We generally associate the name – Kolkata with a wide variety of sweets. And, if you skip having sweets in Kolkata, it is nothing less than an offence! In the last few years, the varieties have also increased few folds. It has happened mainly because of the increase in the number of talented home bakers in Kolkata who love to play with their creativity skills. Mahua Saha is one such creative home baker and cake artist based in Kolkata. Before becoming a professional baker, she worked in the IT industry for a couple of years. After her son was born, she decided to explore her creative side rather than getting back to the Software industry. On October 18, 2014, Mahua gave shape to her first cake order. The day marked the start of her home baking venture Mahua’s Fresh From Oven.
Mahua’s Fresh From Oven is a place which can give you the best designer cakes in Kolkata. Mahua believes if a cake is not made from fresh ingredients, it would not taste good. All the cakes that go out from Mahua’s Fresh From Oven are fresh and are devoid of any preservatives. This makes her bakes different from the ones being offered by the local bakeries in the city.
Today, Mahua Saha joins us in this interview session with conflatingVisions and shares her inspiring story as an entrepreneur cum cake artist. Mahua’s career as a Software Developer was her first innings and baking is her successful second innings!
Hi Mahua, welcome to this interview session of ConflatingVisions. To begin with, please tell us a few lines about yourself.
It’s very difficult to link dots in my career. I studied economics then diversified into technology. Completed post graduation and did jobs as a Software Developer. Then took a prolonged sabbatical when my son was born. By the time I decided to go back, I realized that the world of technology has changed and what I learnt has become obsolete and I never wanted to go to school again. So I just continued with homemaking activities. I always loved my cooking. In the process, I realized that people are appreciating my desserts including cakes. I also realized that it’s not only good but a creative art. So I went on and created Mahua’s Fresh from Oven.
How did you learn baking?
Initially by doing it all by myself. Internet was a great help. And then, of course, I was taught by several famous cake artists. It’s a field where people can learn by doing things as well. You need to make your hands dirty. The theory is perhaps less important.
Mahua, at what age did you bake for the first time? How was the experience?
Truly I don’t remember. But it’s a fact that I started baking after my marriage. Non-veg food and even egg were not allowed in my parental home. So it was after my marriage that I started baking. That was perhaps about 10 years ago.
What motivated you to become a professional baker?
Creativity. Few simple kitchen items can be turned into something as wonderful as a designer cake. Gradually I realized a dessert is a very sought after menu in a full course lunch and dinner. Moreover, cakes are quite an essential part of any celebration.
Please tell us about Mahua’s Fresh From Oven.
It all started with baking at home. When I took it professionally and started Mahua’s Fresh From Oven, I had few friends who became my first clients. At the same time, my husband was egging me on to get into a rewarding space which can also be scaled up. I realized that my efforts could be given a form. My cakes are without preservatives and fresh. So I guess the name has been very apt. If you do not get fresh ingredients, the taste of the cake changes. A dessert deserves to be very fresh else after a full meal you may not enjoy. Similarly, a celebration is incomplete if the cake is a few nights old. So I wanted to focus on freshly baked cakes – hence the name.
How is the demand for designer cakes in Kolkata?
Kolkata has a remarkably sweet tooth – misti as we say – and we love our sweets. Cakes are giving an option to our taste buds. Perhaps you know here celebrations, occasions are celebrated like madness. Now people realize that cakes are not only an eatable item but also an art form to express a story. I have designed many such narratives through my bakings. It ranges from vacation themes to vanity bags.
What are some of the signature items of Mahua’s Fresh From Oven?
Chocolate truffle cake, butterscotch cake with homemade salted caramel sauce, red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, chocolate drip cake, doughnuts, chicken muffins: all these are hot selling items of Mahua’s Fresh From Oven.
What are some of the challenging cake designs that you have done so far?
A few indeed. Kolkata is famous for Biryanis. Once I designed a cake which resembles it. When people saw that picture on my Facebook page, a few enquired if I have digressed to the main course! It was a great satisfaction. A few days back, I have done a peacock theme dessert table. It was appreciated. I made a jewellery cake for my Mother-in-Law and a tea set for my Father-in-Law. Both were liked by my friends and well wishers.
Commerce and creativity both are integral part of a business. Tell us how do you handle both these aspects of your baking business?
Sometimes it is difficult. Making a good cake design takes an enormous amount of time. Often people only see the material cost. A simple cake may take 3 hours to finish, but if you use the same quantity of material and turn into a theme, it can even take a full day. So cost increases exponentially. And being a cake artist, I am always tempted to give it a better finish. So at times it’s a balancing act indeed.
Narrate some of your success stories.
There are many. Rather each baking is a success. When it comes out of the oven, it’s a joy. You know your stage is set to add cream, colour and candy. Each appreciation from peers and reputed veterans of this industry is a success, according to me.
Recently a lady requested for a surprise 40th-anniversary cake for her parents. That was a two tier cake with the figurines of her parents and 2 pets. When she opened the box, her parents had tears in their eyes. As a cake artist, I believe there can be no greater prize than this overwhelming response from a client.
A couple of months ago I had a request from Pepsico India (Kolkata Branch) to bake two celebratory cakes for Lays. I was the only cake artist from Kolkata to get this order, and my creation was much appreciated.
Lastly, I would like to mention that one of my creation has been featured in the December 2016 issue of “Cakes Decor Gazette” – an international journal. I consider this as a landmark in my career.
What are the challenges in a baker’s life? How do you deal with them?
When I started my journey, the most challenging part in the baking business was the pricing. People compare prices with local bakeries. But gradually it is changing. Now some of the customers can understand price depends on quality and customization. And they are willing to pay the price. A more challenging situation is when your client’s expectation becomes very high and it is a huge pressure to satisfy. I try my level best in each of my cake to meet that expectation and to deliver more than that. There must be that wow factor in each of my creation.
What are your future plans to scale up the growth of your baking business?
Let’s see. At present, I am enjoying baking from home. I get requests to start a shop. But I am not sure if quality can be maintained as I would require external artists for a larger setup. Also, there are requests for taking baking classes which also requires time and a bigger infrastructure.
If you are given the option to fix a failure of yours, what would you do?
Failures are there in any field. It teaches. Don’t think hard about it.
Please share some baking tips that you find beneficial.
Be ready with the order well in time. If needed you will get time to repair. Bake with the best ingredients. You can’t compromise with the quality and taste. When people eat it, they must be able to relish.
Anything else you want to share…
As I said, design is only a small aspect. But taste in the mouth is everything.
And, one last question of this session Mahua, if you have had one wish…
Well, I should have started earlier.