HYDERABAD: A third-generation businesswoman and longstanding director at NCL Industries Ltd, Shilpa Datla chose to step aside from her family business of manufacturing and selling cement, and pursued her dream of bringing an unparalleled experience of French patisseries to Hyderabad.
Her love for interiors and baking made her want to open up a patisserie business of her own. So, she took it upon herself to learn and make food that’s a match made in French heaven. She speaks to CE about her desert-cum-bar cafe Feu in Jubilee Hills, the concept of desert bar and what food means to her.
What inspired you to pursue baking professionally?
I have always enjoyed cooking. I am very passionate about it. I learnt how to cook and bake on my own. My interest in it, along with interior decor, pushed me to start my own business. My love for food and the culinary industry made me want to pursue my dream of venturing into a cafe business, something that is quite different from my family’s long line of business.
How did the journey of Feu begin and how far have you come from then?
It all began with the idea of opening a culinary studio. I wanted to start a cooking class in Hyderabad where people could learn how to cook in a fun environment. This required me to get a team of chef’s on board. While I was planning on the studio, I noticed that the current generation is slowly moving from Indian to Western desserts, which led me to think about using my entrepreneurship and baking skills to bring foreign delicacies and patisseries to the city. This is how Feu was born — a dessert bar-cum-cafe which also holds a space for a culinary studio. I did my bit of research by visiting different countries and understanding different cuisines and desserts, after which I put together a team of chefs, who could make French delicacies but also understand the Indian palate. The idea behind the cafe is to make eating and cooking fun. While the dessert bar offers a variety of cafe food and patisseries, the culinary studio focuses on making cooking fun for all ages. We have come a long way since we began two years ago. We have now expanded into a restaurant too — The Barn — and soon hope to host brunches and get a liquor licence too.
Did you learn professional baking?
I didn’t learn baking professionally. It was purely out of interest and my love for experimenting with food, however, I would definitely recommend people who are interested in cooking to attend culinary schools or take up courses. This helps understand the dish better and experiment on an advanced level. Feu, too, brings in the idea to teach courses on specific dishes through its culinary studio.
What is food to you?
Food to me is a form of bonding with others. I have grown up in a family where we all love food and express our love through food. We always have a fun time whenever we eat and this is special to me. This made me more hospitable and pursued me to show my love and care for others through food.
What is a dessert bar and what should one keep in mind while opening it?
Dessert bars are more focused on sweet treats rather than savoury meals. There are different kinds of desserts which can be offered, ranging from the American to the French style. While French is more of soufflé, entremet, mousse and flan, American desserts are cookies, brownies, pies and cakes. At Feu, we make entremets (layered desserts), it is much more complex as it has too many components and requires a lot more effort. While opening a dessert bar, you should firstly take a call if you want to go French or American and then choose if you want to do a mid-segment or go high-end. Next, you would work on studying customer preferences, studying the locality and the price range you want to set.
Why did you pick Hyderabad?
As I was born here, I didn’t want to start my career anywhere else. My family too began its business in Hyderabad, so it’s a family tradition. Hyderabad, when compared to other metropolitan cities, isn’t that forthcoming in experimenting with food. Cities like Mumbai and Delhi are open to the idea of French desserts and cooking classes and are ready to pay the price, but Hyderabad is not there yet. This is why I want to bring in an authentic French patisserie experience to the city.
What kind of culinary experience do you wish to offer?
A dessert bar in itself is a new taste, it’s an experiment. Feu offers light desserts which are well-plated. They are visually appealing. We also add elements of gastronomy, such as flames, to certain dishes. The main idea is to let the city enjoy authentic French patisseries and develop a palate for it.
What were the challenges you faced while starting Feu?
As none of my family members have a culinary background, I had to learn everything from scratch. Unlike my family business, where I could seek guidance and help, I had to learn everything — from cooking to management to hiring a team — on my own. No doubt my family did support me, but I had faced challenges initially. While I was setting up my team, I had to keep in my mind that these people would depend on me and my business for their livelihood and would need job security. I had to let people know who I was and what my brand meant. Sometimes, I would endlessly worry about getting the right consistency and quality. Nonetheless, it is all working out well. Every day gives me a new learning, I am still in the teething stage.
Your signature dishes?
We have two signature dishes. One is the Ispahan (raspberry, litchi and rose) which has a white edible flower and thin wall-like layer of raspberry around the pastry, and the other is Toffee Caramel, which is smooth and creamy. The subtle flavour of toffee works well with the golden caramel mousse. A signature Feu special is the live dessert that offers a display of plating and decoration techniques at your table, before your very eyes!