Sifting flour got her the thrill in childhood. Whizzing the mixer into something divine-edible is her high. Carefully filling up the shelves of Soda Bottle Opener Wala with her freshly produced bakes, and getting the mawa cake perfect are what bring her real pleasure. Meet Akshata Karkaria who is the Research and Development Chef at one of the most popular Parsi joints in the country, Soda Bottle Opener Wala run by established restaurateur AD Singh. That childhood fun with butter paper would turn her into a career-baker, wasn’t even a dream to begin with. Here she is in conversation with Poorvi Gupta.
“What was probably telling that it was to be my calling was my Mum’s soufflé. My Mum made the most fantastic Cheese Soufflé. I used to watch it rise in the oven – it thrilled me then and continues to now! My Mum is a most precise baker and I love experimenting – so would watch her and then do my take on it!” says Mumbai-based Akshata of how it all began.
There were no macaroons and parfaits like you see today. It was simple.
Graduating from Le Cordon Bleu was a dream come true for Akshata. Since she was good at baking and did it all the time, her then boyfriend and now husband, Rishad Karkaria said to her, “this is what you should be doing with your life!” And so just like that she quit everything and went to study all over again.
Baking was not as elaborate when she began her career in 2003. Shelves were simple and perhaps cakes and cookies were the entire ‘variety.’ “Yes there were no macaroons and parfaits like you see today. It was simple. Also I don’t think there was this much exposure. With the variety available now, social media and people’s increasing knowledge of food, I think it is definitely understood and appreciated much more” she observes about the changing times.
But it was not that easy for Akshata to start out. She started with Olive restaurant in Mumbai and at the time she was the only trained female in the kitchen full of men.
She was the only trained female in a kitchen full of men when she started off.
“I have to say that some were most forthcoming but others just never thought you belonged there. I started out being the only woman again but I had a head chef and a boss, both who had no problem with women shining in their kitchen. I was able to prove myself and rise up very soon.”
However late nights and busy hours took a toll on Akshata and she quit her job. By then she was married and had two sons- Kabir and Kahaan. It became difficult for her to juggle home with toddlers and work.
The sabbatical was worth it because Akshata baked for her children. Within few years, she got back to full fledged baking but this time on her own terms. As a consultant, she returned to the team where she had started – AD Singh and company with Soda Bottle Opener Wala.
There is a new story to bake everyday and that’s what Akshata loves the most about her job. “I love that I can try new things, drive myself, every day. That I can make so many people happy with what I do is just fantastic. Simply sharing the joys of food.” Ask her if she loves what she bakes and she quips, “Somethings, yes!”
She dreams of her own place but not in a rush. “Only after my kids have settled down. I love what I do but my family remains priority number one.” But in the meantime the joys of food and baking don’t end. In her free time she “sits up with a classic baked cheesecake with a huge mug of tea to read a book.”