Ode To Abu

Friday, 1 February 2013

Chocolatier Crew - Uma Krishnan

The seven year itch does not seem to affect this enterprising and hardworking chocolatier, Uma Krishnan. Her venture 'Choco Dreamz' is 5 years old, although she had visualised it 7 years ago. It has gone on to give her and her customers many a sweet dream. It began as pure passion where she would make and distribute chocolates among friends & family, who would pay as they liked. This was in the initial stages when Uma had yet to figure out the pricing points of her labour of love. Eventually, she learnt all the tricks of the trade, which involved sourcing materials, the right quality of ingredients, and packaging.

Her dream was born when she walked into a chocolate store in Richmond, Virginia, along with her client, during a business trip to the US of A. She was wonderstruck at the smorgasbord of chocolates and varieties displayed. Trying to choose one or even some to taste was an arduous task! The versatility of 'cocoa' boggled her mind. Until then, chocolates to her meant the odd Dairy Milk bar or the popular ‘brought from abroad’ hazelnut Ferrero Rocher. Back home, she researched the subject and began trying her hand at chocolate making. It was when a friend placed a huge order for Diwali gift distributions to her office employees that Uma’s dream began to crystallize. Her plan was to open a shop that can provide quality chocs at reasonable prices and debunk the myth that chocolates are only a ‘rich man’s delight’. She has since then literally developed 'a nose for chocolates'!

She works with a 3-member team and the bulk of her clients are corporates. Although birthdays are the popular occassions for ordering & gifting chocolates, she says this is one delicacy that is gifted even for no reason! :-) 

Uma believes that her business has seen its exponential growth largely from word-of-mouth publicity and satisfied customer referrals. Articles in newspaper supplements like the Retail Plus got her further exposure. It is a matter of immense pride for Uma that she has repeat customers since the past 7 years! She attributes this to the quality of her goods and services such as on-time delivery, packaging and going that extra mile for each customer. She narrated an incident on how a customized order required the packing to be done in Jaipuri-design 'potli' bags. She spent days sourcing the exact kind of bag from Chennai which met the liking and budget of her customer. She went to the extent of getting it made and this was a long and tedious process. Needless to add, her customer was super happy and her orders with Uma increased by the kilos and dozens, especially for weddings, over the years. 

Uma is inundated with calls from speciality stores like Nuts & Spices and food store chains like Nilgiris to stock her chocolates. However, she would be willing to partner with them only if certain criteria are met. She is particular about the way her goodies would be stored and maintained. According to her, chocolates have a tendency to capture the stronger flavours they are placed next to, which alters their aroma and naturally, their taste as well. Highly air-proof packaging would help salvage a chocolate box's shelf life, she says.

Her clients fly down from other cities to collect their orders from her personally and she also delivers across the city. The hallmark of her venture is its super punctuality - she says she actually delivers before time - certainly a rarity given the infamous 'Indian Stretchable Time' that is largely followed! Often, she makes it a point to deliver the packages personally. This gives her a chance to meet and get to know her customer. A lot of referrals have come her way subsequently. This exercise has had added benefits - Uma went from being an introvert to an extrovert! Another USP of hers is the 'value for money' factor. In her enthusiasm and passion for making chocolates, Uma often ends up making a little more than the order itself! For example, in an order for a box of chocolates for 100 gms, she would overshoot that a bit and add it in for the customer. 

The challenges in this line of work are many. She says the labour issue is one of the most crippling, since a lot of the time bulk orders for customized chocs are placed overnight! The night before New Year's eve, she was asked to deliver 17 kgs at a hotel the next morning! She managed it and continues to work with a small team as this would allow her to grow at her own pace, rather than become a mass chocolate producing factory outlet. Earlier she used to buckle under the pressure. Pranayama and Hatha yoga have greatly helped balance her energy levels and altered her temperament and attitude towards life. Kneading bread is also her favourite form of meditation. :-)

Her list of products can make your head reel. They cover an entire range of Plains (dark, milk, white, semisweet); Fillers (roasted almonds, cashews, hazel nuts, caramelised cashews, dry fruits, rice crackles, fruit and nut, and many more); Soft-centred (flavours are many!); Fruit bursts (chocolates filled with fresh fruits cooked in sugar syrup and filled to burst into the mouth); Liqueur-filled chocolates (choice of IMFL and imported ones); Gourmet chocolates like Ferrero Rocher; Truffles; Single origin chocolates; Chocolates with no added sugar; Hand-crafted figurines; Portraits; Chocolate bouquets; Fancy moulded chocolates (come in various shapes), Varieties of chocolate fudges; Pan-coated almonds & cashews; Dipped and covered biscuits etc. Phew!

She enjoys the thrill of unusual customized orders. She once handmade a chocolate mug for a bachelor party in Hyderabad! Anything that requires intricate work fulfills her creative urges.

Her non-chocolate-related interests range from Tanjore paintings, embroidery, spirituality and animal welfare work. During the course of this interview, Uma shared a wealth of info on various aspects of her business, lesser known aspects of this field, the versatility of chocolates when it comes to the aroma, flavour, brand, and quality. She is a treasure house of info on cocoa and its potential. I would probably have to write a sequel or two of this article to put all that down here! She is like an encylopaedia of knowledge and a novice entering this line of work could learn a lot from her experience.

Uma is a professional cost accountant who is on the verge of quitting the numbers game. She now prefers working with shapes and sizes of that magical wonder – a bar of chocolate. Although lucrative, she says inner satisfaction is absent in the world of accounting. For her, the joy on a person’s face after feeding them is immeasurable and this is what drives her forward. Incidentally, her family loves her cinnamon rolls.

Uma’s husband is a journalist and her best critic. She has a daughter in the 11th standard. Uma has participated in the Chocolate Fair at the Chennai Trade Centre. Her’s was one of the sold-out stalls among the sea of chocolatiers. She is participating in The Baker Showcase Edition 3 for the first time.

Obviously, Uma is a creative soul whose heart beats for her passion and not her purse! Then again, the twain can meet. In her case, it certainly has, and how! :-)

Choco Dreamz FB Page

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