Le Cordon Bleu, Paris

This ideally should have been my first blog post because It’s an experience that I cherish very dearly. It’s one of those things that gave me so much happiness from the inside. That I chose to learn to bake at one of the best pastry schools in the world and that school was in Paris was just a huge added incentive.

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My class at Le Cordon Bleu Paris

I chose the intensive course because a longer break than that from home and my family was not entirely possible. And man, when they say it’s intensive it really is that. I used to be at school at 8.00 am sharp to make sure that i made it in time to the lockers to change into the uniform and make it to the class.

I loved every day of school. When you do things you love it’s not tedious and the long hours don’t matter. Some days I finished class at 8.45 pm and dragged myself back home and since Paris in the summer is just so beautiful and bustling, even the walk back home (on the days that i didn’t take the metro ) wasn’t too tedious.

The chefs were hard on us, img_3878hard when we didn’t listen, hard when we were tardy, hard when our table tops were dirty, hard when we injured ourselves (pay attention they would say), hard when we thought we had beaten the Chantilly enough and they said don’t stop  not ready yet…. they were finicky about perfection. And that’s what makes this school so great. They were meticulous and strict and wanted each of us to strive for the best result.

They spoke French, but we always had a superb interpreter and that never really came in the way. It’s not about the best recipes a school like LCB offers, it’s the techniques that you learn – the best way to work on puff pastry or pate choux or what it takes to make those perfect meringues. The exam was taken as seriously as any exam would, both the practicals (I made the classic French apple tart that’s on my menu now) and the theory.The school now has a new campus but the old one where i studied was surprisingly small. I always imagined it to be large and far more bustling but it was small and so were the demonstration and the theory class rooms. But, that’s what made it warm and intimate and most students whether from pastry or cuisine got to know each other. I made some good friends from all over the world and it’s so nice to see each of them further their baking careers.

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Pure and Pristine New Zealand

Oh I’m the luckiest! My brother and my brother-in-law both live in New Zealand. It’s where I take my family vacations. Can u beat that????

In all the years that I have travelled extensively across the country – both the North and the South Island – every trip has been special. The first time I went there my daughter who was a year and half started to talk in full sentences just out of the blue; I think she was inspired. The second time we went I discovered the south Islands and the spectacular Queenstown and the unbelievable Milford sound. That cruise is etched in my memory for ever. New Zealand is as pristine and as pure as anything can get.

And where do I begin to talk about the fantastic produce that the country has. The meats are spectacular as are the summer fruits. There was this one meal at The Hunting Lodge – this lovely restaurant in Auckland – that I can never forget; I had the most delicious meats in a setting that was so unforgettable.

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But, let me talk about my recent trip there last year. My brother, Dev Malik, who is one of the best chefs I’ve known (yeah, he was a part of the team that started Olive in Mumbai and then Delhi before he left for greener pastures, literally) made this trip a gastronomic delight! And what more, I got a chance to peep into his kitchen and learn some tricks of the trade. I always have had a lot to learn from him but what I take away most is his passion for food and all things good. I think he talks to his chicken and fish, I think he has a thing going with stuff in the kitchen. When u love food you can make food that others can love too. And so this trip was all about cooking together and drinking together and yeah, baking together.

My brother and chef Dev Malik

My brother and chef Dev Malik

We went up Taupo to bungee jump and then air dive and see the glow worms in caves and of course, ate as we went along.

Everywhere I went I ate a carrot cake and ice-cream and the best ice-cream I’ve ever eaten in all my life was at the The Tannery Café And Mt Atkinson Coffee; the brand is called Kohu Road. I promise you it’s really the best in NZ. And yeah, they do have some awesome coffee to go as well.

