Ode To Abu

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Baker Brigade - Shivangi Daga

Shivangi Daga was born and brought up in a Marwari family based in Calcutta. She got married within a year of completing B.A. in psychology, literature and mass communications from Bangalore and moved to Chennai in 2005. She is comfortable with a line of work that allows her the flexibility to work from home and use her time effectively. A home-based baking enterprise seemed the perfect route to traverse, given current trends.

Chocolate Fudge Brownies drizzled with Chocolate Syrup

On baking

“I have enjoyed baking since my teens. Trying out new recipes on my friends and family and receiving both bouquets and brickbats from them helped me constantly improve my baking skills. After marriage I got busy with my new home and soon even busier taking care of my 2 daughters. Baking was on the backburner for a while except for my daughter’s birthdays or special occasions. It was just by chance that I happened to bake a large number of cupcakes for a friends’ Lil’ Miss Cupcake theme party.”

Baby Shower Cupcakes

That was Shivangi’s first attempt at baking on a big scale and it helped build her confidence. She continues: “I’m learning new things everyday and adding more value for my customers.” She says she uses all natural ingredients (“no synthetic cake gels or margarine for me please”).

Strawberry & Chocolate Cake

Fairly active on food-related groups on FB, her baking frenzy has seen a recent spurt in the past 6 months. She will be part of the Baker Showcase Edition 3 for the very first time. She calls herself a ‘chocoholic’ who breathes, dreams, reads (recipes) and of course eats--chocolate. Of late, she’s been getting quite a few orders for chocolate bouquets. Ask if she prefers making chocs to baking cakes and she says: “Chocolates are more lucrative so if the chocolate gifting business can fund my baking venture, that would be super!” According to her, chocolate making is a no-brainer, one can easily make 90 kgs and store it for a week for example, which is unthinkable when it comes to baked goodies. While making chocs, it is easier to make bulk quantities as it is more of a mechanical process. Baking, on the other hand, requires plenty of creative effort, planning, balancing the right measurements and much more.

Mushroom Olive & Zucchini Onion Mini Pizzas

Shivangi smilingly counters my views on cupcake fatigue having set in from a customer's perspective. Referring to my mildly controversial post on cupcakes  ;-), she says she believes that cupcakes are here to stay. Kids continue to be fascinated with them and hence it will always remain a birthday party favourite. Coming from a cupcake bouquet creator, I shall take her word for it! :-) She receives more orders for cupcake bouquets (which are more expensive) that are used for gifting, vis-à-vis orders for a box of a dozen cupcakes. Bouquets seem to make a gifting statement these days, be they of chocolates or cupcakes! (Think I need to interview a florist next to ascertain the impact of this new fad on the flower business!)

Cupcake Bouquet


Shivangi’s discovery of HBG coincided with her baking experiments. It was also the same period of time that she was captivated by the book ‘The Secret’ by author Rhonda Byrne. She believes that reading up on the Law of Attraction and her increasing fascination for baking around the same time ensured that things were looking up and falling into place in her life. “It's a good feeling,” she says. For her, the HBG forum is a space for great learning and growth filled with useful baking tips, advice and recipes. Being part of the Baker Showcase is an opportunity for her to meet new people (other bakers and potential customers), and a platform that will help provide the requisite exposure and publicity for her home-based venture called ‘Sweet Nothings by Shivangi Daga’. She proclaims, “The Showcase will tell people I exist!”

Fun Facts

Easiest dessert to make – Layered Icecream Cake as this does not require smoothening of edges and can be made in any dish. Her fave recipe for this is a mix of biscotti, brownies, vanilla icecream and three layers of chocolate sauce. (I’ve just had a brain freeze and need a break to make a trip to my fridge. I return disappointed and make a mental note to get my hands on this…and sooooooooon!)

Toughest dessert to make – Choco Lava Cake

Fave dessert – Brownies

Family’s fave dish made by her – Burmese Khow Suey

Fave kitchen gadget – Spatula

Fave ingredient – Chocolate - for its versatility in being melted, moulded, cooked and baked!

Fitness mantra – Gymming and Yoga

Fellow Showcase participant’s goodies she would most like to try - Divya Ninan-Eapen's Tiramisu

Salted Caramel Tarts (I call them her Spiderman Tarts!)

