Pooja Dhingra Curated

Indian Pastry Chef and Entrepreneur

CURATED BY :  


  • How did Social Media help you to build your brand, Le15 for example?

  • Could you do a full social media detox?

  • Which is your favourite feature on Instagram?

  • How do you feel Instagram is different from all other social media platforms?

  • How do you deal with trolls and rude comments on Instagram?

  • What is the best part about baking?

    The best part is that an idea that lives in your head can come alive and you can touch it, feel it, eat it!

  • Where do you get your ideas from?

    Everywhere. Travel is the main inspiration. Moving out of your comfort zone sparks the best ideas. I go to a new country, taste different things; I try some new flavors and then I think about how I can bring this back in my ecosystem. Events inspire me too. We’ve been doing Cannes Film Festival-inspired desserts for 3 years now. I see what people are wearing, the colors that are trending, the red carpet—and then create desserts that represent it.

  • With social media, do you fear that when you let too much out, you’re giving away your secrets or that someone can easily copy it?

    You know what, it doesn’t matter. I mean, even when I wrote my first book [The Big Book of Treats], everyone was shocked about how I could put out the recipes we use because of all the work that goes into them. But like I said, it’s easy to make something great once, but trying to do that every single day, that’s the challenge.

  • Does social media make things difficult because you’re constantly having to prove how good you are?

    Well, people were always competing with each other even before social media, but under wraps in a way. With social media, it’s all out there now. I honestly think it’s been more of an advantage because if you truly have a unique product and something that is niche, it’s easier to promote it and find your customers. In fact, I think it’s easier to find your customer base now than ever. Nine years ago when I started out, if someone tasted my cupcakes and loved it, they would tell a few people, who would probably come visit and then tell a few more people. The organic growth was slow. With social media, the results from word-of-mouth marketing have become so much easier to achieve.

  • Tell me about your love for macarons. When did you realize this would be your specialty?

    While studying in Paris, in my first week I went to a party with some French folks. They asked me which macarons I preferred: Pierre Hermé or Ladurée. And I was like, “Wait, but what is a macaron?” And they were so shocked that someone has come to Paris to study at a pastry school and she doesn’t even know what a macaron is! They told me to go to Pierre Hermé the very next day and try the Mogador (passion fruit and chocolate macaron). And I remember standing there and thinking, “What are these mini burgers” (laughs). And when I took my first bite, I thought, “Oh my god! Why haven’t I had this before.” So when my parents came to visit, I took my dad (who is the fussiest eater I know) to try them and he loved it, too. I knew then that if my dad has liked it, there is a market for it in India.

  • How did the tag ‘Macaron Queen of India’ come about?

    I have no idea! I think it was a journalist who spoke to me five or six years ago, and who used the term, and then BBC and CNN and other media outlets started using it, and it just stuck. And of course, I didn’t fight it. When someone calls you a queen, you just take it.

  • You’ve completed your podcast series, NoSugarCoat. Why the foray into podcasts?

    I love podcasts (I’m actually addicted to them) and I listen to one every day. I think it’s a great way of learning and so intimate. When people would write about me, I would often see phrases like, “a piece of cake,” and “life is a cake walk,” and I wanted to say, you know what, it really isn’t. Every day is a struggle and a challenge when you’re starting a business and you’re that young. But people only see the good stuff. So I realized that not too many people talk about hospitality in that manner because when you’re reading or watching something, it’s mostly success stories. Even when you see great chefs on television, you see all their creativity and talent. So I thought it would be great to have a conversation with people from the food industry and talk about how their passion for food began, their trials and tribulations, and what it took to get to where they are today, without sugarcoating it.

  • Any trends you’re seeing in baking and pastry making?

