We catch up with Chef Prateek Bakhtiani on his journey with chocolate, his creative workspace Ether and his latest Spring-Summer ’21 collection which brings together flavours from the world over to present a unique experience.
Chef Prateek Bakhtiani’s culinary journey has been quite remarkable, given that his academic roots lay in biochemistry as an undergraduate student at the University of Washington, Seattle. However, a brief stint in Ireland with Pastry Chef Rachel Allen and Sommelier Colm McCann, made it evident to him that his passion lay in chocolate. 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. Along with strong academic credentials, the chef also acquired a vast repository of practical experience at reputed restaurants across the world, including the Michelin-starred T’Zilte in Antwerp, Belgium. He was also a chocolatier at Atelier Melissa Coppel in Las Vegas.
When he moved back to India about three years ago, Chef Prateek Bakhtiani wanted to bring back some of the interesting points of view, technology as well as artistic exposure he had had working with such a wide variety of reputed chefs. “I honestly didn’t plan to start something of my own. But there was this expertise, and points of view I had been exposed to working with all these chefs. The Indian dessert culture has this fun, treat-yourself kind of vibe whereas my approach to chocolate is different. So, it was my intention to bring that point of view here. And that’s how Ether was conceptualised in October 2019,” says Chef Bakhtiani.
Having started off his maiden venture in India just a few months before the pandemic began to unfold, one imagines things would have been difficult for the young chef. “Given that we were so new, the pandemic was a new experience for us, but not necessarily difficult. What was more challenging was creating this paradigm shift in the way people see food brands.”
The F&B space is not an easy one to be in, especially in a market as competitive as India. For a new entrant in the space, it can be daunting task. With Chef Bakhtiani though, the experience has been different. “I had no experience in the industry part of things, no one in my family has ever worked in food either. So, I went in blind. But I think the fact that I sort of worked with blinders on meant I could stave of feeling the heat and pressure of competition. I didn’t care who else was doing what or what they thought, I focused only on what was important to me, and that was my craft.”
The single-minded focus on craft led to great opportunities for the chef, with collaborations with other reputed brands materialising within quite a short period. He created a seasonal dessert menu for Café Zoe in Mumbai, coffee based tarts for Blue Tokai and a Christmas pastry specials menu for Koinonia. He 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.
Ether is the chef’s workspace where he creates, innovates and explores the sensory world of chocolate. More than anything else, his creations are inspired by emotions and that is what he aims to present to the world through his experiments. For those inclined, Ether also has a small viewing gallery where one can witness for oneself the processes involved behind the creativity. The atelier produces two collections every year, Spring-Summer and Autumn-Winter. And we’ve just had a taste of the Spring-Summer ’21 collection.
“With this new Spring-Summer collection, I wanted to embody the spirit of homecoming, which has been thrown into rather sharp focus in due course of the pandemic. I’ve drawn inspiration from the Hanami Festival in Japan, which celebrates the arrival of spring.”
The Spring-Summer ’21 collection features umami flavours from Japan, Dominican cacao, spiced artisanal black tea and Peruvian dark chocolate, among the myriad flavours that the chef has drawn upon to present an emotional experience. Aside from chocolates, this collection also introduces cakes to Ether’s repertoire.
Going ahead, Chef Bakhtiani has plans to expand Ether’s digital presence and as always, focus more on the craft than over-aggressive, in-your-face marketing. “We want to grow laterally, expanding into other markets, both domestic and international. I definitely don’t see us getting too involved in the managerial aspects of physical retail, so, I would rather see collaborations with other artisans. I want to stay in this quiet, artistic space rather than be overtly aggressive with my products. We’re looking at creating more digital properties that expand on the idea of chocolate as lifestyle and also, at physical atelier spaces in other markets. And since Ether is centred around bringing in single-origin chocolate, I want to introduce the Indian clientele to not just offerings from across the world but also treat Indian-origin chocolate in a similar way,” signs off Chef Prateek Bakhtiani.