Desi Valentine’s Day Tales – Chocolates & Romance
We share some of the fabulous chocolates and desserts created by Indian pastry chefs, culinary experts and entrepreneurs – and to add some extra sweetness, we also unearth their personal romance tales, from New Delhi to New York! We shared these tales last Valentine’s – this year they are twice as sweet!
We go first to India where Divya Burman, a passionate home cook and food blogger at Foodie by Nature and Foodie by Nature on Facebook, got into chocolate making, creating sugar-free chocolates especially for her dad who had to watch his sugar intake. She experimented and added exotic flavors and they were such a hit that she went commercial with them, and now her brand of Guilt-Free Sugar Free Premium Belgian Chocolates is sold at the Delhi airport and in outlets like Ambi Mall and Baker Street in Gurgaon.
“They are guilt-free because dark chocolate is said to be full of healthy benefits, opening up arteries, reducing cholesterol and raising metabolism, even fighting fat! We do sugar-free chocolates sweetened with a plant sugar called Xylitol which is safe even for nursing moms and kids.” Since there are few sugar-free chocolates in India or are sweetened with agents which leave a strong after-taste, Guilt Free Chocolates have caught on with consumers. She also conducts chocolate making classes.
Divya Burman’s Guilt-Free Chocolates & More on Val Day
Divya, who is married to Amit Burman, Vice Chairman at Dabur Inc. and the man behind Lite Bites Foods and restaurants, has a chocolaty love story to share. “Last Valentine’s Day, Amit took me for dinner to the hugely romantic Orient Express at the Taj Palace Hotel,” she recalls. “We sat inside the train in the restaurant and ordered our food, which came course by course. And then came the dessert in a covered platter!”
Instead of some fancy dessert from the Orient Express, the waiter opened the cover with a flourish – to reveal Divya’s own first box of Guilt-Free chocolates, along with a gorgeous Valentine’s Day gift! The chocolates continue to do well, with many new innovative flavors in 2014.
“The beauty was that Amit had gone in advance to the restaurant to give them the box of chocolates as well as the gift – we both had a great time enjoying my chocolates guilt free – romantic indeed !” recalls Divya. “I loved the fact that he believed in me and my chocolates over and above the desserts the restaurant offered – and getting a Valentine gift added all the extra spice to my evening!”
Shefalee Patel’s Labor of Love
From New Delhi we jump to New York, where Shefalee Patel is the avid chocolatier behind Sweet Silk and creates sweets for every occasion from Diwali to Christmas to Valentine’s Day. “I like to refer to the making of my sweets and truffles as my Labor of Love,” she says. “All our confections are handmade in small batches to ensure the right flavor, consistency and fresh quality every time. We do everything in-house by hand, from blanching and peeling pistachios to chopping the huge chocolate slabs down to cooking each batch of sweet and rolling each truffle by hand. There is a lot of time, energy and care put into making our confections and it’s all done lovingly. ”
Shefalee uses a balance of sweetness, spice, quality nuts and dried fruit paired with fine high grade chocolate from Valrhona or Callebaut. She says her sweets are gluten free and vegetarian friendly. For Valentine’s Day, she is offering truffles which contain special aphrodisiac ingredients, such as a touch of the organic rose oil in Date Rose Pistachio Truffles and the rich blend of cherries with Tahitian vanilla in Dark Cherry Cocoa Truffles. She says, “However, the true aphrodisiac is the rich dark chocolate coating. These truffles are pure vegan sweets and with absolutely no added sugar, making it a healthy indulgence.”
For Valentine’s Day, the truffles which pair beautifully with wine or champagne, come in keepsake boxes. What’s the bonus for her? “The reward is always knowing that people are enjoying or sharing my confections with others. It warms my heart and motivates me to keep pushing the envelope!”
A Spice Sutra From Monica Bhide for Valentine’s Day
From New York on to Washington DC! Noted cookbook writer and cooking authority Monica Bhide partnered with artisan chocolate maker Co Co Sala on her line of luxury spiced chocolates for Valentine’s Day in 2013. “These were high-end chocolates spiced with aphrodisiac spices like saffron, cardamom, cinnamon and ginger,” she says. “We even spiced one with Gulkand (spiced Indian rose preserves) — what is Valentine’s Day without roses!”
Her combinations in The Spice Sutra Bar included kesar, adrak, elaichi and gulab which consisted of milk chocolate, gulkand rose preserves and toasted cashews. Kesar had milk chocolate, saffron, cinnamon toasted almonds; adrak was dark chocolate, candied ginger and fennel seeds while elachi was white chocolate and green cardamom. Needless to say, all the chocolates were sold out well before Valentine’s Day.