    When I started out, there weren’t many specialty dessert shops. Now you can do so much with even micro specializations, whether it’s fondant, putting design first, or baking with healthy alternatives, playing around with portion sizes… it’s all evolving. An interesting trend right now is healthy ice creams! There is an American brand that has a way of churning their ice creams super-fast, so you incorporate more air and use less dairy and a third less sugar. So much more you can experiment with now.

  • How do you stay up-to-date with all the baking trends?

    Every year I do a course at a school or tie up with an award-winning chef. Last year I went and worked with a pastry chef in Paris and then he came and worked here with us, and we learned so much from each other. This year there was a chef from Holland who was down to do a masterclass in Bangalore (India) so I went to attend that. You have to keep doing this because I believe you can never know enough.

  • What were some of the challenges you faced in starting this business?

    Being young, not having experience, and doing something challenging was the best thing I could have done for myself. I was 23 and starting a business in India, and people would always ask me (stereotypically) where my father is, or husband is, or brother is, because how can I rent a property by myself, or go to buy equipment. So my father started coming with me. There were challenges of scale, managing consistency and quality while growing the business, handling a large team (from starting with 3 people to growing to a team of over a 100), trying to find balance in life to do other things while establishing myself… plenty of challenges.

  • What are some of your happiest memories?

    Oh, so many! In fact, this morning was one of those bad mornings where I was questioning why I am even doing this. You know we all have days like that. And it’s all the memories of the good things and the impact you’re making that pulls you up. We made macarons accessible to everyone. Watching people eat a macaron for the first time and loving it, telling me that they preferred ours over the ones they ate in Paris, being part of people’s weddings and special occasions, it’s all been pure joy. When you look back at those happy memories, it makes everything seem worthwhile.

  • What are your earliest memories of sweets/baking which prompted you to launch Le15 Patisserie?

    I’ve been fascinated by baking for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of baking brownies for the first time with my aunt. I was amazed at how simple ingredients like eggs, butter, flour, and sugar could create something so delicious and magical.

  • Le Cordon Bleu is an institution of excellence. Tell us about your time there. How did Paris as a city inspire you?

    Le Cordon Bleu is an institution of excellence. Tell us about your time there. How did Paris as a city inspire you?

  • What gap did you observe in India which pushed you to start Le15?

    After my return to India, I tried and failed many times before tweaking recipes I learned in school to better suit Indian kitchens, ingredients and even weather! I was clear on one thing, I wanted to recreate a piece of my life in Paris. My aim was to make wonderful desserts, using the best ingredients I could find and serve happiness in a box. And that is how Le 15 (named for the 15th arrondissement in Paris, the neighborhood where I lived) was born.

  • What intrigues you about baking the most?

    Baking gives me the chance to think out of the box. Be it coming up with different creations or being up-to-date about the latest baking trends, it keeps me on my toes and that’s why I love what I do!

  • What are your top recommendations from Le15 Patisserie?

    Our dark chocolate macarons, Belgian chocolate cupcakes, and red velvet cupcakes.

  • From Nina Ricci to Masaba, you have collaborated with a number fashion designers. What drives you towards fashion? How do you see food and fashion coming together in the future?

    We love to collaborate with like-minded individuals and brands working in creative spaces. There is a lot to learn from each other from any collaboration. Much like fashion, food trends seep through society quite quickly, like the rise of minimalism in both fashion and food.

  • What is your wildest/wackiest creations till now?

    That will definitely be Arpita Khan’s wedding cake. It was a 7-tiered 150kg wedding cake which we made in Hyderabad. The weather was crazy and we had to set it up in an open lawn, but the end result was great!

  • Do you have to say anything for people who are a little calorie conscious?

    The last few years I’ve been incredibly focused on my health. My love for desserts and all things sweet, conversations with friends (and now contributors for the book) lead to experiments with different ingredients, cooking without sugar and eventually The Wholesome Kitchen.

  • What comes to your mind, when we say ‘CHOCOLATE’ :)?

    Love!

  • If you had a dream macaron, how would it look and what would it taste like?

