It is her passion for languages that first led Avika Sukhija into the kitchen and for all things food-related. The 17-year-old, who passed out from school in May, says, “I believe the first time I got really interested in cooking was when I started learning French. A huge part of learning any language is immersing oneself deep into the culture that speaks it; and as we all know French food is trop délicieux.”
Sukhija has started her own home-grown boulangerie and patisserie, Aiko Pan, now delivering across Delhi-NCR. What started as an Instagram challenge, #100days100bakes, due to an excess of free time after school during a little-known pandemic, soon evolved into a fledgling business, with Avika noting, “Around this time, I developed an avid interest for bread, and realised the ginormous gap which exists for it in the market. This is what inspired me to start the Aiko Pan project.”
Inspired by her French lessons, as soon as they were over, instead of going back home and retiring to her room like any other teen, Avika would head to her oven and stoves. Future inspiration was found elsewhere on the map: “I am a polyglot, so my study of Mandarin Chinese and Italian further propelled me into the culinary universe. However, most of all, I believe the sheer lack of food from diverse cultures in Delhi is what really led me to experiment with new dishes in the kitchen every day, and now here I am.”
The cloud bakery offers breads from baskets around the world, be it the Babka of Eastern European (EEJ) communities, Italian Biscotti, or the Conchas created during the commingling of Spanish and native Mexican cultures. And for Avika, there’s a lot more on the horizon. “I think I am at a very advantageous point in my life to have realised what it is that I really want to do. Now instead of wasting my time for four years at a proper university to discover my passions, I can straight away go to culinary school to cultivate my skills, and then open a proper bakery,” she says, presumably to the envy of her peers and the consternation of their parents.
Her business acumen is not surprising when you consider her father Priyank Sukhija, an iconoclast in his own right, is one of the most successful restaurateurs in the country, but Avika is also confident of her own abilities. “We are into two very separate streams of hospitality, but he is still my biggest supporter. He gives me a lot of independence when it comes to making important decisions, especially when it comes to my choice of choosing an unorthodox pathway to higher education: culinary school,” she signs off.