Jeneva Talwar

Tête-à-Tête With Chef Jeneva Talwar

Sharmila Chand

What happens when a stunning looking filmmaker falls in love with cooking? You get an outstanding passionate pastry chef. This is the story of a young trained filmmaker from the National Institute of Design NID in Ahemdabad, Jeneva Talwar who is an ardent believer and a fan of artisanal, handcrafted bread.

Jeneva dabbled in film production and acting before realising her true love lay in pastry. She has performed in various Bollywood movies such as Slumdog Millionaire, Outsourced and The Guru. She completed her chef’s training in French Pastry at the renowned culinary school ENSP established by Alain Ducasse in Lyon, France. She then went on to work at Maison Pillet and Patisserie David in Bordeaux. Once she returned to India she worked at the ITC Maurya in New Delhi. She currently is head chef for the Artful Baker, New Delhi.

Excerpts of my conversation with Chef Jeneva:

What does it take to be a great Pastry chef? 
To succeed in any field, one needs an endless amount of passion. To be a great pastry chef, you need to complement the passion with an intense amount of patience, dedication, resilience and attention to detailing. Love for food is a must too.

For the past few years, I have immersed myself in the world of baking and bread crafting. Inspired by my mentor at ENSP, what started as a fun experiment turned into an ongoing quest for perfection. I believe in adding a magic of human touch to the bread.

What are the challenges a bakery chef has to face in his/her job?
Product consistency and staffing. Consistency is the key to success with any multi-unit, as guests demand the same experience regardless of the location. The Indian tropical climate also is quite a challenge for the delicate desserts.

What do you have to say about the new bakery equipment? 
The new bakery equipment and tools are great and really help to speed up processes but I still believe that nothing beats the basics. The touch of your hands can do wonders to any recipe and those long-forgotten methods are the hallmarks of exceptional baking.

How do you look at the Indian Bakery market?
The Indian Bakery market has come a long, long way in a short span of time. Indians are travelling and getting exposed to cuisines from across the world, people are more experimental when it comes to food and that has contributed massively to the growth of the patisserie sector. There are some exciting times ahead for patisserie enthusiast with the market growing rapidly.

What is your working philosophy?
My working philosophy is simple and straightforward. I believe in putting my one hundred percent into whatever I am doing. Patience and striving for perfection are key elements in the baking world and that’s what has been instilled in me by my mentors and that’s exactly what I pass onto my team as well.

What are you passionate about besides baking?
I am an ardent follower of films and love the art of Filmmaking. A good, well-made film is as good as eating the best pastry in the world.

How do you like to de-stress?
I play squash and go for regular swim in the warm season. Just like the kitchen, these physical activities require a hundred percent concentration hence it is very meditative for me and help me de-stress.

What are your dreams?  
My dream is to introduce a culture of authentic French inspired patisserie in India. I want to give the country the best patisserie ever and also inspire more youngsters to consider pastry making as a serious profession.

Your earliest food memory?
My earliest food memory is going for lunch and dinners on weekends with my family to the much-loved Nirulas. Nirulas was my favourite place for every small or big celebration. The pizzas and ice-creams at Nirulas are the reason I fell in love with food.

Your favourite restaurant ?
Le Chamarlenc, Le Puy-en-Velay, France is my favourite restaurant. One cannot fault this small gem of a restaurant. The menu was exciting, the dishes are simple yet delicious and the service is phenomenal. There is a beautiful outdoor seating as well. Recommend very highly. Bon appetit!

Your favourite cookbook?
It is French Cooking by Julia Child. It is a great cookbook and is the total package: it has delicious recipes that work, beautiful photography, writing that inspires and intrigues, and, most importantly, it covers the type of food that people are excited to eat. A truly amazing cookbook earns its stains through frequent use, and can almost become a family member as it reappears year after year at birthdays and holidays and this book has been an absolute favourite.

Your desert-island dish?
I would definitely try dishes with coconut since that would be abundantly available to my rescue. It helps that coconut makes for amazing recipes and I am already thinking of experimenting with the ingredient to whip up some delicacies at The Artful Baker!

The weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
 Is a cockroach! It is considered to be a delicacy in many Asian countries and I had the chance to experiment with fried cockroach dish on my travels to Indonesia. It isn’t for the faint hearted!

Your guilty pleasure?
Mozart dark chocolates is what I gorge on when the craving strikes! The delicious dark bitter chocolate creates a unique chocolate liqueur that is a must-have ingredient for creative cocktail-making, as well as a sophisticated addition to certain desserts.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you have been?
I would have pursued my love for films had I not been a chef. I would’ve have been an actor, director or photographer or all 3. 

What is your favourite dish to prepare on your day off?
I love cooking comfort food on my day offs. Nothing can beat a bowl of simple toor dal and zeera aloo with some basmati rice.

Any horror stories you’d like to share with us in your years of experience in the kitchen?
I’ve cut and burnt myself so often I don’t care to remember. I once cut myself so badly on a tin can, there was blood all over the counter. 

What is your signature dish?
The Entremets.
Entremets are amazing to eat but can seem complex to make because of the sheer number of elements involved.  In pastry chef terms, it is a multi-layered dessert using different textures – something cakey, creamy, crunchy, jelly and moussey.  Each of these textural components should be chosen to give a perfectly balanced contrast of flavours and beautifully presented. Since Entremets offer something for everyone, I love creating those regularly.  

Where do you find inspiration for your dishes?
I find inspiration in everyday flavours that can work magic when woven together. A beautiful rainy day can inspire a person to create some comforting and a bright sunny day can inspire you to get up and create something to kill the heat. I find inspiration in everyday things to reflect in my dishes.  

What is your mantra for success?
I love this quote by the great Charles Bukowski and totally live by it- “Find something you love and let it kill you.”

Lastly, who is your ONE DREAM guest for whom you would like to prepare a really outstanding dish?
My chef at pastry school- Chef KyunLan. He is the greatest chef I’ve worked with, my inspiration to keep going and excel in everything I do. It would be an incredible honour to host him for my signature dish.