CHENNAI: When you’re wondering which patisserie to order your Christmas cakes from, perhaps you should consider the one housed inside the Civil Debtors Block of the Central Prison, Puzhal. Buoyed by the massive success that their bakery products have been over the last year, the jailbirds and the prison authorities have decided to make a killing selling cake, this festive season. “Last year, when we finished setting up the bakery again, it was too late to attempt selling cakes for Christmas. And our cakes were slightly shapeless at the start,” confides Assistant Superintendent Rukmani Priyadharshini with a laugh. “This year, we’re ready to take orders in bulk and small quantities and deliver good cake on time,” she adds, pointing us to the scene of the action.
Besides the six outlets where their products are sold currently, including the Prisons Department headquarters in Egmore and the Saidapet Court, they are starting a website for their Freedom brand. “The point of the website is that people can see what we do and how we do it and then place Christmas orders online,” she explains. Like most things, even the website is being ‘sponsored’ by a Web hosting company, who wanted to help.
As she leads us into the block, past the foreboding metal gates, and ushers us into their now expansive bakery, she says tartly, “We didn’t have any prisoners to put in this section, so we converted it.” Two ovens are buzzing busily, the cake tins inside are filled with almost uniform amounts of batter, and a lone prisoner gazes inside before turning away with a satisfied grin on his face. All is well with his cakes, and the smell that it’s giving off is proof enough for us. As far as impressions go, it’s cleaner than most bakeries in the city and the only thing that could set them apart is the fact they’re all dressed in jail garb — white-and-white.
And the jail cakes aren’t just chunky bits of unimaginative sponge. “From chocolate truffle to black forest and white forest, they can do anything you like and even pipe names and messages on top,” she says gleefully. Almost in unison, John Antony, a cheerful lifer from Ernakulam, pulls out a piping bag filled with pink icing and expertly makes it look all fairy-like.
So when he offers us a piece, we gladly indulge. Now, if you’re a stickler for taste, then you should know that these pastries will not make pastry chef Adriano Zumbo happy. But they’re quite a good deal seeing as how they cost exactly half of what their cheapest competitors would charge you.
Ever since their bakery project with Winners Bakery a few years ago, the prison’s affinity for baking and confectionery has been steady. But will they be able to handle the increased demand? “Of course we can,” pipes in John Antony. “Bakery block (which is how they refer to themselves) can always do more shifts and work longer to ensure that all the orders are met! No compromise,” he says. In case you’re worried about finding a key or a message baked inside one of their cakes, don’t be, everything passes through a metal detector!