Carrot Cake in New Zealand

Carrot Cake in New Zealand

The Tannery Café And Mt Atkinson Coffee, New Zealand

The Tannery Café And Mt Atkinson Coffee, New Zealand

I discovered so many quaint cafes and we ate every where we got a chance; simple, slow and good food. Some of the best bread I came across was at Olaf’s Café – simple non fussy things on the menu and everything baked right there in front of you. If you get there around lunch hour you have to be really lucky to get a table.

Olaf's Cafe, New Zealand

Olaf’s Cafe, New Zealand

Discovering Little and Friday Cafe was yet another highlight of my trip. You must visit whenever you are next in Auckland. Check them out here http://www.littleandfriday.com. I bought their book of some fabulous bakes and have been enjoying their stuff ever since.

Another trip to NZ is brewing soon, I have the perfect excuse in mind!

The American Dream

I had resisted a trip to the States for the longest time. I’ll never be done with Europe; Paris and Barcelona actually. I need the art, the opera, the music, the walks into history and of course good food for it to be a place close to my heart (Italy comes a close number 3). However, you cannot fight the power of Mickey Mouse. I found myself in Orlando, Florida with my 12 year old most enthusiastic girl.

Disneyland

Disneyland

I loved Disney world! Magic Kingdom was every bit as enchanting as it is made out to be. I am glad I went. Needless to say I made the most of all the time there exploring patisseries and cafes in between spotting Alligators. Someone recommended Carlos the Cake Boss in Florida so I pretty much ate up everything that was there .The cookies were good but his Cannoli was outstanding! The carrot cake was pretty. On one evening walkabout at Disney Springs, I spotted Ghirardelli. I wish I could have resisted some of their scoops but I couldn’t. I am still trying to shed those extra kilos I gained that day.

Cannoli at Carlos, Florida

Cannoli at Carlos, Florida

Carrot Cake at Carlos, Florida

Carrot Cake at Carlos, Florida

After 5 days of all kinds of parks and roller coasters I headed to Miami. What’s not to love about South Beach? Just fabulous 3 days beach bumming!

I don’t want to talk about the many pancakes and waffle breakfasts. I shamelessly finished them all, those pancakes were just so good with bacon on the side.

But the best ice-cream on this trip was absolutely this gorgeous brand called Kilwins – I spotted a few around Florida but not anywhere else on the East Coast. The best toasted coconut I’ve ever had! Make sure you find them when you are visiting Florida.

Kilwins, Florida

Kilwins, Florida

Then there was New York. I can write a book, but then again so much has been said already. The food didn’t get me as much excited as the museums (MOMA), Central Park ,the theatre, Madison Square Garden (Yes, I saw Billy Joel Live!) and the NewYork CheeseCake!

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NewYork Cheesecake

MOMO Cafe, NewYork

MOMO Cafe, NewYork

When In NYC

Eat at

The River Cafe (Brooklyn) – It’s warm, relaxed and has spectacular views of the Brooklyn Harbour. It’s also expensive.
Eataly – For an ice-cream and to buy many-many things. Just hang around there.
Russ and Daughters – Eat anything. I had a classic smoked salmon bagel and a plate of herrings. It’s an outstanding cafe and possibly one of the top ten places to eat at in NYC .
Shake Shack – Well eat if you must, but there are a whole lot better burgers out there. Try Burger Joint.

And please, eat on the streets and do stop by at the many food trucks and eat your heart out.

Eataly, NewYork

Eataly, NewYork

Eataly, NewYork

Eataly, NewYork

By the end of 4 weeks when I found myself in Boston I was done with eating. I just spent time walking about the pretty places and shopping away at Pottery Barn, Williams and Sonoma and finally ended the trip with a Boston Cream Pie with friends who were now more like family.

