It doesn’t take more than one conversation with Chef Prateek Bakhtiani to unearth his passion for chocolate and his craft, all carefully stripped of pretentiousness. At Ether Atelier, he hopes to make the same possible for other pastry chefs as well.
There’s so much more to chocolate than meets the eye. The same can be said about Chef Prateek Bakhtiani, founder of Ether Atelier.
With academic roots in biochemistry, his life took a sweeter turn following a brief stint in Ireland with Pastry Chef Rachel Allen and Sommelier Colm McCann. His passion for chocolate came shining through, and has continued to reflect in his work and creations over the years. He went on to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Chocolate Academy in Vancouver, Canada, and the prestigious Escuela de Pasteleria del Gremio de Barcelona in Mexico.
However, the strong academic credentials are only the tip of the chocolate covered iceberg for this young chef. Often branded a prodigy for garnering massive success at a young age, the chef’s portfolio boasts a vast repository of practical experience at reputed restaurants across the world, including the Michelin-starred T’Zilte in Antwerp, Belgium.
With this much experience backing him up, Chef Prateek thought it would be only fair to bring some of it back home. And thus, Ether Atelier was born. The place screams serenity with its minimalist decor, creating a safe haven for chefs to experiment with some of the world’s best chocolate. Right from the chocolate he sources to the box it gets delivered in, the chef’s commitment to his inspiration echoes in all aspects. For someone who considers the term ‘chocolatier’ a pretentious way of saying he plays with chocolate for a living, there’s almost a reverence in his voice when it comes to his craft.
Which makes Ether the best place to keep atelier culture alive, even as it runs the risk of becoming a niche product leaning towards the affluent classes. The name itself speaks of a fifth element rooted in unlocking mysteries of alchemy. The processes are designed to deliver something ethereal, while remaining tethered to a particular place.
“So atelier culture is all about creating a Buddha feel for creativity with chocolate. We have some of the best chocolate in the world always available to chefs here to come and try things. As long as they can back it up with some sort of inspirational core,” says Chef Prateek.
And he’s not kidding. With the chocolate, for starters, there’s everything from France, Switzerland, Spain, and Belgium to name a few. For Chef Prateek, there’s no compromise when it comes to sourcing single origin, farm-fermented cocoa that more importantly, serves his inspiration well. As pastry chefs continue to battle dilemmas on sourcing locally and presenting a certain way to the audience, here’s a chef looking to rise above it all.
“If I stayed true to only local sources, it would make for a non-meritocratic approach to origin,” he says on his chocolate sourcing decisions. As a chocolatier, he doesn’t need to worry beyond the ethical standards of the production, and the flavour notes of the final product.
That doesn’t exempt him from having favourites though. While Chef Prateek can wax eloquent for days on soft Peruvian dark chocolate, fruity Madagascar, or Dominican Republic origin, he’s evidently partial to the former.
Throwing some light on the back-end processes, he stresses the importance of finding inspiration first and working from there. It takes almost 6-7 months for a collection, almost a year when packaging comes into play.
Adding to the thought, he says, “For every collection I think the most important thing for us is the inspiration. I think we’ve done our job if we’re being true to our inspiration, and we’re adding to it, and creating dialogue around it. So the first thing of course is learning, exploring and researching. Then it’s about how we translate that inspiration into chocolate, making sure we’re choosing the right ingredients to tell that story.”
A stellar example of this process yielding something ethereal is the Japanese collection. Chef Prateek favoured Peruvian dark chocolate, and Ghanaian milk chocolate over something like Madagascar, to avoid the latter’s brash flavours muddling the inspiration. It’s key to ensure the processes only enhance the inspiration, not distort it. Which is what makes meritocracy so important, as Indian chocolate has often been associated with a rather homogeneous flavour profile.
“With the Japanese inspiration [Kizuna chocolate collection], we infused our chocolates for five days with sakura petals. It gives this very rich cherry blossom flavour and mineral, almost steeped tea quality to the chocolate. That transforms it and makes it more relevant to the inspiration. And then of course packaging, and making sure we’re continuing to tell the story with the way the box is designed and opened by the client,” he says.
The single-minded focus on his craft has materialized in some reputed collaborations for the chef. For starters, there’s the seasonal dessert menu for Café Zoe in Mumbai, coffee based tarts for Blue Tokai, and a Christmas pastry specials menu for Koinonia. Chef Prateek was also invited by The Vault Biennale to create a range of spired chocolates and conduct a chocolate workshop on pairing spirits with single-origin chocolates.
The atelier is firmly focused on quality and inspiration over quantity, resulting in two collections [Spring-Summer and Autumn-Winter] every year. For those inclined to witness the magic, Ether has a small viewing gallery where one can witness the processes involved behind the creativity.
In spite of several esteemed collections and creations to his name, Chef Prateek’s favourites unsurprisingly involve his work with other artists and chefs. It’s always about drawing from a certain story, and telling it through the chocolate, its textures, the way it is received all the way to the final subtle enveloping of flavours across your palate. As pastry chefs continue to step in the spotlight and claim their rightful places, Ether Atelier and its chef offer you a chance to simply explore the magic and wonder of chocolate.
No pretension, no hype. Just some good (really good!) chocolate.