Mehnaz Hussain is qualified to be a lawyer but she is better known as ‘the cupcake aunty’, she says
As the automatic glass doors slide at the newly opened Labonel in Gachibowli, one’s sense of smell is immediately hijacked by the aroma of fresh bakes. At times it is the smell of warm melting butter and at others it is the sweet smell of melting chocolate.
On the counter are four different plates covered with a tall dome see-through lid. On the plates are an assortment of brownies, choco chip cookies, lemon madeleines and an assortment of cupcakes. These, she and her colleagues at the store say, aren’t just for display but to be tried as well.
Labonel is also synonymous with Mehnaz — the lady who owns the store/brand which changed the idea of a special cake for special occasions for many in the city. “This is the first time I am venturing outside my comfort zone. This shop is way too big from my initial set up in Banjara Hills,” says Mehnaz.
With a quick glance, one can’t resist but ask Mehnaz, “How have you not put on weight with so many delicious things around to nibble?’ Mehnaz laughs, “I have been doing this for more than 13 years and by now I am immune to temptations. I am more interested in baking and experimenting with new recipes and desserts rather than eating them. Most of the new add-ons to the ‘strictly by order’ menu comes from our trials and experiments,” informs Mehnaz.
Does Mehnaz believe that once a baker always a baker? “Well, no. Actually I am not sure whether I picked baking or baking chose me. I completed my law and that’s about it with my degree. What I am practising now is only baking,” she laughs.
Mehnaz’s baking journey began long back, “When I was around 11-years old. I grew up in Canada and lived there until I was 16 years. My parents are still there. After coming to Hyderabad I got married and I would try and do what I loved doing the most—make lasagne, pasta etc. I would cater for private dos and I was happy doing it. I would also bake other stuff and do desserts mostly for friends and family get-togethers. This was the time I came across a lady who used to run a Labonel from her home. Conduct classes, cater etc. She was leaving town for good and wanted Labonel to continue in Hyderabad but wanted a very homely atmosphere where customers were known by their names. In other words she was looking for someone to take over who would run Labonel with a one-to-one interaction,” says Mehnaz.
As Mehnaz chats, she is also over seeing a fresh strawberry chocolate cake which needs frosting and the final touch-up.
In the kitchen things are spic and span. The blue table top where most of the final work is done is wiped clean leaving now leftovers of cake or brownies. “Cleanliness and hygiene maintenance is importance as everything I work with can attract ants and the smell of egg and ruin everything,” she says.
As Mehnaz speaks it is apparent that the quality of cakes or pastries she tasted after coming to Hyderabad didn’t quite meet up to her expectations. “They are all soaked in sugar syrup which isn’t how cakes and pastries are done. So I would bake for get-togethers at home and for friends,” says Mehnaz, as she works on batch of brownies, drizzling them with castor sugar and arranging them in a set of 15.
In her new outlet Mehnaz has included very less for interiors and has let the signature orders be the highlight of the décor. Amongst what is not edible are food shots in black and white and a few paintings signed Mehnaz and Mohammed. “Mohammed is my younger son. In the past few years I almost forgot my other interests. I was so engrossed with Labonel that I hardly gave time to painting. I am not a professional painter but I used to paint. I have revived that interest of mine. My younger son paints and there is a solo work of his which I have mounted in the area which I am planning to make a room for meetings with my customers,” she says.
Mehnaz has no qualms about her law taking a backseat as she enjoys being called cupcake or brownie aunty by school children. “I was on a flight when a kid aboard the flight nudged his mom and pointing towards me said, ‘mummy brownie aunty is also in the flight,’ it made me smile,” recollects Mehnaz.
Talking of kids Mehnaz says she loves the fact that both her boys love what she does and while one shows interests in baking the other shows keen interest in learning the tricks of the trade. “In all this my husband has been the biggest support. All I know is to bake and think of recipes, all the paper work and the licensing is his headache,” she says