Shivangi has termed herself the ‘most anxious baker’ since her table is sandwiched between two of the most experienced stalls at the Baker Showcase. One is the team to reckon with – a group of not one, not two, but THREE experienced cooking and baking experts cleverly titled ‘The Soul Food Sisters’ - comprising of Sara Koshy, Tasneem Ayub and Girija Menon. The other table will be ‘womanned’ by Nanditha Sashidharan -  co-founder of HBG and owner of The Sugar Hut!

Shivangi keeps her chin up with a positive attitude and states: “I am hell-bent on swimming across the channel rather than drowning in between!” I saluted her spirit and assured her that being right in the middle of the best was sure to be advantageous. My opinion is that she would be noticed and their luck would definitely rub off on her. She responded by saying, “Aapke moonh mein ghee shakkar!” The typical response when one wishes for the best to happen. Given the context however, we agreed that ‘ghee shakkar’ ought to be replaced by ‘chocolate ganache’!!

Chocolate Cupcakes

The Baker Showcase is garnering much attention this week with articles in dailies such as The Hindu, Indian Express, Deccan Chronicle et al. Shivangi is thrilled that the pic of her salted caramel tart was used in one of them. 

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

Showcase Specials
  • Red Velvet Chocolate Whoopie Pies
  • Nutella Brownies (Hazelnut & Chocolate Combo)
  • Salted Caramel Tarts
  • Peppermint Patties
  • Crispy Sesame Studded Lavash with Burnt Garlic Hummus (a Lebanese dip)
  • Buttery Garlic Rolls (usually called pull-apart rolls but in this case, already pulled-apart rolls! ;-))
  • Nolen Gur Sandesh - a Calcutta special sweet dish, baked with cottage cheese & jaggery topped with fried crispies and icing sugar, and set in a shot glass
Garlic Rolls

The FB Baker Showcase event page is grabbing eyeballs from participating and even non-participating bakers. Shivangi jokes that whatever she makes from selling her goodies would go towards buying stuff from the other bakers' tables! She seems to echo every baker's sentiments! :-)

Baker Brigade - Priya NM

After an interesting interlude with a male entrepreneur and restauranteur, the baker brigade series continues with home-maker and home-baker M. Priyadharshini or Priya NM, as per her FB identity. According to Priya, her life revolves around her family and food, leaving her no time for any other hobbies or interests. She has a 5 year old daughter who is probably more visible on FB than her mom, given all the photos she gets clicked in at foodie events!

I have briefly met Priya at food workshops and group dinners around the city. She comes across as a quiet person and a silent observer. Or maybe she doesn’t get a chance to say much when the usual suspects of boisterous and chatty foodies are around!

Priya maintains a food blog and immerses herself in trying out recipes and feeding her family and friends. With her baking experiments increasing in the recent past, she pretty much spends all her time in the kitchen. After the trials, she photographs them, and shares pictures and recipes of her favourites on her blog and FB food page.

Fun Facts

Easiest dessert to make – Puddings

Most challenging dessert to make – White Chocolate Cake, since it is very delicate and requires her to keep a constant eye on it during preparation

Fave dessert – Brownies and Lychee Caramel Cake

Fave dish – Anything from South Indian and Italian food

Family’s fave dessert made by her – Brownies and Apple Walnut Cake

Fave kitchen gadget – She couldn’t think of anything. Coming from a passionate cook and baker, this was a surprise!

Fave ingredient – Bars of chocolate

Fitness Mantra - Joined a gym and started a diet just a week ago

Fellow Showcase participant's goodies she would most like to try - Ayeesha Riaz's Baklava and Tasneem Ayub's Fish Pickle. Priya has sampled these before and says both the ladies are fabulous bakers/chefs.

Showcase Specials

White Chocolate Cake
Tres Leches Cake
Chocolate Cake
Rose and Pista Pannacotta
Dulce Caramel Pudding
Walnut and Cheesecake Brownies
Vanilla/Chocolate Cupcakes

Priya had participated in the 2nd Baker Showcase in October 2012. This will be her second appearance at Edition 3 this Saturday, the 2nd of February.

