With Chef Sanjana Patel | Knife’s Edge
Pastry chef Sanjana Patel is one of the most experimental in the city. She recently opened her third La Folie outlet in the city, and we dropped in to the casual Lower Parel space to try her widest menu yet.
La Folie Lab in Kamala Mills has an all new menu with fresh dishes, a cozy space, and a selection of cold brews and nitro coffees.
We caught up with Chef Sanjana to know more about the new offerings at her latest venture.
What made you open your biggest outlet in one of the city’s most competitive yet expensive restaurant districts?
Courage! Courage, a lot of motivation, and a lot of good feedback from customers.
We’d always been a patisserie, but we ventured as an all-day breakfast place in Bandra. We started off slow, because customers still had the perception that La Folie just does desserts. But the crowd just started coming in. They started loving our breads – in sandwiches, or like a brioche. We actually got a lot of requests from our customers from South Bombay to open something central, and that’s when we started looking this up. Initially we opened in Palladium, but it’s a small space, and so we thought of getting a larger one.
It is expensive out here, but my husband, Parthesh, he’s very courageous. I’m not a risk-taker. I love taking risks in my products and things like that, but he’s a risk-taker. And he’s like, you know what? I think it’s going to work out.
Let’s make a really cozy place, because that’s what is missing in Kamala. We’re now doing cuisines and desserts, so my responsibilities as a chef have tripled with three stores, but it’s been a wonderful journey for sure – wonderful, interesting, and slightly challenging.
Do you believe there’s a lacking of quality pastry chefs in the city? Why/why not?
There are people who are good, but they’re working with some restaurants and hotels. I think they are limited to try themselves out. I would only say that it’s not easy.
I think people need to be more proactive about discovering what they like to do. I think they need to move out of their zones.
How do you design the menu for a new outlet?
We actually do a lot of focus group studies. We have a set of customers that we keep asking to come and taste things around. We cater outdoor events, always doing some special stuff, and we see what customers order back.
Certain inspiration comes from what is classic and what works for us. Certain inspiration comes from my travels – I must have tasted something very interesting and I want to use it, like the Sakura in Japan. Then there are certain things like the dessert Jardin – I had a grapefruit & yogurt pavlova in a hotel named Caprice in Hong Kong.
I loved that flavour combination, and thought grapefruits are going to be in season by the time we open this venue, so let’s use it. That’s how we created the dessert. There’s one called Tropique, when I’d participated in India Pastry Queen 2015, that had won us over. I got that dessert in, because mangoes are in season, and I got fresh Yuzu. There you go, that’s how the menu came in!
Do you think pastry chefs rely on imported ingredients too much?
Yes. It’s the lack of produce and the climate that matters. It’s also about adaptation. For us, it’s about giving a European feel and global flavours. I am looking at what trends are getting set internationally.
Right from the presentation to the look-and-feel, it’s very important to be aware of what’s happening internationally, and not just in your city.
When people travel, they come back and say, I saw a similar-looking dessert at a certain place abroad – we’re very happy.
What’s your favourite item from the new menu at this outlet?
Favourite item for sure is Bounty, it’s my favourite dessert. In terms of chocolate, in terms of fruit, I’d say the Sakura or the Jardin – very close call.
You have a very open spirit about collaborations. What encourages that?
I like exploring what our audience is talking about. I like to explore what the bloggers are doing. They’re talking for the audience, they know what the audience likes, and I think it becomes interesting to know what they feel would work.
I just become the R&D person, and for me it’s fun. I look forward to World Macaroon Day every year. That’s the time I’m exploring macaroons, and we had 32 flavours this year.
What are your favourite dishes from around restaurants in Mumbai?
I like Bastian for brunch. The pancakes are interesting.
I love The Table.
I recently went to The Blue, and I loved their papaya salad.
But my most favourite is the modern-Indian cuisine at The Bombay Canteen. I think Thomas is a genius. He’s taken fun flavours and regional cuisine, and he still hasn’t taken the essence out of it. I like the peanut eggplant curry, and their barley salad is one of my favourites. Their Kejriwal is amazing.
What’s the most under-appreciated dish/dessert you have to offer, and would recommend people to try?
There are takers for everything.
Maybe from the cuisine, I’d say the Cauliflower & Asparagus Risotto. It’s really nice, but it’s also vegan, healthy, and gluten-free. Maybe customers will just skip it.
From the pastries, I’d want them to try the Tropique, which is here only for a month. It’s got Yuzu in it, and if people don’t really know how Yuzu tastes, they must try it.
They think it’s very citrusy, but it’s more of an orange & a grapefruit than a lemon. It goes great with pistachio and mango.
What’s the most time & skill intensive item on your menu?
In terms of the desserts, the Sakura and Jardin.
I need to pipe the Sakura on a gramophone. I have to put one on that and I have to pipe, and it goes around, which takes time. Jardin has a lot of intricate detail.
My favourite, and something that will never go off our menu is the Carrot Patch, which I’ve dedicated to my mum and grandmum. That dessert has a lot of layering, and garnishing that needs to be done with nimble fingers. Each piece takes 15 minutes, and I like the intricacy.
There’s another dessert called Rogue on the menu. We’re using origin beans from Madagascar, from a company called Valrhona. They have a chocolate called Manjari – one of the best in the world, and we’re one of the first people to use their chocolates in India.
It’s mixed with raspberries and tonka beans, which is a spice from Venezuela. The garnish on the top looks like a fryum – it’s got criss-cross chocolates, which is a technique I came up with after some experimenting. The garnish itself takes a lot of time, it has to be perfect.
What do you think of La Folie Lab expanding into a full food menu at their new Lower Parel outlet?