I love baking kaffir lime croissants. I developed the penchant for these while I was working at Restaurant Daniel, in New York,” says Freny Fernandes, the petite chef who recently set up a dessert bar, Moner, in a leafy Bandra lane in Mumbai.
In shades of salmon and teal, and warm light fixtures, the pastries here are delicious. “Dessert bars are extremely popular in Bali, London, NYC... and I wanted to bring the concept to India,” she smiles. Moner is a result of a clever blend of her parents’ names—Monica and Peter. The desserts at the bar woo you with their refined European flair. It’s because of Fernandes’ French fixation that developed because of her internships under Michelin-star chefs.
“I have learnt tremendously from my experience at the prized restaurant Daniel in New York and Noma in Copenhagen. I believe we are not quite there with our pastry in India, as yet,” she says. “There needs to be an equal emphasis on plating. Each dessert is like a work of art for me, it must be perfect.” In a heartbeat, her fingers fly about and she plates Dawn in the Meadows a light, luminous and citrusy green apple and kaffir lime sweet with mini meringue kisses and sliced green apple. “In nature, we thrive, that is why my creations are inspired by nature in the special dessert degustation menu that I have created. You can choose between three, or five courses,” says Fernandes, passion shining in her eyes.
Walk through the Woods arrives as a gleaming chocolate coulant with chocolate ganache, warm liquid caramel centre, crackling cocoa tuile, and a carefully arranged quenelle of coffee ice-cream. “I want to offer a Michelin-star experience in a bistro styled space,” she says, looking up momentarily as she crafts her next showstopper called the Phases of the Moon, which presents an elegant crescent sprawl with Earl Grey gelato, berry coulis, chocolate ganache, and soil. The skilful and smooth element of sheer panache runs through every minute detail at Moner, including the compact menu dissertation, probably rooted in Fernandes’ bachelor’s degree in mass communications from St Xavier’s College in Mumbai.
Fernandes began working at JW Sahar in Mumbai with one of the best hands in the pastry business, Chef Santosh Rawat. “I learnt many life skills here, especially perfecting the crepes and waffles,” she says. “Though it was a tougher, more challenging time in New York, there was no discrimination on the basis of my gender. Everyone is treated on an equal footing there. My French mentors have been tough taskmasters, but my learning has been tremendous.”
Fernandes studied at The Culinary Institute of America, and then entered Chef Daniel Boulud’s tutelage at his three Michelin-starred Restaurant Daniel in Manhattan. His Epicerie Boulud figured next on Fernandes’ list, followed by the culinary treatise at the legendary French fine dine Restaurant Paul Bocuse. She continued to make a mark through her desserts at the plush Four Seasons at Disneyworld in Florida. Though admittedly, her crowning glory appeared in the moment actor Priyanka Chopra posed against the towering Croquembouche that Fernandes had created as part of the team at Patisserie Boulud that crafted desserts for Tiffany Blue Box Cafe.
“I spotted pictures of her bridal shower on Instagram against the cream puff tower we had spent hours on and was thrilled,” the 25-year-old says, having had no idea whom the towering three-tiered cake of sweet, crisp choux pastries was for when she eased it into the delivery van. The desserts at Moner deliver goodness. All her clients are equally important. “I make use of the best ingredients,” she says, as she plates her masterpiece in the cosy space at the back of the dessert bar.
Back to Jardin du Rose, which is rose and raspberry parfait shaped into a rose nestling with pistachio air cake, baklava, drop meringues and sweet edible flowers. What’s next? “Wine and dessert pairings,” she says. As an astute chef, she has her eye on the commercials: Moner morphs from a bistro by day, serving small plates, and pretty desserts in caramel apples, Religieuse, lemon meringues, chocolate mousse and strawberry cream tarts, to a dessert bar by 7 pm.