Mumbai girl Shaheen Peerbhai’s bakery is all about delicious French bakes.
Peerbhai can talk about her love for French pastry and vintage floors in the same breath. I also realise how infectious her love for everything Parisian is, as she joins me on a call from London, where she has now opened a bakery. “I like a good flooring, specifically the ones iconic of the boulangeries in Paris,” she says. The pastry chef ran an Instagram poll to help her select the right tile for her new space.
There is a sense of calm in her voice when she speaks about her latest venture. Miel Bakery is up and running after two-and-a-half months of intense work, from menu planning, to tracking shop rentals, to finally designing and executing her vision along with a team of builders and electricians. It opened to dessert lovers last month in the heart of London.
Small is best
Peerbhai’s vision is simple. Bake in small batches and through the day. So if there are croissants in the morning, expect tartines and focaccias during lunch time and shiny canelés in the evening. The menu du jour is more or less fixed, however she and her small team are more than happy to work on special requests. “I believe it is important to eat right, and with pastry, eat them as they come out of the oven. We also have to keep in mind that fruits are fragile and need to be consumed fresh,” she adds. Quality without compromise is key, and therefore she relies on top-notch ingredients and supreme technique. She sources her flour and butter from Paris and bakes only with French premium Valrhona chocolates.
A classically-trained chef from France, Peerbhai’s inspiration comes from the terroir of the region. “It is amazing to find people respecting their soil and weather conditions to reap quality produce for generations,” says the LCB Paris and Alain Ducasse-trained chef. A philosophy driven by finesse, unique technique and attention to detail is what inspires her. “Sometimes it is about being able to taste the fruit within multiple layers of pastry. That’s the magic of French pastry, it allows the product to shine,” she adds.
It is the same philosophy and experience that the Mumbai-bred chef carried with her to two of the most opulent Indian weddings in recent times — the Ambani-Piramal and the Ambani-Mehta wedding. Did it come as a surprise? “Not really, since Dr Swati Piramal and I have known each other through our shared interest in baking. We met in London and she happily invited me to create an exclusive desserts spread for her guests,” she reveals.
She was given a freehand and the rest, they say, is history. With her team, she whipped up 40 different kinds of exquisite treats around a set theme for biggies such as Tony Blair, Sundar Pichai, Sachin Tendulkar, and Shah Rukh Khan to name a few. There were extravagant croquembouches and trifles as well as beautiful madeleines, shiny tarts, Paris brest, macarons and what-not. Did you receive any compliment that made your day? “Oh, someone told me that I should get the Nobel!” she quips.
But the best rewards come when you least expect them. Peerbhai recollects a day at Miel when a man came by to buy croissants for his daughter admitted at a hospital nearby. “He came daily from then on and that’s something fulfilling,” she says.
If happiness is laminating dough, that too on Sunday evenings when the shutters are down, I think Peerbhai’s heart is in the right place.