When Kainaz Messman was nursing herself back from a slip disc injury in 2003, little did she know that in a year, she and her entire family, will end up taking their dessert-for-dinner dishes from their Colaba kitchens to counters that would run out of sweet treats within no time. Even the name of the patisserie, Theobroma, was food for thought. After going through various versions of combining their names, a sugar broker at the firm Tina Messman Wykes was working at in London, suggested calling the newfound business the food of gods. And in 2004, Theobroma was born. So yes, everyone from Mumbai who has ever carried a box of Theobroma brownies to a different city (The Delhi people still tend to forget they finally have Theobroma), it was in this family of four that your favourite brownie originated. 15 years after Messman Harchandrai, the chef, became Messman Harchandrai the entrepreneur, she and her sister have finally penned a book, Baking A Dream: The Theobroma Story, that’s more like an outpouring of a genuine dream come true. The Messman sisters discuss their journey, their hits and misses, and since everyone’s becoming a chef during quarantine, they give an insight into baking your own brownies too.
Your book says you grew up wrapping chocolates. Was dessert a passion that eventually became a profession?
Often, when Dad travelled on business, Mum and us had dessert for dinner. We went through recipe books and picked out things we wanted to eat. Mum baked and we made a meal of it. If time was short, we bought a few different icecream flavours, made tall sundaes and ate that instead. We always looked forward to these dessert extravaganzas. Using this as our inspiration, we started Theobroma, primarily as a dessert destination.
And what do you think made Theobroma tick with people on its opening day itself, and every day since?
Simple quality. Products that are made in our kitchen are like they would be in yours. Nothing is fancy or pretentious. Our quality has remained consistent. We make the things we like to eat ourselves. There is a ‘like it used to be’ appeal to our products. Your brownie recipe was born in your small Colaba kitchen.
How did that happen?
It was nearly 25 years ago that Gulzar, a pregnant lady in our building, asked Mum to bake her some brownies. She had lived in America and was craving them again when she was pregnant. Mum had never eaten a brownie, so at first, she brushed aside the request. After a few gentle reminders, she found a walnut brownie recipe in one of her cookbooks, baked her first batch and delivered them upstairs. Gulzar loved the brownies and ordered them many times after that. Mum started offering brownies to her other customers through her catering business and they loved it too. This was the beginning of the brownie craze that would sweep over our city in the years to come.
What were the challenges of putting your lives into a book?
What was the process like? We didn’t know where to start or what to do. We approached the book as we do life — head on. The entire project seemed so daunting at the start that we ignored the enormity of the endeavour and just started writing the bits we knew we wanted to include. We set about writing a wide variety of small essays, putting our thoughts into words. As we went along, we added more stories and anecdotes and very slowly, it started coming together.
Kainaz, what was the biggest challenge about bringing in the entrepreneurial spirit into the chef, an essential artist of food?
Entrepreneurship did not come naturally to me. I was certainly not born with a gift or talent. My stripes have been earned by putting in many years of hard graft and continued perseverance. I have learned to share the workload and take help where I need it.
And how have you seen the culinary landscape change over the years?
It may seem unbelievable today, but just over a decade ago not everyone knew what a brownie was. We had to beg people to try our fragrant carrot cake as many of them cringed at the thought of eating a cake made of vegetables. It was at Theobroma that they tasted frangipane, a sweet almond cream, or tiramisu, a coffeelaced Italian dessert, for the first time. Many of our guests are now well travelled, watch international food shows, and they are more accepting of new things
If you had to pick, what was a dish on your menu that surprisingly became a hit? And what you thought would pick up but went wrong?
A spectacular and unexpected success is our Christmas Stolen. It is my most favourite thing to eat in December. A miss would be a Braid Bread (legacy of Sunday lunches of our youth), which did not do well but was a fabulous product. The Theobroma brownie has been the highlight of your patisserie, it brought such a high-quality taste to consumers in a reasonable price range.
Kainaz, how was the Theobroma brownie born and introduced to the world?
