With her extremely capable, inventive and passionate stint in leading hotel chains, Chef Neha Lakhani brings fresh and innovative culinary skills to the art of baking inspired by classic training and world travels. After a bachelor’s degree in Finance, Chef Neha was drawn to bakery and patisserie and pursued Pastry Diploma at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa under Chef Christian Faure and Chef Herve Chabert. She holds a strong background in Fine Dining Restaurants, banquet operations, food production management and guest relations. Under Chef Heinrich Stubbe at Stubbes Chocolates, Neha learnt to craft a wide range of chocolates, truffles, alcohol truffles, chocolate show pieces and delectable cakes. Chef Neha honed her skills in planning customized fine desserts with fresh and high quality ingredients in the pastry kitchen of ITC Maurya Sheraton, New Delhi. Chef Neha has also trained with Chef Fredrick Monti, Stephane Treand, Stephane Glacier, Jean Francois Arnaud, Peter Yeun, Martin Lipo, Sebastian Chavilliar, Roland Delmonte at Asia Pastry Forum, Malaysia.
An innovator and baker par excellence, Neha’s desserts and bakes have a distinctive French influence. Chef Neha Lakhani designs every dish to capture a delicious and exciting range of flavours, textures and aromas, and she firmly believes that any dish is incomplete without the study of its core ingredients. This is a fundamental aspect of her culinary excellence that has taken her to conduct workshops and demos extensively all over the country. Neha is also invited regularly to judge contests and cook-offs globally. Herself an award-winner at CAI (Ahaar 2016 – where she won the Silver Medal), Neha has been a prominent judge at the Asia Food Festival as well. Chef Neha specializes in Cupcakes, Tea-time/ Fruit/ Dry cakes, Cookies, Breads and Cake making and decorations, working with chocolate, mousse, tarts and soufflés, plated desserts. Neha won two bronze medals at the recently held SICA (South India Culinary Association) Competition in Chennai in the Petit Four Category and Plated Dessert Category. She has been a Faculty /Trainer Chef for bakery at Le Cordon Bleu at GD Goenka School of Hospitality. Neha is a member of the Indian Culinary Forum, the Penang Chefs Association, Saudi Arabian Chef’s Table Circle and also Indian Federation of Chefs Association (IFCA).
Chef Neha is consulting at Lavaash Deli, a restaurant that has Armenian influences. One can catch a glimpse of her life and her love for food through her social media platforms and Youtube channel where she loves to showcase her classic creations and the magic that she makes at her Patisserie Royale. In addition, she explores the writer in her by chronicling her culinary experiences for NDTV as one of their expert on-panel chefs. She is also a consultant with Aaj Tak, and makes recipe videos with them regularly. Her YouTube Channel is also very popular. A few excerpts from our meeting with her as we chatted with her over a few delectable treats at Lavash Deli.
Sudipto De: What drives you to be in this industry?
Neha Lakhani: The best part about being in the culinary industry for me is that it doesn’t feel like a job, even though it is one – as scientific and artistic as it is emotional. My job is my life. I can spend crazy number of hours as I love what I do. The best part about being a pastry chef is you’re the master of your creation. A dish can be as good as your imagination be unique and creativity knows no limits. I love the fact that there is so much new that is possible every single day!
SD: Where do you draw you inspiration from?
NL: My inspiration comes from many places. Firstly my father who began from scratch has always taught me no work is small. He would always say that if we have to rise we have to struggle and make our own way and we shouldn’t fear hard work and hardships.
My inspiration also come from a lot of those women who are multi-tasking – working, handling families, kids, themselves and their jobs. It’s a lot on a woman’s platter to do, really. And I am proud to know a lot of my friends and colleagues who do this. They also inspire me every day from the adjustments they make in their lives to the sacrifices they make to achieve a work-life balance.
This may sound cheesy, but my inspiration even comes from the have-nots. A beggar or destitute on the street may have nothing but they way they smile – from the heart – it just makes me thankful and motivates me to forget my trivial problems and be strong.
SD: What would be your advice to upcoming Chefs ?
NL: My advice to upcoming chef is that you have to work a lot – perhaps till your body is buckling with the strain of standing (laughs). But your mind has to be awake and alert. You have to be strong mentally and physically both. Also, don’t fear innovation and go out of your limits. That being said, do not forget the basics of classic pastry. Innovations should never overpower the basics.
SD: What is the most essential item in your kitchen?
NL: In terms of equipment, I cannot work without a rubber spatula, bread knife and palette knife. When it comes to ingredients, I must have butter, chocolate and vanilla beans in my kitchen.
SD: What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant?
NL: I cook at home what I’ve learnt from my Mom . The basics – Dal, Baingan bharta and lauki (which is my favourite).
SD: What are 3 tips for running a successful restaurant?
NL: The first and foremost is consistent good quality. The second is to have strong and flavourful desserts which make people come back for more. And finally, something that no successful restaurant can function without – smiling and good service staff who can make your customers happy and increases business.
SD: What’s your regular comfort meal?
NL: Either roti and dal or rajma chawal- either of the two can heal anything for me!
SD: If you were to open a new restaurant, what style of food would you pick and where would you want it to be located?
NL: If I was to open a restaurant would be around Khan Market or in Gurgaon or Sunder Nagar in Delhi or the NCR. And it would most definitely be French cuisine and French pastry.
SD: When you’re at home or someone else cooks for you, do people feel pressured to cook you something fancy because you’re a chef yourself?
NL: (LAUGHS) No there are no pressures to cook for me as I’m really a very simple eater. I like the basic food that we all eat at home – dal, vegetables, rotis. It should be basic and not fancy and definitely not too spicy. Cooking for me is really very easy!
SD: Mention one project which is very close to your heart?
NL: Lavaash Deli by Saby. I am attached to it on many levels.
SD: What do you think will be trending this coming festive season?
NL: Macaroons are making people go nuts. And Madeleines are also going to be extremely popular.
So guys, when are you planning to check out Lavaash Deli?