We hope Monica Bhide kept a few for her sweetheart for she shares a romantic tale with us about how she met her husband, Sameer, who is a consultant in DC. Having come to the US as a student, she was lonely and homesick on campus, missing her family and her mother’s cooking. She decided to make her mother’s wonderful kheer and soon the little apartment was filled with the aroma of cardamom. A young MBA student whom she had met briefly on her first day came to the door, drawn by that fragrance of home. As she tells it, “Over the warm fragrance of cardamom we talked. He made me laugh. He missed his class that evening. And yes, he loved my kheer.” They have been married for 22 years and Monica continues to whip up sweet surprises for her husband and chocolate lovers everywhere. A passionate writer, she recently published her debut book of short stories titled ‘The Devil in Us.’
For Hemant Mathur & Surbhi Sahni, A Chef Romance
Celebrity chefs Hemant Mathur and Surbhi Sahni are well-known in the restaurant world, he as the chef of six Indian restaurants including ‘Handi’, and she is a pastry chef with her own desserts company BittersweetNYC . Her truffles are influenced by Indian spices and Indian sweets.
“Using an extensive knowledge of spices, fruits, chocolate and savory ingredients, we have married the art of Indian dessert with Western classics producing balanced profiles on the plate,” she says. “Ingredients, textures & flavor combinations influence how I envision the chocolates. Some are more modern in their approach while in others I revisit the flavors I loved as a child.”
BitterSweet NYC Flavors? Chilli Chocolate, Orange Burfi & Carrot Halwa
Her chocolates have a unique taste because she uses homemade khoya or reduced milk as a filling to the chocolates and most fillings take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours to make. Some of the flavors she offers are coconut burfi, dal halwa, chilli chocolate, Orange burfi & carrot Halwa. “I think quality ingredients are a key to success of any dish. Keeping that in mind, I exclusively use Belgian chocolate and even bring our own spices from India,” she says. BittersweetNYC confections can be found online and are shipped all over the US. If you live in New York City you will also encounter them at numerous street fairs like Little Italy’s San Gennero Festival.
The special reward, says Surbhi, is seeing that we are able to share a little sweetness in the world. And yes, sometimes while cooking for others, you can also find your own sweetheart! Hemant and Surbhi found each other – in the kitchen!
“Hemant and I met at NYU in a cooking class I was assisting with Suvir Saran and Hemant was co-teaching with Suvir,” explains Surbhi. ” Hemant was at the moment opening Tamarind with Mr Avtar Walia and they were looking for someone to do their tea room concept and that’s how we began working together!”
Aarti Mahtani Raman’s Chocolate Chai Cupcakes with Toasted Cashews
From New York we move to Philadelphia, PA. It’s hard to believe that once upon a time Aarti Mahtani Raman was part of the 9 to 5 corporate world for nowadays life is all about food and her nascent catering company AMR Catering She works out of a rented kitchen, creating products on order for everything from catered parties to big weddings, and delivers to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
” I love anything decadent – anything that makes me a little ‘giddy’ and wanna do a happy dance – warm doughnuts fresh out of the fryer, a molten chocolate cake, fresh Gulab Jamun!” she says. Her scrumptious desserts and the Indian-fusion aspect comes from her love of Indian spices and growing up with American dessert staples.
“I fuse the two into something unique and unlike anything anyone has tried – Cardamom Cheesecake with a Pistachio-Shortbread crust is a staple!” she says, adding that her other east-west desserts include Chocolate Chai Cupcake with a Toasted Cashew and Brown Butter Icing, Mango Meringue Tartlet and Strawberry-Rosewater Cookies, as well as eggless varieties. Her Indian-fusion desserts use spices such as Cardamom, Ginger, Cinnamon, and Saffron in American style desserts, perfect she says, for Valentine’s Day since these are considered aphrodisiacs.
Aarti met her husband Saurabh, a consultant with Vynamic, a Philadelphia-based company about 10 years ago. “I still can’t believe it’s been that long!” she says. “I was a Sophomore in college and he was a Junior. We were fast friends – he’s hysterically funny – and a few months later, began dating and we’ve been together ever since. ” The first thing she ever made for him was an Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip-Walnut cookie, and he absolutely loved it. So she made them again as a sign of love for their own Mehndi and Sangeet parties – so everyone knew that was what had ‘got’ him!
“Saurabh is the biggest support system and without him, I don’t think I would’ve had the strength to follow my dream – to enroll in Culinary School six years ago, leave my corporate job soon after, and begin working in the food industry,” she says.
She concludes – and all Significant Others should heed her message: “He was with me through all of it, and even now – when I wanted to venture out on my own with AMR Catering, he’s there – from delivering treats to manning the booths at all the bridal shows. My rock. Every year for Valentine’s Day, I don’t opt for the lavish dinner and request bouquets of roses – I, instead, go all out and make a lavish, romantic dinner just for us.”
Topping it with a sinfully rich dessert, of course!
Update! We love sharing happy news and now Aarti and Saurabh have a little boy!
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