Though born into a family of accountants, Jehangir Mehta developed a special bond to cooking at a very early age. And it was no surprise to his family when he aspired to be a pastry chef. After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America, he worked at many of New York City's finest restaurants, including L'Absinthe, Jean Georges, Mercer Kitchen, Union Pacific, and Aix. Now, this Mumbai-born talented chef blends his cultural heritage to create fascinating desserts for his clientele at Sapa in New York. He also owns Partistry, well known for its own line of handmade chocolates, exclusive party planning projects, and private cooking classes for children and adults.
Things closed down on me when I lost my job after 9/11. Because I was on a working visa, I had to get a job in 30 days to stay here. But even then, I took a huge risk.
ASIANCE: You were born in Mumbai and born into a family of accountants. Tell us about your journey into the culinary world?
Jehangir: Despite my family norm of accounting, my parents never pressured me into taking the family line. They always supported me. So, it was just a matter of my interest. When I was 18, I went to a hotel management school in India and even though food business was not a promising industry then, my parents backed me. As I honed my skills at the hotel management school, I realized I wanted my own business at the end and a chef was what I wanted to be. I did a lot of research on culinary schools in Europe and the United States before I joined the The Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The CIA is definitely an extremely good school for cooking and I chose the best option I had.
ASIANCE: Was it difficult for you to gain recognition as an Asian chef?
Jehangir: There are a lot of people who give a different tone just because you are Asian or Indian but you just have to go on with your life. You can't let things go down on you. A lot of people take it seriously and that's when they feel discriminated. I feel it's not harder on you than any other person. You have to be positive and work hard to win appreciation.
Things closed down on me when I lost my job after 9/11. Because I was on a working visa, I had to get a job in 30 days to stay here. But even then, I took a huge risk. I got a couple of job offers, but I waited till I could get a job I liked. I did land into a great job in the third week but that was a great risk. I am a person who likes to take risks. I was never stuck to a job just because I could get a visa. In seven years, I have had six working visas!!
ASIANCE: How is working as a Pastry Chef at Sapa?
Jehangir: I joined Sapa in December 2005 and since then it has been a whole new experience for me. This is the first real French-Asian restaurant I have ever worked in. Sapa is very sexy, and its crowd is very different. I am having a very good time.
ASIANCE: You are known for your creative, unorthodox and intellectually driven desserts. What inspires you and where do you get your creative ideas? Are there any specific ingredients you prefer to use?
Jehangir: There's a lot that inspires me. Sometimes, I like something visually. Once, I liked what Didier Virot, Executive Chef, AIX did with his sea scallops dish. I loved his style of presentation. So, I came up with a dessert called “Chocolate Palette”. It was a brown looking scallop dessert! Sometimes, I just put two and two together. I tried that with Rosemary and apple tart for one of my desserts. At other times, it's out of the blue.
Being an Indian, I have been exposed to so many spices that I think I have developed a natural palate. So, quite often, I do use herbs and spices in my desserts. And when people appreciate it, I take an extra step to be more creative. That's the direction I take most of the time. I also make sure I use healthy spices such as basil which I like in my desserts. Basil is good for cooling your body.
ASIANCE: What is your most popular dessert ?
Jehangir: I'd say the most popular dish at Sapa is Chocolate Steam Bun. It is very Asian and is a perfect mate for coffee.
ASIANCE: People know you as “the Sadist” in the New York restaurant world. What do you have to say to that?
Jehangir: It's just funny (laughs). This first came up when someone said I have a sadistic way of teasing the public by making them eat herbs to enjoy chocolate. If people see my desserts as a challenge, then I accept my nickname.
ASIANCE: I've heard that you are involved with Candy Camp workshop for children in NYC. Can you tell us about this?
Jehangir: Candy Camp workshop started when I found that many chefs complained that children don't know how and what to order in restaurants and parents were not as helpful. I wanted to take an extra step to try and educate them. I started the workshop on Mother's Day. My whole concept was to teach children to make breakfast in bed for their moms as a gift for the holiday. It was a huge success and the press loved the idea.
ASIANCE: You spend time managing Partistry, tell us about your concept and how it evolved?
Jehangir: Partistry started with the Candy Camp Workshop. Initially, I thought the workshop would be a one-time thing. But, it only seemed to grow. We started private classes for kids and now have classes for adults too. We also plan parties and weddings. It has been more amazing than I could have ever imagined. At Partistry, we specialize in the smallest details to take care of the big picture at every event we do. From invitation cards and thank you notes to clothes and catering, we always try to bring a new dimension to planning parties. Because it is very time consuming, I prefer small projects than huge ones. I find personal orders very interesting. For me, it's a different pleasure. It's challenging and fun; I love working for an exclusive clientele. Partistry is definitely a good stepping stone for me.
ASIANCE: How do you celebrate your Valentine's Day?
Jehangir: I work!! I usually work during the holidays, be it Christmas or New Year's. That's my schedule. I spend a lot of time working in Sapa and handling Partistry. Usually I don't even get time to keep track of my emails my wife manages that for me!! Partistry has a number of special packages that you may order online from our website www.partistry.com .
ASIANCE: What’s next for you?
Jehangir: I am working on a dessert cookbook. I don't have a name for it yet but is scheduled to launch in November 2007.
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