I am sometimes introduced as ‘Mumbai’s Brownie Queen’ on TV programmes or radio shows and I feel such privilege and gratitude to be associated with brownies in this way. As we set out on the Theobroma journey, we knew one variety of brownie (Mum’s walnut brownie) was never going to be enough. So, Tina and I set about developing an entire range of brownies. Fresh out of OCLD, I was bursting with new ideas and energy. As always, Tina was my enthusiastic taste tester. When we opened our doors way back in 2004, our brownies made us an overnight success. We sold as much as we could make. For almost every year that we have been in business, we have run out of brownies in the days leading up to Diwali and Christmas. This, despite the fact that my brownie team works around the clock during this period, with only short naps on the bakery floor. About our pricing, we price our products honestly. We did not want to be an exclusive brand serving a niche clientele, and our commitment to quality prevents us from chasing the lowest price point. Our prices are fair and genuinely reflect the product, quality, ingredients, packaging, staff welfare, infrastructure, and management costs of running our business. That’s really all the thought that went into it.
Where does the dessert space in Mumbai stand currently?
Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city and influences come from all parts of the country and the world. Mumbai residents have a well-developed palette, and are now recognising desserts made with good ingredients. Chocolate reigns supreme, but good quality chocolate is gaining prominence. Guests don’t just want to eat, they want a full package including taste, visual appeal, packaging, etc. Dessert bars are becoming popular as well, and we are continuing to innovate with desserts, and introduce traditional Indian flavours into otherwise western products.
Where do you think the hospitality industry stands currently, in light of the pandemic?
The lockdown is the biggest setback we have faced, the biggest challenge to our business. This is not a problem that is unique to us, though there is no comfort in collective pain. A lot of businesses will not survive this crisis and we are working our hardest to ensure we do not become a casualty of the pandemic.
The book says it’s bread that rules your heart. What’s your first memory of baking a loaf?
When we were growing up, Sunday lunch was always special in our home. We would find a recipe (or recipes), go out to buy ingredients, make something delicious and enjoy our lunch. Mum often made cheese bread for us, our entire house smelt divine, it is one of my most favourite memories and fragrances of my youth.
Kainaz, as face of the brand and being a not-so-social media-friendly person, what are the changes you’ve observed in yourself from the boss you became at 25, to now?
As you would expect, I have matured over the years. I was a grown-up kid when I started out, and I was often flustered and frantic. With age comes wisdom, I now know that most problems are not as big as they appear in the heat of the moment. I am (usually) more level-headed and restrained now. My maturity and learning over the years has made me more patient, respectful and a better boss and leader. I wish I could have started out this way, but sometimes one has to make mistakes to learn from them. I had to grow into the position I found myself in, but it was not an easy role to fill. I had to work on my shortcomings, to become the boss that I am today.
There’s a culture of “apologise for being ambitious women” in the country we live in, and your journey has been nothing less than inspiring. How have you experienced this and seen it change over time?
I have had to earn the respect of my staff, perhaps many times over. I do not think about proving myself as a woman. There is always (a lot of) work to do, and I focus on getting things done. Having said that, I certainly don’t think any woman should apologise for her success, it is hard earned and well deserved when it is built on a foundation of tremendous effort
COMFORT FOOD RECIPE DIPPED CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
Ingredients for Ganache
- • 180 gms dark chocolate
- • 120 gms dairy cream
Ingredients for Truffles
- • 300 gms chocolate ganache
- • 10 gms cocoa powder
- • 60 gms melted dark chocolate
- • 10 gms Icing sugar
- • 50 gms unsalted butter
- • Vegetable oil (or any tasteless oil) for greasing
Method for Ganache: Chop chocolate into small chip-sized pieces and place in a glass bowl. Heat the cream in a saucepan, until it starts to simmer on the sides. Pour cream over chopped chocolate, cover with cling film and leave for 15 minutes. Mix cream and chocolate with a spatula until smooth, shiny and well combined.
Method for Truffles: Combine all the ingredients above in a bowl, cling wrap and refrigerate to cool/set (for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight). Grease your palms with a little oil, and roll the truffle mixture into balls of approximately 15 grams each. Arrange balls on a tray, cling wrap and refrigerate again for a minimum of 60 minutes or overnight.
For the dip: Melt 150 gms of dark chocolate in a microwave or in a double boiler over gently simmering water. Stir the melted chocolate with spatula until smooth and shiny. Dip each truffle ball into the melted chocolate to coat. Lift with a chocolate fork and leave to set on a lined baking sheet. Please allow chocolates to set in an airconditioned room.