Sometimes a simple question such as 'what's your passion in life?' can catch you off guard, as you mull over your interests and weigh the odds to finally be able to arrive at a definitive answer. For Chef Kainaz Messman, that answer has always been a constant throughout her testing journey in the hospitality business. Food has played the biggest role in her life, and still continues to be her source of inspiration to put on her chef's hat day in and day out and create sinful desserts or wholesome food and bask in the joy of feeding others.
Who would have thought that her little business venture, lovingly named Theobroma, would one day grow up to contribute phenomenally to the culinary landscape of a city that has no dearth of delicious offerings. For most of us, a trip to Mumbai is incomplete without dropping into a Theobroma outlet for a sweet indulgence of their decadent brownies or packing some for dear ones back home. It is a box of happiness and it only epitomises Kainaz's passion for food.
Image credit: Plavaneeta Borah
Needless to say, it is no easy task to run a successful business, other than being credited for starting the brownie craze in the country. But here again, it is that same passion that drives her at work to keep up the quality of each of her products and continue growing one day at a time. Challenges are aplenty, especially now when inventive food or quirky treats are creating a stir. But like she rightly says, classics can never go out of fashion and sometimes that's all we need for some soul lifting.
Here's the master chef on her love for food, chocolate and more -
1. For almost every food enthusiast in the country, Mumbai is synonymous with Theobroma brownies. How does it feel to be able to garner such a huge fan following?
Brownies are the cornerstone of our business. It is an honour and a privilege that we are associated with brownies in such a positive way.
2. It has been over a decade since you opened the first Theobroma outlet at Colaba. How has the journey been?
When we started, we did not know what to expect. We didn't know if we would recover the costs of starting our business or be able to fill the four small tables that we had placed in the café. Our menu had dishes we liked to eat, and we could only hope that our customers would like them too.
I knew how to bake cakes but no other dishes as much. I was totally unprepared for the retail market and the demands and challenges that lay ahead. I went from having the responsibility of making one product in a comfortable five-star environment to being responsible for everything. Whatever went wrong and whoever's fault it was, I had to learn that the buck stopped at me, and only I could set it right.
We could not have ever predicted or dared to hope for the success that Theobroma has become. We have received so much love and warmth and blessings and encouragement that we are humbled and grateful in equal measure.
3. When did you discover your love affair with chocolate?
I grew up in a sweet smelling house, always surrounded by chocolate. My mom ran a small business where she supplied cakes and desserts from home, and I would say that Theobroma is an extension of that home business. My family is obsessed with food; our lives revolve around what we make and what we eat. My passion for baking has been my lifetime in the making. We are a chocolate making and chocolate loving family.
4. Would you say you know chocolate like nobody's business?
I don't claim to be a chocolate expert. I am just a chocolate lover. I love chocolate as an ingredient and as a product. I love its simplicity and complexity. I love that it can be a base for so many flavourings, yet stand with pride on its own. Chocolate can be a quick treat or an indulgent experience. No other product comes close in versatility or is as universally loved. You can hardly go wrong with chocolate.
5. What's the secret behind Theobroma's sinful brownies? Can we bribe you for the recipe?
The secret of a good brownie is in the baking, not the making. The world is full of brownie recipes; most are very good. The skill is in baking it correctly; getting the timing and temperature right. The difference between a moist gooey brownie and a dry crumbly brownie-biscuit can be only a few minutes or a few degrees.
6. Your earliest food memory?
Sunday Brunch. My family has been food obsessed for as long as I can remember. Sunday brunch was always elaborate and a celebration of some sort. We would flick through recipe books to pick whatever dish we fancied, and mom would make it for us. We were exposed to jambalaya, gazpacho and chorizo long before most people in Mumbai had heard of them. Our love for food, travel, feasting and our unapologetic greed bound our family together and helped develop my palette which serves me well to this day.
Image credit: Theobroma
7. Dark Chocolate or white chocolate?
Dark only. White is not chocolate.
8. Your mom has played an important role in your food journey. What's her favourite pick from your repertoire of desserts?
Almond Croissant. Although not technically a dessert, my mom eats it as such. It is her indulgence.
9. What was the first dish you learned to make on your own?
Scrambled eggs with garlic, cheese and green chillies. I remember making it for my sister and myself.
10. If reports of global cocoa production to end in about a few years' time are to be true, would we see a devastated Kainaz? Or will you evolve with time?
Scaremongering! I refuse to believe it. The human race can survive without chocolate but how will we celebrate anything? It is a commodity and we have to be prepared for volatility in prices due to political uncertainty, unpredictability of weather and increase in consumption. We may have to learn to use less chocolate but that may also make us value and appreciate it more.
11. What's your favourite dessert? (You can't say brownie!)
Creme brulée. My favourite at Theobroma is the Strawberry Tart.
Image credit: Theobroma
12. Many pastry chefs in the country are doing some innovative twists to classic desserts. Are you a traditionalist or do you like to experiment and recreate?
Our simplest products sell the most. Home-style cakes and desserts have served us well, and we are not changing the formula. People keep returning for the 'just like home' taste.
13. 3 ingredients you cannot do without?
Chocolate, butter, and vanilla.
14. An important cooking/ baking lesson you have learned in life and from whom?
My mom cooks with a generous hand, and I know no other way. Chef Coelho taught me to keep learning; to keep getting better at the same products or techniques. Theobroma owes a lot to these two people.
15. Tips you would like to share on cooking with chocolate at home? What to keep in mind and what types to buy?
Use real chocolate, not (chocolate) compound. Use dark where possible. Keep it simple. Make the things you like to eat, not what you think will impress your guests. Always make more than you think you need, and serve generously.
Image credit: Theobroma
16. Apart from your trademark brownies, one dessert you are extremely proud of creating?
Millefeuille. Not many make it and very few can make it well. I am proud of our lamination and glazing and how it looks when it's ready. The only shortcoming of this dessert is that it has to be eaten within a few hours of making. We are unable to have it on display (as it cannot survive the humidity in our city) but I make it on order.
17. One dish you like to dig into when no one's watching you?
My croissant or pain aux raisins. I have it after my run and before I start work, along with a strong cup of coffee.
18. 3 ingredients that you think pair magically with chocolate?
Orange, hazelnuts and coffee.
Image credit: Theobroma
19. What does it take to run a successful bakery business?
Genuine care for your products and customers. And a lot of effort from a lot of people!
20. Does Theobroma sell their products online and out of Mumbai?
We have a big customer base who orders with us through Facebook. We courier our products all over India. In this manner, we have been fortunate to reach out to our customers who are unable to visit our outlets.