    A Giant macaron, layered with dark chocolate, caramel and passion fruit.

  • What is your most favorite dessert in the world?

    Anything with dark chocolate!

  • If you had to describe yourself as a cupcake, which one would you be and why?

    A red velvet – happy, sweet and bright.

  • What is the weirdest dessert you have ever tasted?

    A blue cheese and mushroom chocolate fondant.

  • Mumbai or Paris – which city do you love more?

    Mumbai.

  • What’s your definition of success?

    To me, success is achieving the goals you set out for yourself. You must be passionate, dedicated and patient. Deal killers are people who don’t respect your time.

  • Where do you see Le 15 Patisserie 10 years from now?

    All over the world .

  • What is a quote that inspires you the most?

    This too shall pass. It reminds me that it doesn’t matter what phase of life you’re in – it can be hard or happy, it will pass. It encourages me to live in the moment.

  • If you had to give some advice to a 20 year old Pooja, what would it be?

    I would tell her to not be afraid and to always dream big.

  • Who is the one woman that inspires you the most, and why?

    My mom – because she is constantly working on improving herself and setting examples of how one should be.

  • What would you say to young girls especially who even as teenagers don’t really know which profession they’d like to choose?

    It’s important to identify and mostly feel when something is not right for you. Don’t be afraid to try different things till you realise what you actually like.

  • As a young Indian girl how did you find life at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris? Did you face challenges?

    Living in any new city is challenging. I was really lucky to have a close group of friends that made my life in Paris super easy. I had to overcome multiple challenges – Working in s kitchen for the first time, understanding the local languages, trying to speak french, but its all the things you can easily work on.

  • From all your multiple achievements which one milestone has been closest to your heart?

    Seeing a lot more girls going to culinary school and wanting to become chefs.

  • Do you feel we still live in a male dominated society?

    Yes! It is very disheartening that in 2020 women and men are not treated the same. When I was looking for places to start my patisserie, I usually got asked if my husband, or brother or father would be coming.

  • We would love to know if you have created some amazing cakes for kids parties?

    Over the years we have made a lot of cakes and birthday party goodies for kids.

  • Which is the most popular flavour with kids?

    Over the years we have made a lot of cakes and birthday party goodies for kids. Chocolate is one flavour that every kid loves.

  • Got any tips for mums and dads who want to keep desserts healthy for their kids?

    We always get requests from parents for healthier dessert options for kids that are also delicious. This has motivated us to work on a new line of desserts which we’ve decided to call Little Le15. These are specially made keeping in mind restrictions like no refined sugar, no artificial colours, sometimes gluten free and vegan.

  • How would you replace sugar or refined flour for children?

    We have used dates, jaggery, coconut sugar and honey as natural sweeteners.

  • What is the most important message you want to send out to young girls with dreams similar to yours?

    There are no shortcuts to achieving anything. Be patient, put in the work and take the leap.

  • Why did you decide to do a full book of eggless recipes?

    Ever since I came back from France, about 9 years ago, everyone I’ve met has said ‘Yeah this is great, but can we have it without eggs?’. As a trained pastry chef, this really frustrated me, coming back with all this knowledge but it being so inaccessible in India. To be fair, one has to work with so many restrictions in Indian kitchens that you don’t think of until you are here. When I realized that there are so many people who like to bake but can’t because of eggs, I saw a need for this book. However, it took me a long time to write it because I’ve created recipes that are not substitutes—none of these are sad replacements for desserts with eggs.

  • How did you decide which recipes would make it to the book?

    Some of them are things that I grew up eating, like a cookie recipe from when I was thirteen. The recipe for my mom’s famous Thumbs-up cake is also in this book. It’s a mix of family recipes and ones that I have developed and worked on.

  • Which is your favourite recipe from your book?

