Trading for livelihood, designing for love and baking with passion sums up Smita Singhal , the owner of Cupcake &Co.
Smita’s story is inspiring as she wears many a hats- that of a single mother, a successful entrepreneur and of course a prolific baker. Itiriti brings to you the profile of a baker, anecdotes from her life at Le Corden Bleu and much more….
Smita’s journey before and along with Cupcake &Co…
As soon as I meet Smita at her office overlooking the GKII market she kicks off the conversation by sharing her professional journey. After Graduating in Commerce, Smita went off to pursue her studies in FIT, New York. After an eight year long stint in advertising, post pregnancy she quit her job and joined a section of her father’s Chemical business and is in charge of the trading. She also has a small Company called Raya which she kicked off in 2007 where she designs costume jewellery. She retails her products through exhibitions. She also works as a freelance designer for an export house. And seamlessly she also had a passion for baking. She recounts the days when her mother used to bake.
“My mother influenced me a lot” and baking for son…
She is a self proclaimed foodie and loved to bake. She started baking in college and it used to be primarily for fun. She recalls Mala Bindra’s influence who was the first successful home-based baker in Delhi. Till 2009, she did not consider baking seriously till her son wanted to have a chocolate cake. From then one she went on to preparing chocolate cake to banana cake and carrot cake.
No one was doing cupcakes …
No one was doing cupcakes back then. She is a self confessed you-tube student. She recalls fondly her fondant learning lesson from youtube. While she was self tutoring , she also felt the need to learn some skills as her housewarming gifts of cupcakes and small catering orders ranging from requests from family and friends to a Christmas party was gaining popularity. She even received orders for a Christmas party and the collaboration continues this date. At this juncture she was using techniques which was self taught, and depending on fancy supplies which friends from abroad got for her. She felt the need to train herself beyond her “ How to …..?” lessons
Life at Julia Child School…
After a review of the options available to her, she chose to apply to Le Corden Bleu Paris.
In July 2012 she got selected for the one month programme which specialises in pastry making in the prestigious Le Corden Bleu, Paris. She weighed her options of studying in Bangkok and settled for this course. Out of a class of 40 odd students there were 35 female students, 5 male students. Smita was one of the five Indian students ( two were Chandigarh, one from Bombay and one from Bangalore). And of course the students were from diverse backgrounds. “Average age was 27 and I was oldest”- recalls Smita fondly.
She recalls being part of the group of ten from diverse backgrounds. Most of them were backed by food industry. Some of them were food stylists, some were taking the course as part of extended programme etc. One has to submit a business plan along with the application form. She also took a five week home tuition on French from somebody at the French Embassy in Delhi.
“I hardly saw Paris…”
Can you imagine it was a three month programme squished into one month. “Our days began at 8.30 am and we wrapped up by 9.30pm. We woke by 6.30 am and we had to get ready by 8.30 am in class. We had lockers where our uniforms were kept”. We had to wear the uniforms and be seated in class by 8.30 am. The school, she recalls had a microscopic gaze and they kept a check on every move of the students. Points were deducted if one did not cover their head or wore an untidy uniform to the class. Apparently two students were thrown out before their completion of the programme because of their late attendance.
Le Corden Bleu, Paris houses 4 kitchens two dedicated to cuisine and two dedicated for pastry. A batch of ten students took turns to do practical and theory classes on rotation basis to accommodate 250 students.
On an average, 3 recipes (theory and practical) were taught to the students who undertook the programme. In practical classes, French Chefs came in to demonstrate a recipe and a translator used to translate his demonstrations to English. Smita recalls, “You had to be attentive. Since they never repeated any step, if you missed a step it was your loss. You had to take notes while you were watching. You had to keep a close eye. During the course of these classes I learnt a lot of French words for ingredients like butter, sugar etc…”.
“I hardly saw Paris. We did the bakery scene. We explored the restaurants, bakeries. Food was on the go. We did not have time to cook after we got over with our classes at 9.30pm. It was very intensive . Worth it”.
Smita was one of the top 12 students in her batch. She graduated in August 2012.
Life after Le Corden Bleu.
She interned with Olive Beach at Chanakyapuri. She was interning in the pastry section. He stint here helped her to understand how a kitchen works. She recalls with full admiration the kitchen staff she encountered in Olive who learned on the job. She recollects her colleague who taught her to how make breads and was self taught and learned on the job. After her stint here she formed Virtual Bakery in September 2012.
Cup Cake &Co… And the concept of virtual bakery
“I wanted to see the response of my products”. She emphasises that while she knew her skills, it is important to know what your clientele want and if there is a clientele for your products. Virtual bakery concept provided her with an option to explore the first stage of business with no over head costs. Within ten days orders started pouring in…
Life as a baker…
“Starting from batter to baking, I do it all”. She proudly points out that she has been trained in a school which emphasises using hands on skills. “In my school, we were taught baking with hands. That’s what French tradition is about …so from preparing batter to whipping cream it had to be done with hands”. She is in charge of stocking up supplies, following up on orders to preparing the deliverables. She says “ Thanks to my stint in advertising I know how to multitask. You had to handle 6 different portfolios, different clientele..”. She has recently bought food processor and added an oven to her kitty of kitchen appliances. While we share our mutual admiration for old ovens we move on to discussing the varieties that Cup Cake & Co. Offers.
Menu on offer
As she gears up to bake two deliveries she shares with me her experience of having a savoury stall at Australian Spring Fair: Sun Dried Tomato Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Sumac Spiced Potato Puff Pastry, Cajun Ham and Cheese Puff Pastry, Chicken Taco Tart, Mushroom and Caramelised Onion Cheese Tart.
Her favourite recommends:-
Apple Walnut with brown sugar butter cream
Caramel Fudge Cake with white chocolate
Future Plans of expansion
She dreams of opening her retail outlet with a “rolling and loyal clientele”. She says her kitchen floor would be clean and she would not offer more than two to three formats in her shop. It is important to have less to maintain quality, taste and loyalty. She plans to hire a kitchen space and shift out of her home.
Collection of books related to food…
She is an avid reader and has a collection of 250 books starting from cookery books to fiction. She tells me two to three fiction where the authors have woven recipes with the narrative…
Chocolat, Ratatouille and The Feast
Baking tips for Itiriti Readers!!!!
- Always measure to the “T”.
- When you want to layer your cake, please refrigerate for sometime before cutting.
- When you are making a dough for pastry, refrigerate it for half an hour before rolling it out.
Contact Details :
Cupcake & Co: A virtual bakery based out of Delhi.
Since the baker works on the miracles on her own you need to order 48 hours in advance.
Photoes : Smita Dhingal