’s mother had a stand mixer and I remember being mesmerised by how she would use it and bake cakes for birthdays. This went on for years, on and off, but always restricted to a weekend gig or a fun hobby on the side.
On the work front, advertising kept me busy during the days. Then came marriage and soon after followed two kids. At that time, my children needed my attention, so I left my job in 1998 as an advertising officer at Pidilite Industries to focus on my family. And baking again was reduced to something on the back burner or even something for the kid’s birthday parties.
How did you get back to baking?
Incidentally, one of my friends and a colleague, Kavita Bhandari, got in touch with me after many years. She came to visit me with a batch of homemade muffins. On telling her of my trials of baking in a convection, which she also used, she offered to help me learn to use my oven. Soon, I got the hang of it and started baking more often. Of course, I had my share of baking disasters, but the key is to try it again and again till you master it.
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What motivated you to turn your passion into a business?
Along with my rekindled love for baking, I was still thinking about doing something productive and would often pester my nieces, Ketki and Vaibhavi Samant. They insisted I take the plunge into baking. So, I put on the dusty apron and baked various kinds of muffins and gifted them to neighbours, family and friends for Diwali... This was in 2012.
Vaibhavi forced me to sell her a box of muffins, making it my very first sale. One thing led to another and one of our family friends placed an order of these boxes for gifting at her workplace. I later approached Willingdon Cold Storage, Santacruz, asking if they would like to keep my muffins at their table where they sold Christmas goodies. They asked me to send some samples, which were soon sold out. Since then I started keeping my muffins and tea time cake loaves with them.
Any specific training you took to hone your baking skills?
I figured if I have to go commercial in this field, I ought to learn things the professional way, as my baking was at an amateur level. I applied at The Institute of Hotel Management, Mumbai, for their three-month bakery course — I had done their three-month cookery course in 1986, while still in college. This was in 2013. After that, I also did a fondant decoration crash course.
How did Vanilla Beans come to be?
Having garnered skills and confidence, came the part about building my brand. After thinking of many alternatives, I finalised the name Vanilla Beans for my venture, as Vanilla flavour was used ever so commonly, even in chocolate cakes. And, I somehow really liked the ring of it. I got it registered, designed the logo with the help of my friend’s daughter, Mallika Singh. After that, it took me around five-six months of practising to polish my skills further, where I made and gifted cakes to my kid’s friends, family members, etc.
My family’s encouragement kept me going. When things picked up pace, I hired help and converted a part of my house into my work area from where I started operating on a small scale. We soon went online with Zomato and Swiggy, which proved to be a big boost for my business.
What role did social media play in helping you grow your business?
Social media plays an important role in reaching out to new customers. This is handled by my elder son, Rohit, who runs a digital marketing agency. We put up stories, posts, etc on Instagram and Facebook. Instagram gave us a wide reach and audience, not only from the country, but also from different parts of the world.
Today, we have 34,000 plus followers. We are a mother and son team, where I look after the kitchen and he does the marketing. Grateful and blessed that I get to do this every day and get to put a smile on people’s faces. And fondly remind myself that it all started with a small girl gleefully playing behind her mom’s humongous square metal oven.
Chocolate Eggless Sponge Cake
125 gm maida
½ tin Milkmaid
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp soda
2 tbsp cocoa powder
½ cup of water
60 gm butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
Take Milkmaid butter and vanilla powder and start beating it till all the ingredients are mixed properly. Then add the sieved maida and other dry ingredients and half a cup of water and beat it. Preheat the oven to the highest degree for 10 minutes. Keep the cake at 180 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes.
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