    There is a recipe that is inspired by the donut guy who used to be stationed outside Snowmans in Breach Candy. It was just a small little cart that was always there and whenever my mom went to Breach Candy to shop, she would always bring this brown box of two donuts with hot fudge sauce back for us.I’ve kind of recreated that recipe in Can’t Believe It’s Eggless. I’ve also included the recipe for a banana cream pie that I tried when I was in New York and that the team couldn’t stop eating when we made it.

  • Why did you dedicate your book to Oprah?

    Oprah talks about her legacy not being her own children, but everyone whose life she’s influenced. By that argument, I am a part of her legacy; I’ve grown up watching her show. In many ways, actually, her show helped me decide that this is the thing that I am going to do with my life.

  • You’ve been a part of many people’s special memories, via your desserts. Is there one that stands out to you?

    Eight years ago, I met a French couple—this was when I had just opened Le 15. On my birthday that year, I got an e-mail from them (they had discovered my blog) telling me that they had just moved to Bombay and every time they passed by the shop, they would get a lemon tart. In that moment, they continued, it felt like they were back home. The email ended with an invite for drinks so I met them and we all got along really well. We became really good friends and then they moved back to Paris but we kept in touch. I was in Paris in September so I met them and I was talking about the business and told him that I am raising some money and they decided they want in! Today, they are a part of Le 15, as investors, and they even visited the café in Colaba this year.

  • Which is your favourite cookbook?

    I have so many but my favourite is BakeWise. It deconstructs the science behind baking and I totally geek out when I learn why a cake rises when it does, how sugar dissolves, and so on.

  • Are there more books in the pipeline?

    I really want to document this crazy journey that I’ve been on. I would also love to write a book for kids, baking for children.

  • What do you love best about this job?

  • What drives you, What are you in this for?

  • When you had started, vendors used to say “Bring your dad”, cause they didn’t wanna be dealing with a young little girl. Did that ever irritate you?

  • Have you ever had a ‘Dark night of the soul’ since you started running the business? Like a moment when you were overwhelmed? And how did you deal with it?

  • Do you have any Mantras or hacks that you have just for getting more out of the day?

  • What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

  • You started off as a Law student, how did you get the idea of getting into a Pastry school?

  • You were in the housekeeping staff of a hotel in Switzerland, and now you’re the Macaroon Queen of India. How does the journey feel? What obstacles did you face?

  • 5 Basic Baking Hacks for all Bakers?

  • Tell us about your Beauty Routine in the midst of your hectic life while surrounded with so much sugar!

  • What’s been your Recipe to Success?

  • What Inspires you?

  • What was your First Paycheck and what did you do with it?

  • What does Financial Freedom mean to you?

  • You brought macaroons to India in 2010, when there was no visible market for it. What was your thought process about the Market Size, etc, as a new Entrepreneur?

  • Talk about the initial effort that you had to take, towards becoming a brand?

  • Tell us about the Business Model of Le 15 and the revenue and expenditures.

  • What is your view on your competition? Do you think all businesses have room to survive?

  • How often do you innovate at Le15?

  • Why did you decide to do a full book of eggless recipes?

    Ever since I came back from France, about 9 years ago, everyone I’ve met has said ‘Yeah this is great, but can we have it without eggs?’. As a trained pastry chef, this really frustrated me, coming back with all this knowledge but it being so inaccessible in India. To be fair, one has to work with so many restrictions in Indian kitchens that you don’t think of until you are here. When I realized that there are so many people who like to bake but can’t because of eggs, I saw a need for this book. However, it took me a long time to write it because I’ve created recipes that are not substitutes—none of these are sad replacements for desserts with eggs.

  • How did you decide which recipes would make it to the book?

    ome of them are things that I grew up eating, like a cookie recipe from when I was thirteen. The recipe for my mom’s famous Thumbs-up cake is also in this book. It’s a mix of family recipes and ones that I have developed and worked on.

  • Which is your favourite recipe from the book- Can’t Believe It’s Eggless?