Pottery Barn, Boston

Pottery Barn, Boston

Williams Sonama, Boston

Williams Sonama, Boston

Boston cream pie at The top of the Hub Boston

Boston cream pie at The top of the Hub Boston

Can Jubany

The connection with Catalonia grew stronger when I got super lucky when a friend invited me to join her for pastry training in a Michelin starred restaurant in Vic (pronounced as Bic). Vic is a small town near Girona, which is the heart of Catalonia. An hour away from the BCN city, its simple quaintness and proximity to some of the region’s smaller towns made it so very special. The 3 weeks at Nandu’s restaurant – Can Jubany – was an experience I will cherish for a long-long time. Nandu was kind to say the least. His chefs were amused to have us there but in their broken English and with some help from Google translator I got by. Nandu believes in details. I didn’t know much that happened in the hot kitchen but as far as the pastry section is concerned – every mint leaf on the dessert plate, every flower petal on the plate had to be fresh. Every plated dessert that went out had to be on the customer’s table in less than a minute of plating. The kitchen is a hard place; it’s everything you see on TV – abusive , abrasive , stressful (I made sure I learnt the abuses in Catalan so I would know when someone was hurling them my way). I was a trainee, translated to ‘piece of shit’. I plucked fresh mint leaves, grated the rind off 100s of lemons, picked out fresh eggs from the farm, always had a cleaning wipe in my hand and hell, I worked 15 hrs a day! And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Can Jubany in Vic, Catalonia

Can Jubany in Vic, Catalonia

Chef Nandy Jubany helping us with our staff lunch

Chef Nandy Jubany helping us with our staff lunch

Thank God for my time earlier at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, which made the Pastry Chef discover my possible talent and capability and I was moved-up from slave labour to what may be a commis chef level. I began to work on the Petit Fours and later plated desserts. And, things got better. I made friends, they spoke broken English and I broken Catalan and with all the help from the phone apps, we had conversations that I will cherish a lifetime. It was a glorious 3 weeks of learning and I don’t really care about the Michelin stars, but in my opinion Can Jubany is one of the finest restaurants in Catalonia. Please do visit.

Dessert at Can Jubany

Dessert at Can Jubany

Dessert at Can Jubany

Dessert at Can Jubany

The staff at Can Jubany ready to take their summer break

The staff at Can Jubany ready to take their summer break

My time and the few weekends in Vic got me eating at a few other places. Clearly, the world has to know that Catalonia and the Basque region (San Sebastion) has really the best food in the world. I had the pleasure of meeting one such chef – Chef Ignasi – at his restaurant Cal Ignasi. What an absolutely wonderful meal. His kitchen was so different from Nandu’s, but both masters in their own way. Then there was Sant Pau, a wonderful restaurant in Sant Pol de Mar, a town between Barcelona and Girona. In 2009 it was awarded three Michelin stars and three Campsa-Repsol suns. The restaurant is headed by chef Carme Ruscalleda. I had the tasting menu ‘Carnet de Ball’ where every dish was a piece of Art. A restaurant I’d definitely go back to.

Cal Ignasi, Catalonia

Cal Ignasi, Catalonia

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I tried calling El Celler de Can Roca; they were booked for the next 6 months. I guess the heavens insist that I just go back.

My Barcelona Diaries

Where do I begin? Yes, I love Paris but Barcelona was and will always be the closest to my heart. I didn’t know much about Barcelona, except that it was Spain. Till a self-respecting, mildly arrogant and terribly good looking Catalan explained the difference to me. And rightfully, I never went back to Spain again. But I went back time and again to Catalonia. Every time I flew across the European continent, I paused in Barcelona. It had everything I ever looked for in a city. Streets to walk on and gaze at architectural marvels ( by that I mean mostly Gaudi’s work), museums, the ocean, the cathedrals and food. Perhaps, Barcelona is the region that has produced the best food and certainly has produced some of the greatest culinary geniuses.

