French pastry chefs are supposed to be a fussy lot. Very cuisine-proud, they do not brook much interference. Tradition is divine and recipes not to be tampered with. Franck Turmine, executive pastry chef at The Old Baker at New Delhi's Jaypee Vasant Continental for the last six months, while bringing to the plate age-old classic French confectionary, belongs to that eclectic breed of new-age chefs who believe in soaking up local flavour. A chocolate mousse here, for example, might come with an unexpected dash of cinnamon or cardamom.
“I have liked Indian food from much before I came to India to work. I've often eaten in Indian restaurants. There are so many good desserts in Indian cuisine, like the gulab jamun,” says Turmine. “In India, you use a lot of sugar (in dessert). Also, a lot of interesting things are made with milk,” he observes. Explaining the spiced chocolate mousse, he says, “I like to use spices in European desserts. There's plenty of spice here. India, in fact, is a country of spice. Cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and clove are things you easily find in kitchens here. But you normally don't find them in a pastry. I try to make this little fusion,” says the 46-year-old chef who resides in the Capital with his wife and four-year-old son.
Cooking has been his companion for exactly three decades now. Turmine fell in love with the kitchen when he was 16. “I liked to cook at home for my parents and family. I wasn't much interested in studies. I told my mother I wanted to join a culinary school, and I did. But not everything in the kitchen interested me. I was interested in sweets; this was something I discovered within two to three months of joining the kitchen,” Turmine recalls.
While his parents hail from Paris, Turmine was born in the south of France, in a place 20 km away from Monaco. “It's a sunny place,” he recalls with nostalgia.
Work has taken him to England (where he spent two years before coming to India), Tunisia, South Korea, Thailand, South America and the West Indies. “I honestly believe that Indian, French and Chinese cuisines are the best in the world,” says the chef with a tone of objectivity. “India has the best specialty bread. I love tandoori chicken; in fact, all things cooked in the tandoor. Dal makhani is something I can have everyday.”
The search of new flavours is always on. “I always try to use the special local flavour, like rosewater here,” says Turmine. Here, Tunisian cuisine has a lot in common with India, he says. “That was the first thing that struck me when I came to India. There is so much similarity. Even in Tunisia they have the tandoori bread; it's called the tabuna there. Many of the spices are used in India too.”
When in Korea, ingredients like tofu and green tea entered Turmine's cooking. In England though, things remained conservative. “They (the English) have their own puddings and crème brulee. There's not so much innovation happening in desserts,” he says.
Life in Delhi is mostly work and home. “We don't go out much. My son is four years old. We've been to places like the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Connaught Place, India Gate and the Delhi Gate, but that's about it,” says Turmine.