Pooja Dhingra | The Spool

You brought macarons into the mainstream in India and you made it your whole and soul. It was bit of a risk, but did you think it was a risk? And why only macarons?

There was a time when, in Bombay, you could go to any pastry shop and it almost felt like every place had the same chef. Because you’ve only got 5 different types of desserts, your blueberry cheese cake or your brownie or whatever, it’s all the same. And when I was in Paris I was in this new space of – this is pastry but it is also like art, it’s nothing like I have seen before, so why is it not available back home? So I just started with that and then obviously I ate my first macaron and I was like, ‘wow what is this?!’ So I came back and then I was just so young and naïve that I was like, ‘I’m going to do this’, and I didn’t really ask myself too many questions, I just knew. I was passionate about it and I saw that there was a market and that was it.

So what we are curious about is that the common advice is to hedge one’s bets, so first of all did you get that advice? And second, yet you pretty much stuck to your guns?

I am lucky that I come from a family that is very supportive and in fact my father was the one who pushed me. When he came to visit me in Paris, he saw the macarons there, he tasted them and he was the one that said, you should do this in India, it’ll be a hit, so it always was with the sort of thinking that I am going to do this and it will be successful. There was never any doubt.

And I think that’s important when you are starting anything, which most people don’t realize, that you can’t think negatively, you can’t think that this is going to fail, you can’t have a plan b.

All this success that has happened, how much of it was planned goals, and how much of it was just happened?

So the thing with me is that I try and set goals and visualize everything and then I am amazed when it all happens.

For example for this café, I have been wanting something in Colaba for the longest time. And I knew I wanted something on this street, so I would come here almost every other week and try to look for stores that might be available, I did find a small shop that was right across and then that fell through and that was really heart breaking. I would keep sharing and asking and then suddenly one day a friend called me and said, ‘I have this place in Colaba, much bigger than your normal formats but do you want to come and look at it?’ And then she told me the location and I thought this is creepy and I walked in and I thought, this is mine! This is it. This is why the other things didn’t work out and then we changed the format and started this. So I’ve been working for it for three years, but when it happened it just felt like, wow this is a stroke of luck you know.

When we are reading up, following your life on social media, it looks like a nice fairy tale but, there have to be points when you are just like down and tired?

Yea, you know I get really upset when people are like life is a cakewalk or like life is easy, I’m like no. It is tough.

It’s hard work and achieving your goals and achieving success is great but it also comes with a price right?

When I started Le 15, I was working 14-16 hours a day and I couldn’t see my friends, I was always tired, relationships got ruined. It was just bad time but it was great for work, because I was putting in all my energy at work but my personal life was kind of taking a toll. I started gaining a lot of weight, so you know it was like in one way you are doing well, you are successful and all of that, but your personal life takes a hit. So finding that balance takes a bit of time and I can only do it now.

But I know that if I hadn’t put in that work in the start I wouldn’t have been able to do this now.

I think having a job is so much easier, because once you are done you just switch off and it’s done. For me 6:30 in the morning when my kitchen opens, stress begins then and when this place shuts at 12:30 at night. So I have a window in the night from 12:30 to 6:30 where everyone is asleep and then I can breathe but until that it’s always crazy.

Are there any failed macarons that didn’t make it?

Oh so many. I tried to do this Made in India collection once and we still have some on the menu like the Pan, Chai, but I tried to make a Kala Khatta macaron it was horrible I mean it was really bad!

Who’s the person who tries all these?

My family.

My brother is my harshest critic. I trust his palette more than anything.

My parents like everything, they are very biased. My brother will just taste something and go, ‘no this is disgusting, you need to change this, you need to change that’. So I go by his palette.

How do all you chefs know each other?

So I’ll tell you, when I moved back to Bombay, it wasn’t like that. Everyone knew everyone and individually they had their own thing but it was not like a fraternity. And then there was this event that started called Food With Benefits where we chefs came together and started cooking. Normally for chefs Monday nights are when you have your day off or you are free so Kelvin and I, we started this group, Monday Chef Nights. And we also started meeting outside of work and there were simple rules like no one talks about work and just like really fun things and then it sort of became like a community where we are all on a Whatsapp group and we all are there helping each other. So if anyone has a problem e.g. with supplies or staff or whatever, everyone is there and you are just a message away helping each other. It’s a lot of respect because everyone understands how the industry is and we’re constantly working and we don’t have time when normal people socialize. So we have to stick to each other.