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Gracia Suburbs, Barcelona

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The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

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Barrigothic, Barcelona

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Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

My Barcelona connection just kept getting stronger with every visit. My Catalan friend helped me discover BCN and I saw it through the eyes of a local. I ate Catalan food at the Michelin starred restaurants as well as at the street side cafes. Mind you, I never ate Paella on La Ramblas; that’s a typical touristy thing to do in BCN. I discovered the by lanes of beautiful suburbs of Gracia, Eixample, the Gothic Quarters. I’ve never walked as much anywhere as I did here in this exasperatingly beautiful city. And no, I didn’t stop and waste my time at Zara or Mango. I never missed an opportunity to get to del Liceo, Barcelona’s opera house, or to have a tallat (a short cappuccino) at Palau de la Música.

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del Liceo, Barcelona

On weekends I ran away to Ripoll, Cantonigros, Rupit, Figueres where I saw the works of Salvador Dali – the mad genius!

Somehow, I never feel bad leaving Barcelona because I know I’ll be back soon.

My favourite places to eat at in Barcelona:

Petite Comite
Llamber
Bar Pinotxo
Tapas 24

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Petite Comite, Barcelona

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Petite Comite, Barcelona

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Cafè de l’Òpera, Barcelona

For Desserts:

Bubo – At the trendy El Born area, outstanding for its chocolates and desserts; there is something for everyone.
Hoffman – I hate to say it , but I’ve never had a better croissant ever, not even in Paris! The mascapone croissant made me weak in the knees. It’s every bit worth the hype. I would suggest you wash it down with the beautiful sumatra coffee from El Magnifico. Just divine!
Escriba – Arguably the best Barcelona has; the exploding cakes, chocolate walls and sugar jewellery look straight out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Oh, and the hot chocolate is to die for.

 

Bubo, Barcelona

Bubo, Barcelona

Bubo, Barcelona

Bubo, Barcelona

Hoffman, Barcelona

Hoffman, Barcelona

My French Encounter

“…you’ll have to fall in love at least once in your life, or Paris has failed to rub off on you.”

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E.A. Bucchianeri has summed up Paris perfectly in Brushstrokes of a Gadfly; every bit of it is true.

”For there is no other city where you can step out of a railway station (the Gare D’Orsay) and see, simultaneously, the Seine with its bridges and bookstalls, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Tuileries Gardens, the Place de la Concorde, the beginning of the Champs Elysees – nearly everything except the Luxembourg Gardens and the Palais Royal. But what other city offers as much as you leave a train?”

I have always loved Paris, when I first visited way back in 1999 – my first ever trip – and the times afterwards. But, I got this chance to live in Paris when I enrolled in what I consider the best Pastry schools in the world – Le Cordon Bleu Paris. I rented an enchanting apartment at Rue Daguerre, which overlooked a florist right from my kitchen window and had bustling cafes and patisseries and charcuteries in the vicinity. On weekends this street would turn into a farmers’ market and it was glorious!

 

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I took the metro to school and back every day and took every opportunity of easy school days (there weren’t too many of them) to explore the city; every bit of it.

Paris is a gastronomic delight; it’s a feast for the eyes and seeped in beauty and culture at every corner. I tried walking as much as I could for I knew that every street offered me something new.

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I am sure you will find many poetic write-ups on the city on the web but here is where I ate and drank and bought Pastry tools and ran away to on weekends.

When in Paris

Eat at…
AuPied De Cochon – The best French Onion Soup and Breaded Pig’s Feet
Cafe Le Moderne – At Bastille
Le Dome
L’Atlas

Have a pastry, a hot chocolate or a macaron at…
Angelina
Eric Kayser Bakery
Au levain Du Marais
Laduree
Sadaharu Aoki
Poilane
Pain De Sucre
Pierre Herme
L’eclair De Genie
Le Loir Dans La Theiere

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Angelina, Paris

Pierre Herme, Paris

Pierre Herme, Paris

L'eclair De Genie

L’eclair De Genie, Paris

Le Loir Dans La Theiere, Paris

Le Loir Dans La Theiere, Paris

Shop at…
Mora
G Detou
La Grand Epicerie
E Dehillerin