Rocking Restauranteur - Nikhil Moturi of Crimson Chakra

Ask Nanditha Sashidharan, co-founder of the Home Bakers Guild (HBG), on her take on the Baker Showcase Edition 3 event growing into a grand gala event and she opines: “We are proud and grateful to have establishments like Crimson Chakra, Gormei Market and Passionate Baking join us in helping these bakers make their dreams come true.”

The Baker Showcase has three sponsors this time. Nikhil Moturi, the owner of Crimson Chakra, is the foremost supporter of the Baker Showcase since the beginning. He  offered his restaurant space to HBG for free, twice in a row, to host home-bakers and the event. 

The restaurant was utilised in between meal times so as not to inconvenience dining customers. His staff was very helpful with arranging and creating space to accommodate tables for the home-bakers and their goodies. The 1st Baker Showcase was such a sell-out event that there was a near stampede at the restaurant! Customers turned up earlier than doors opened and raided the baker's tables all at once...it was like a storm had hit the li'l lane by the river in Adyar! The 2nd Showcase saw a long and winding queue of customers outside the door of the restaurant! The Adyar location of Crimson Chakra has a beautiful garden. Comfy sofas and elegant rattan chairs were arranged for the swelling and waiting crowds outdoors. 

As for the restaurant and its food, it goes without saying that Crimson Chakra is hugely popular among the local Chennai-ites. Visitors to the city have heard so much about it that their local hosts insist the place should feature on their 'must-dine-at' itineraries! The restaurant is housed in the peaceful and residential Gandhinagar, Adyar area. The 60-year-old bungalow has been converted into an elegant fine-dining space surrounded by gardens, fountains and serene Buddha statues. The striking wall decor displays fascinating photographic images from around South India. The variety of food on offer is interesting; there is authentic and fusion cuisine that caters to every palate. Corporates love to entertain their clients here and families troop in to tuck into their signature delicacies such as Elaneer Souffle and Chicken Smoked Rice. There is an equally superb vegetarian version of this as well. Currently, the lunch buffet seems to be every foodie's hot favourite and on their 'must-try' list.

What personally appealed to me more than the obviously fabulous ambience and quality of food, is Crimson Chakra's soon-to-be-launched Pet Zone! Being a dog lover himself, Nikhil plans to create a lovely outdoor seating area especially for people who would love to drop in and share a table (!)/break bread with their furry, four-legged friends! :-) Diners would have to call in ahead and let the restaurant know they would be bringing an animal companion. This outdoor space will be ready in a month's time. A truly unique concept and probably one of the few, if not the only restaurant space in the city that plans to offer this thoughtful service.

A few months ago, Nikhil opened another Crimson Chakra at Khader Nawaz Khan Road in Nungambakkam. Located on the 1st floor, it has a terrace/open-air seating. I was one of the lucky few who were invited to the pre-launch tasting of a new menu they were putting together. 

Much has been blogged and featured about Crimson Chakra's beautiful ambience and the fascinating range of Indian and Continental cuisine. 

So, without further ado, here's a short & sweet chat with Nikhil on the upcoming Baker Showcase. Nikhil is well-respected among his fraternity and the food community. He is known as a courteous, polite, large-hearted, and even slightly shy host :-)

Me: What made you decide to co-sponsor the Baker Showcase for the third time in a row?

NM: Being involved from the inception, it fills me with satisfaction when I can see the growth of a community from its founding stages. I hope to be an ardent helper for any community be it food or help age charity based out of Chennai. The fact that the money is going for social causes is instrumental enough for me to be involved


Me: What expectations does Crimson Chakra have of being a part of the Baker Showcase?

NM: Absolutely no expectations. As stated earlier, my goal is only to foster the growth of home bakers and entrepreneurs.

Me: Would Crimson Chakra be open to working with home bakers in the future? If yes, in what capacity? 

NM: Absolutely. It just comes back to how we can help the home bakers and make business sense for me as well.

Me: What kind of goodies would you like to pick up at the showcase?

NM: If I can pick everything up, I would, but will refrain from selecting any one item. Don't want to anger the Home Baker ladies

! ;-)

On that happy note (more goodies for the rest of us! ;-)), we eagerly await the weekend. Baked goodies on Saturday and maybe smoked rice and souffle on Sunday? What say, Chennai foodies? :-)