Fresh ingredients, a willingness to customise her menus, and a real flair for baking makes Natasha Minocha's food unforgettable
It’s Sunday morning but while others are still dragging themselves out of bed, Natasha Minocha is busy mixing flour, squeezing out mascarpone, dusting with cocoa powder, and throwing in lemon pulp and ground poppy seeds to create the softest, airiest batches of cupcakes you’ve ever eaten. You’re a fairly decent baker when you can manage to crawl into the kitchen but Minocha, who is Chief Artisan at her small, incredibly interesting catering outfit called Tasha’s Artisan Foods that she runs out of a spotless kitchen at her home in Greenwoods City, is in an entirely different league.
You first chanced to sink your teeth into her food at a Kunal Basu reading at the Quill & Canvas Gallery and the chicken and cheese bread rolls and quiches were so good that you abandoned the author to engage the chef in conversation. You’ve been dreaming of her food ever since.
“I’ve been baking since I was 13 years old,” says Minocha whose culinary adventures took off when her mother, to keep her from being bored, gave her a book on baking and allowed her to experiment in the kitchen. “She said ‘Do what you want, just don’t bother me’,” Minocha reminiscences. Her interest grew through her student years at SRCC where she studied Economics and later when she travelled with her husband to Russia and the US.
“At that time, we couldn’t get many ingredients here and one always had to improvise. Philadelphia cream cheese was unheard of and I remember I used to make cheese cake with paneer,” she says. The well-stocked baking sections of the Moscow stores were a revelation. But even that paled in comparison to the infinite variety of products on US supermarkets shelves.
“My family was very willing to be experimented on and I had great fun with all the different types of chocolate chips,” she says.
Back home in India, Minocha sank into life as a stay-at-home mother but word about her extraordinary food got around and soon she found herself catering for friends and then friends of friends. “Tasha’s Artisan Foods grew just by word of mouth,” says Minocha whose business philosophy is centred on using the opposite of the cookie cutter approach to food.
“The word ‘artisanal’ indicates something that’s handmade. It’s the opposite of the factory produced, so no two things are the same. So, because I use freshly-squeezed lemon juice, you might find lemon pulp in some of my cupcakes, and no two loaves of bread that I bake will come out exactly the same,” says Minocha who now takes orders for one-off events and also supplies to smaller corporates who want wholesome food.
“Because I’m small, I’m able to customise,” she says revealing that she uses gluten-free atta in the cupcakes she sends to a particular office as she knows someone there is allergic to gluten. Another company orders executive lunches that are hi protein and low carb with lots of veggies and meat preparations that use only chicken breast. “These things are challenging on a tight budget but they are interesting too,” says Minocha. “I have to think of the many ways to cook chicken breast. So, one day, I might give them meat balls, the next Thai chicken curry, grilled chicken on the third day, roast on the fourth and chicken cooked in a different marinade on the fifth,” she says.
Like a true professional she is very particular about the ingredients she uses. “When you use good products, you don’t need frills and this or that frosting. The food comes out good,” says Minocha who sticks to using ingredients that are in season and are locally available. This means she avoids lettuce leaves in her salads in summer as they wilt in the northern heat, and avoids making chocolate fudge and truffles too for the same reason.
“We get a lot more things in India now but you still have to be careful about expiry dates and always have to check to see if things are infested,” she says revealing that she does occasionally have bad days in the kitchen. Like the time she popped in two perfect loaf cakes into the oven. “They looked very good but when I turned around I saw that I had forgotten entirely to put in any oil!” she laughs. But even her kitchen disaster stories have happy endings! “Afterwards, I sliced them and put them back in the oven on low heat and made rusks for the family,” she laughs.
It’s Sunday morning and you are normally a late riser. The promise of Natasha Minocha’s exquisite food had, however, compelled you to shake off your endemic laziness. You are glad. Those coffee cupcakes with the delicious topping of mascarpone dusted with cocoa that literally melted in your mouth made it all worth it.
Natasha Minocha, Chief Artisan, Tasha’s Artisan Foods