Chef's Table: Weaving Some Pastry Magic with Vinesh Johny, Lavonne

Plavaneeta Borah  |  Updated: July 08, 2016 15:01 IST

Chef's Table: Weaving Some Pastry Magic with Vinesh Johny, Lavonne
All work and no play is not good for the soul. But what if you make work playful? Sometimes it's about trusting that inner voice to follow your heart and doing what you love to do. That's a call pastry maestro Vinesh Johny made when he enrolled himself in culinary school and there's been no looking back. Now, Co-founder of Lavonne - a patisserie and also a baking academy, and making it to Forbes 30 under 30' Asia list for 2016, he has much to thank his passion for cooking.

Besides creating some spectacular desserts like his recent mixed nut joconde filled with hazelnut cremeaux and ganache, with a thin layer of dulce de leche and almond shortbread, or the jager bomb inspired dessert, his passion for pastry arts also reflects in his effort to weave a well-structured path for aspiring pastry chefs through his academy and help the profession grow as a career option in the country. He also feels that chefs have a sense of responsibility to the environment and aspires to contribute much more towards a sustainable environment in the years to come. He is a man with a mission.
We catch up with him to learn more about his journey, his role as a chef-cum-teacher and all the sweet treats he creates -

1. So when did culinary arts weave its magic on you?
At school, I wasn't very good at academics so I had a hard time trying to figure where I would fit in. When I was nine-years old, my mother moved to the Middle East for work and I got to spend a lot of my evening with my father, helping him cook dinner. I loved doing it but it was never a career option at that time. Many years later, I heard about culinary school from a friend, and that excited me. I got myself enrolled and realised how things change when you do what you like. I was doing well in academics and was having so much fun learning how to cook. During my internship, I was designated at the pastry kitchen, and here's where it struck me that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Hazelnut Opera; Image credit: Lavonne

2. Was baking love at first sight or did it grow on you much later?
During my days as an intern, I had the opportunity to work in all departments. I loved my time in the pastry kitchen but I was also good at beverages. I had a counselling session with my managers before I took up my specialisation and was asked to take up F&B service. I was at peace with my decision until I met Chef Avin Thaliath, who was my pastry teacher then, in culinary school. He tasted a chocolate cake I had made during one of the services and just knew I should pursue my career in pastry. He took me to the principal and told him "this boy will train in Bakery". My memory of that day is still vivid. And now, 11 years later, he is one of the co-founders with me at Lavonne.

3. Three techniques every aspiring baker should master?
Lamination, tempering and making a perfect macaron.

4. Any dessert that you find challenging to recreate?
Can't think of any!

5. What's in your mind when you have your chef's hat on?
I am constantly inspired by everyday things around me. There's always an idea flickering in my mind, for creating something new.
Ciffron Melange; Image credit: Lavonne

6. Every chef's dream is to start their own café or restaurant. But you made Lavonne also an academy for Baking Science and Pastry Arts. What's the reason?
Lavonne was born out of a dream to make India among the ultimate destinations for those looking to pursue Baking and Pastry Arts as a passion or as a profession. The name denotes the immortal Yew Tree, and at Lavonne we are committed to bringing baking and pastry arts from the sidelines of gastronomic pursuit into the mainstream and immortalising its significance in the country.

After college, when the time came for us (partners) to specialise in our field of interest, we found that there were no renowned and specialised academies in India offering the kind of courses we were looking for. Hence, we had to pursue our specialised training abroad. And the courses were really expensive. That's when it dawned on us that it would be great to set up an academy of international standards where students can be trained without having to spend a fortune to go abroad and acquire the same level of training that we ourselves could offer.

7. Do you see an increase in interest for Pastry Arts in India? What does Lavonne offer to its students?
Fortunately, yes. At Lavonne, we have meticulously crafted courses for amateurs as well as for professionals, for those who want to learn to bake as a hobby and who seek to set up their own patisseries or even work in five star pastry kitchens. We are affiliated to City & Guilds, London and run their Diplome in Patisserie program, a rigorous five month course that includes theory as well as practical classes, student-initiated bake sale fundraisers, field trips, etc. We also have a six week certification program where again we cover the nitty gritties of baking science and pastry arts for those who do not have as much time to pursue the diploma program. Through the week as well as on weekends, we host a plethora of cake decoration courses that range from the simpler Basics in Cake Decoration to Wedding Cakes, Gravity Defying Cakes, etc. Our weekend hobby classes cover various areas from breads and cakes to French pastries.
Bloody Berry; Image credit: Lavonne

8. As a teacher, what's lesson number one for your students?
Before getting into full-fledged baking, my first lesson to my students includes a class on the importance of discipline, attitudes and attributes of a chef, cleanliness and hygiene, and social responsibility.

9. Any dessert by your students that's managed to bowl you over?
There was one student from my last batch of the Diploma program who created the most delicious sourdough ice-cream.

10. Congratulations for being listed on Forbes 30 under 30' Asia list for 2016. What else would you like to achieve before hitting your 40s?
Thank you. Ten years into the future is indeed a very long time from now. So much could change by then; in this world or even in my personal life. However, although my focus for now will remain in baking, a part of me also is incredibly inclined towards our environment and finding sustainability in all that we do. For starters, we have already been a part of many tree planting drives around Bengaluru with the hope of bringing back our city's glorious days.

I hope we can inculcate in our students a personal responsibility towards our lifestyle and the environment. Chefs have an array of specific duties to carry out on a daily basis in the kitchen. Taking care of our environment needs to be top priority. Therefore, with this in the forefront, I will be striving for a fully sustainable culinary school. So in the next ten years, if I can achieve it, it will make me happy. Very happy.
Honey Cake and Jager Bomb Dessert; Image Credit: Lavonne

11. That one dessert you are extremely proud of creating?
A lot of thought and planning goes into the creation of any dessert and when I make something unique, that tastes and looks amazing, I always feel proud of my work. But say, a few months down the line, I look back at that same work of art, and think of ways in which I could reinvent it to make it even better.

12. Do Indian desserts draw your attention as much?
If I ever buy sweets from the store, they've got to be Indian sweets. Jalebis are my favourite!

13. Modern food seems to be ruling the charts. Gulab Jamun Cheesecake, Apple Jalebi, Rasmalai Tres Leches - do these inspire you or are you a traditionalist?
I don't believe in infusing a ready-made dessert into an existing one. For example, a gulab jamun from the store, baked with a creme brulee would never impress me. I think fusion or infusion of desserts would have to start at the very first level of creation. So if you find a way to create a gulab jamun flavoured cheesecake without actually using a gulab jamun, I would be impressed. My philosophy here is simple. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

14. Perks of being a pastry chef?
Since I'm so passionate about my work, having a job I love is a perk in itself. I get to create something new every day, reinvent something I created earlier, meet new people, educate people who are passionate about baking and pastry, meet other pastry chefs who inspire me, and of course it's always nice to work in an air-conditioned room.
Fresh Fruit Eclipse; Image Credit: Lavonne

15. What makes a great dessert?
A great dessert, in my opinion, needs to fit into the holy trinity - great flavour profile, perfect texture and served at the right temperature.

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16. Your all-time favourite dessert?
A traditional chocolate sundae!

17. A pastry chef you look up to?
Pierre Hermé.

Comments18. When life gives you lemons, you would...
Make my 2016 edition of the lemon meringue tart (I conceptualise and create a unique one every year).
lemon invasion
Lemon Invasion; Image credit: Lavonne

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