It’s a support system of sorts, like everyone is helping each other out and we all come together when it’s needed. It’s important to have in any industry, it’s the only way everyone grows together.

Where do restaurateurs socialize?

At Gokul, at Janta at each other’s houses. So it really depends, we go everywhere. We change locations everytime. No rules. Normally people’s houses or bars after work. We are people too, right?!

A lot of people now when they have grouses with a restaurant, a lot of time the first place they go to complain is twitter. Do you think that is fair?

It’s not fair at all. Because if you are at a restaurant and you have problem with the food, you mention it or bring it up right there so it can be fixed.

Don’t settle for something bad and then complain about it later.

Mistakes happen all the time or something’s not to your liking, but it can be fixed at the moment. Speak to the person involved, why do you have to go bitch about it to the whole world once it’s already done?

Are you the girl who always brings the cake?

Always! I mean it’s now that people get offended.

Like if I go for a meeting and I don’t have a box, people are like, ‘oh we were hoping you would get something’.

I am like, thanks! I mean I always do, as a principle I always take something for whoever I meet. But now it’s become like they expect it, you know like taken for granted.

I remember once you spoke about street kids near the Parel kitchen, do you guys keep doing stuff like that?

We do. I believe in women education and doing something for children and that’s what I believe in. We always do work with communities around us, that’s something that’s always been a Le15 thing ever since we started, we didn’t have money when we started but I remember when Xaviers was doing some charity drive and they came to me and asked, we need 1000 boxes, I said we’ll do it, it doesn’t matter how but we’ll make this happen and that has been a part of our DNA and we keep doing that. I feel like everytime we feel like we have achieved something or we need to celebrate we try and go out and reach out to people and do something with them. For example, two Diwali’s ago we did something with Save the Children India where we decided to sponsor 1000 meals. For my 29 or 30th birthday I did a crowdfunding campaign where I said don’t give me any birthday gifts but we raised money for subscriptions for a magazine called White Print, which is a magazine in braille. I think the goal was 170 subscriptions and we surpassed it.

That’s what gives me happiness, to see what we can do for others and not just for ourselves.


One Indian dessert you hate?

I don’t like Shrikhand

A foodie idea you wish you came up with first?

You know so I actually did, but my family didn’t follow through with it. I wanted to do Chai like Chai Point or Chayoos, so when I came back I wanted to do that with chai and no one listened to me.

The worst review you ever got?

It was I think when I started Le 15, my first, it was a very very hurtful review. It was by an influential food blogger and she was also a baker. It was more like I can do this better, this sucks and this is not how French products should be. And just that day I met these French people who said you know we pass your store every week and we love it because it makes us feel like home. So I sent them that review and asked them what do you think, is it justified, should I do something about it? And they got so offended and till today my friend tells me if you search for his name the first thing that comes up is his comments on that review.

So what’s the best review that you ever got, what’s the thing that made your heart go woooo?

I think when people come and tell me that they have tasted macarons in Paris and they still prefer ours – that makes me happy.

So we know that there are a lot of celebrities who love your macarons but the one celebrity fan you are still chasing?

Amitabh Bachchan

Apart from Ryan Gosling, who’s your top pick for arm candy if you were to ever get one?

Trevor Noah, my latest obsession. Not like I know either of them. But I feel like Trevor is not only really cute but he is also super smart and funny, he makes a perfect combination. Can you tweet this article to him so I can meet him?

What’s on your Tinder bio?

Pastry chef.

That’s it?

That’s all you need.

Two of your food heroes from the world, and one from this country?

Across the world, one would be David Chang, not only because of his food but also the empire that he has built. And second would be Dominique Ansel, same thing. And from India I am a very big fan of Chef Manish Malhotra, I totally fangirl over him and I am always amazed by how humble he is and every time I meet him it’s just like an inspiration of creativity and ethics and everything.

Trevor Noah aside, who else do you fangirl over?

There are a lot of people guys, I am very creepy. It’s always like Beyonce and Oprah and Jimmy Fallon. I am a bit ashamed of that. Chrissy Teigen, I am a big big big fan of hers. So I met her when I was in Boston and she gave me her phone, my DNA is on her phone, she gave me her phone and said how do I follow you on Instagram, I was like, ‘what?!’ I found myself and said okay here and every now and then I’ll check if she is still following me. She is, okay, she is.