Chocolates are an integral part of any festival. And on the occasion of the biggest celebration in the country, we talk to a chocolatier who hopes to bring her NYC-based brand to India soon
According to the market research group, Mintel, our burgeoning appetite for luxury goods is best reflected in our insatiable demand for fine chocolates. “One that is growing at a whopping 35 percent annually,” agrees Vrinda Rambhia of Premium Pralines, the company that brought Leonidas Fresh Belgian Chocolates into the country. Rambhia’s top sellers include delicate squares of Manon Cafe and Gianduja, a delectable chocolate and hazelnut affair that has been Leonidas’ signature for decades and is sold out of their two Mumbai stores at `6,000 a kilogram. The same Mintel report states that this spurt in demand has not gone unnoticed globally and luxury chocolate makers in Europe and America are looking to break out of their crowded home spaces. They plan to expand into our buoyant Indian chocolate market, hot on the heels of brands like US-based Brown & Haley’s (Almond Roca), which though popular, does not fall into the league of Royce, a Japanese cult brand of fine chocolates introduced recently by Samir Gandhok and Avani Raheja of Burgundy Hospitality.
Also looking to make inroads into India’s chocolate loving ranks is young chocolatier Aditi Malhotra, born and raised in New York and listed by Zagat and Forbes on their ‘30 Under 30’ list of culinary stars to watch. Her part-store-part-cafe, Tache, on NYC’s Lower East Side is a well frequented hub for laptop toters, schoolkids, dating couples or newbies learning the nuances of truffles, mendients or bon bons at her downstairs Willy-Wonka-esque factory. Mentored by Chennai-based restaurateur and businessman Muthalampet Mahadevan (a long-time family friend), she hopes to expand Tache into India by December. “I plan to start a pop-up store at my grandfather’s restaurant, Gaylord, in Mumbai and will be spending the next couple of months finalising locations in Delhi and Pune,” she says.
Malhotra needs to keep constantly innovating in order to survive in NYC’s haute chocolate market where competition is fierce. If elsewhere in the city Katrina Markoff is known for her star anise flavours, Justine Pringle for her lush sea-salt caramels, Malhotra’s Indian masala chai and Belgian beer caramel truffles have their own following. The savvy lass even carries Tache samples in her purse to pass out in lieu of business cards at bars and events, because, as she puts it, “you never know who your next customer is likely to be.”
Building the mould
Coming from a long line of restaurateurs, Malhotra inherited a natural appreciation for culinary art. “My grandfather introduced Indian cuisine to America at the 1964 World’s Fair. He still owns Gaylord in Mumbai, and my parents own two Indian restaurants— Akbar in New Jersey. I grew up around fancy equipment, experienced chefs, and hours of food discussions over dinner so it was impossible to escape the hospitality industry,” she smiles. But her real interest lay in chocolate, a dream that materialised later.
Malhotra trained at Glion in Switzerland, followed by a stint at Mahadevan’s chocolate shop in Chennai, Le Chocolatier, then took an in-depth chocolate-making course at the French Culinary Institute. “Actually, after Glion, I moved back to NYC and worked with chef Pichet Ong at his bakery, Batch. The training helped me at French culinary school later,” she says. In 2012, Malhotra opened her store, initially partnering with established French chocolatier Christian Vautier. But she soon re-branded it Tache Artisan Chocolate (“tache” in French means smear).
Tache debuted as the ‘chocolate caterer’ for The New York City Ballet Fall Gala honoring Valentino. With a guest list that also included Anne Hathaway, Barbara Walters, Martha Stewart, Sarah Jessica Parker, Anjelica Huston, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, it was the perfect launch pad for the ambitious young chocolate maker with big dreams. “Since then, we’ve catered for several society galas, including Martha Stewart’s, and even showcased at The New York Chocolate Show, one of the most esteemed chocolate shows in the world,” she beams.
Stirring the pot
Malhotra remembers growing up around chocolate that was pretty much all ‘sugary confection and imitation flavourings’. “Now, we approach chocolate differently and people are gaining a new appreciation for the exquisite food it really is,” she notes.
Tasting chocolate all day sounds sensational, but as she points out, the job requires patience, creativity and a tolerance for hours of standing, stirring and lifting. Chocolate is also impacted by ‘temperature, humidity and age’. So it’s often ‘difficult, messy and unpredictable.’ But it works if it’s a passion, not a job. “No one would spend hours locked in a basement making chocolate if they didn’t love it,” she shrugs. Plus, there are other challenges. “Fresh chocolate is costly and the no preservatives rule we follow means a shorter shelf life.” High-end chocolatiers also have to overcome customer sticker shock when thumbnail-sized nibbles often run more than $2 a piece.” Tache chocolates cost around $2.50 each.
Mintel notes a growing trend in treating chocolate like wine, using similar language, boasting about the ‘bold and fruity’ flavour of some brands or the ‘fine, rare cocoa’ in others. Malhotra herself collaborates with author of Whiskey Distilles and director of Whiskey Education, Heather Greene, guiding eager participants ‘through a decadent day of chocolate and whiskey pairings’ at the sultry Meatpacking District staple, STK. The event sells out at $95 per head.
Malhotra confesses that she dreams about chocolate and sleeps with the phone right next to her face, “so any time I have an idea, I jot it down quickly—like the sake chocolates on my to-do list.” Or as the result of her stint at the iconic Japanese Morimoto, a ginger and sumac affair encased in rich, dark chocolate with a crunch of wasabi pea at the center.
In the pipeline
I am currently opening up a second location in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan. We are about to launch an e-commerce site for our products that can be shipped internationally and will soon open shop-in-shops in Delhi and Mumbai. I am getting my beer and wine license and will incorporate light bites like cheese and charcuterie on our menu. Also cheese from Beecher’s cheese shop in NYC and introduce a cheese fondue to balance our chocolate fondue, as well as add to our high teas at Tache.
Dark choco tequila truffles topped with candied
lime and sea salt, dark chocolate champagne truffles, dark chocolate Grignotines, fig and pink peppercorn truffles, bourbon caramel and pumpkin spice bites, mostly found at amazing little chocolate shops in Paris.