    There is a recipe that is inspired by the donut guy who used to be stationed outside Snowmans in Breach Candy. It was just a small little cart that was always there and whenever my mom went to Breach Candy to shop, she would always bring this brown box of two donuts with hot fudge sauce back for us.I’ve kind of recreated that recipe in Can’t Believe It’s Eggless. I’ve also included the recipe for a banana cream pie that I tried when I was in New York and that the team couldn’t stop eating when we made it.

  • Why did you dedicate this book to Oprah?

    Oprah talks about her legacy not being her own children, but everyone whose life she’s influenced. By that argument, I am a part of her legacy; I’ve grown up watching her show. In many ways, actually, her show helped me decide that this is the thing that I am going to do with my life.

  • Who is this book(Can’t Believe It’s Eggless) for?

     It’s for anyone who is passionate about baking, from a 5-year-old to a 94-year-old. The idea was to keep the recipes super simple, so  that anyone can try their hand at them. I’ve also broken down the ingredients very carefully—these are all tried and tested to work in Indian homes.

  • You’ve been a part of many people’s special memories, via your desserts. Is there one that stands out to you?

    Eight years ago, I met a French couple—this was when I had just opened Le 15. On my birthday that year, I got an e-mail from them (they had discovered my blog) telling me that they had just moved to Bombay and every time they passed by the shop, they would get a lemon tart. In that moment, they continued, it felt like they were back home. The email ended with an invite for drinks so I met them and we all got along really well. We became really good friends and then they moved back to Paris but we kept in touch. I was in Paris in September so I met them and I was talking about the business and told him that I am raising some money and they decided they want in! Today, they are a part of Le 15, as investors, and they even visited the café in Colaba this year.

  • Which is your favourite cookbook?

    I have so many but my favourite is BakeWise. It deconstructs the science behind baking and I totally geek out when I learn why a cake rises when it does, how sugar dissolves, and so on.

  • Are there more books in the pipeline?

    I really want to document this crazy journey that I’ve been on. I would also love to write a book for kids, baking for children.

  • At the age of 23, what made you decide your career path?

  • How did the funding come about?

  • Why did you come up with such a name Le 15?

  • How long did it take to be profitable?

  • What is your advice to the aspiring foodpreneurs and home makers?

  • Congratulations for publishing your latest latest cookbook—Can’t believe it’s eggless! This is your third cookbook. Tell us all about it.

    Thank you! The book is about baking easy and delicious desserts without using eggs AND without compromising on taste. It has more than a 100 recipes for cookies, cakes, brownies, mousses, tarts, doughnuts and other simple treats.

  • How long did these recipes take to put together? Some of them—like the chocolate lava cake—are recipes one thought could not be made without eggs.

    The book is nine years of work and research that have come together! The actual recipe testing started in June of last year. Every recipe is tested multiple times to make sure it’s accurate. For most of the recipes in the book, like the lava cake, it was about creating something that’s not a substitute but actually tastes good by itself. Finding the right balance in the recipe was challenging, but also the most fun.

  • Travel has obviously influenced many of your recipes. Can you tell us what to expect from around the world in the book?

    There are recipes like brigadeiros from Brazil that I learned from my best friend on a trip to Rio, the banana cream pie is inspired from a dessert I had at Magnolia Bakery in NYC and the Baklava cupcake is something I thought of when I was in Istanbul.

  • Tell us about a trip that inspired something on your menu

    On a trip to Japan with chefs Gresham Fernandes, Pablo Naranjo and Kelvin Cheung, we would often break down each thing we tasted. It’s fascinating travelling with chefs. We made notes of everything we ate and once back in India we recreated all these recipes for a Japan-inspired menu. The best thing I ate on the trip was a dessert at this small restaurant that I can’t even remember the name but I can still taste the dessert! It was a matcha granita and a cream cheese mousse. I was inspired by it and made our matcha and cream cheese macaron.