The Salt in our Sweet Treats - Flavia
“I am the salt in your dessert that you didn't know you needed.”
As we enter Flavia’s right-out-of-a-picture-book apartment in the heart of Bombay, we can’t help but feel a wee bit intimidated at just how much personality the place holds. Each corner of the house is adorned in souvenirs, paintings and all sorts of flora. Sipping on our water, we catch a glimpse of the desserts on her counter – a piece of her decadent chocolate cake, a couple of those ginormous cookies, and the famous Frank – and we quickly realize this is going to be a hungry couple of hours for us.
Looking absolutely radiant in our Gigi Shirt-Shorts Co-Ord set, Flavia settles in the gorgeous little nook in her balcony, with her two pups, Lily and Selene in tow. “My pastry comes from my stories. Whether it's the memory of a squashy chocolate cake or a salty lemon tart, I am the salt in your dessert that you didn't know you needed.”
“Hi, I’m Flavia, and I’m a pastry chef”
“My great grandfather owned a restaurant, that my grandmother took over eventually. Growing up, food has always been something that bound us together as a family, everything revolved around food. This wasn’t just about the food, or the hosting, but everything from curating shopping lists, going to Bombay’s famous Crawford market to buy everything in bulk quantities, making everything from scratch, serving, to finally clearing the plates. We wouldn’t enter the kitchen for the next two weeks because we’d made enough food to last us a while,” says Flavia, as she talks about the two big events her family celebrated together every year – her father Michael’s birthday and Christmas.
A baking enthusiast from a young age, Flavia emphasizes on her family’s refusal to say the word “no.” Encouraged to follow her passion and creativity, she recalls being a part of the kitchen at two and a half years of age, making mistakes, having fun, and learning that the usual chicken curry cannot have four tablespoons of turmeric to replace the lack of chilli powder.
“All the strong memories that I do hold are courtesy of the food I associated with it. We all tend to attach how we’re feeling at any given moment to the food we eat, which is where I suppose the concept of ‘comfort food’ comes in. We eat things that make us feel like the first time we had it. I try to pay homage to those memories of mine while working with cake.”
Her comfort food? “The Rocky Road at Five Spice! Totally reminds me of college, I’ll have to rank this as my go-to PMS dessert. Another one would have to be the Malai sandwich. I like things that I can’t make myself, and, trust me, there’s a bunch of those.”
Pastry has been a part of Flavia’s life since she was a child. Brownies from grandma’s recipe book, fruit stews and gingerbread pudding for dessert, she recalls memories of the Baked Alaska, and a steamed rum pudding lit on fire every Christmas with Father. “It was like a gimmick, you know? All the kids absolutely loved it. My father would just keep pouring rum all over the pudding, letting the flames absolutely steal the show, fully forgetting we actually had to eat the dessert at the end of all this.”
Curious about the origin of her famous Frankenstein, we ask her about the origin of the bestselling dessert. “Years ago, I created the Frankenstein out of leftover bits-and-pieces and scraps – five years later, it is still the most popular item on my menu. The Frankenstein is a layered dessert made of a chocolate chip cookie base, baked cheesecake, caramel and sea salt, and finished with an Old Monk glaze.”
"My father would choose the most outlandish toppings for pizza – chicken liver, gizzard, kheema"
Her love for funky food recipes started at home. “We would have these DIY Pizza and noodle nights at home, where my father would choose the most outlandish toppings – chicken liver, gizzard, kheema, whatever you can think of. Our breakfast dosas would have grated beetroots, carrots, making us just sit back and think, WHY couldn’t we have something normal just for once! In hindsight, of course, I couldn’t be happier, that by not getting to experience the ‘normal,’ the sheer exposure and opportunities I got were enormous.”
After returning to India a diploma in Pastry and Chocolate arts from Culinary Arts Academy, Switzerland, she started Flavia’s confectionary out of her father’s office-turned-kitchen. But as fate would have it, her father passed away soon after and she closed the doors to her passion.
“For four years, I was just trying to figure things out. In my mind, I looked at pastry as something that didn’t work out. Towards the end of 2019, I basically did a Julie-Julia project, putting up one recipe every week on Instagram, even the simplest things like palak dal. And when the pandemic hit, these recipes were extremely useful to people."
A chocolate cake baked at home during the pandemic just to satisfy a little craving, ended up taking off and giving birth to her homegrown brand, Salt by Flavia.
"I come from food, but more importantly, I come from perseverance and hard work"
“The name ‘Salt’ is not new. Ever since I’ve been involved in food, dreamt about having a setup, possibly a restaurant, I’ve known that ‘Salt’ is what the venture would be called. Whether you’re at a dhaba or a Michelin star restaurant, it all needs salt. It’s the essence of all food - anything we eat can be elevated just with a little pinch.”
What’s the chef’s favourite at Salt? A minute’s thought, and she can’t stop raving about the famous Salt cookie, and we agree. Crisp on the side, fudgy and soft in the center, filled with walnuts, 54% dark chocolate, and of course, a pinch of salt. “The lemon pie cheesecake as well! An ode to the lemon tart, the baked cheesecake has the butter biscuit has salt in it, a layer of citrus curd, and some whipped cream. I love a citrus or fruit based dessert to go with a chocolate based dessert, since I think they pair beautifully.
In a bid to stop our mouths from watering with all this food talk, we ask the chef what she does in her downtime. “I’m learning what I am outside of Salt now, because I finally have a team. A huge part of my life is diving. I love the sea, I love water. I’ve been swimming since I was a child. It’s the one place where my brain goes quiet, or probably just occupied with something that’s not on a screen. My plants make up a huge part of who I am as well. I mean, I’m sure you’ve seen every single part of my house is filled with plants.”
The pups aren’t to be left unnoticed either, with both Lily and Selene making their presence felt. “We’ve had dogs ever since we were kids. It took us a while before I was ready to adopt again after the death of my previous pup, Maia, but here we are.” Although extremely humble about her flair for music and her skills at the piano, we were also lucky enough to hear Flavia play us a little something.
Lastly, we absolutely couldn’t wait to hear what’s next for Salt by Flavia, and which delicacy we can expect next. “A play on a memory we had as kids. At these birthday parties, every kid was handed over a plate with some chocolate cake, a few wafers, some sort of a cheese-chutney sandwich, all of which would be smushed up together. What we’re going for at Salt next, is a Birthday Cake, which would have a little bit of everything on that plate. When you’re eating it, you’d be instantly taken back to that squashed plate you got as a grubby 5 year old – all those childhood memories, in one cake!