DSSC Secret Conversations: Shaheen Peerbhai aka Purple Foodie

Once upon a time, there was a young lady who woke up early every morning to bake. She worked in a marketing position by day; and wrote of cakes and pies, by the light of her computer at night. This was to become PurpleFoodie.com, a collection of pastry recipes and the beginning of Shaheen Peerbhai’s culinary calling. From marketing mama to baking baby, Shaheen spills the sugar on her blog world as we tuck into her delish eclairs.

While brownies, cookies and tarts found homes on Purple Foodie, our leading lady decided to drop everything and fly to sweeter pastures in the neighbourhood of the Eiffel Tower. There, at the Cordon Bleu cooking school, her godfathers and godmothers were some of the best in the industry and the star of our story turned out to be a star pupil and scholarships paved her way. Learning under the tutelage of sugary industry superstars did not intimidate Shaheen, she was doing what she loved and it was no challenge.

Along with getting better at her craft, she began writing about her travels. “I blog about recipes I create, my thinking process and the depths of techniques. I travel a lot, so Purple Foodie has turned into a food blog with a fair bit of travel stories.”

PC: www.purplefoodie.com
PC: www.purplefoodie.com

Talking about these stories, she shares the contrast among the different cities that bear her flag, “London is very cosmopolitan and that is reflected in the food scene. You can eat every world cuisine and it’s about destination dining here. Paris is a bit more conservative with its lengthy lunch breaks, three-course meals and bistro culture. People have their local favourites and usually hang out in their own neighbourhoods. Bombay and Delhi are exciting and still evolving. It’s really amazing to see the increasing focus on regional specialties.”

Shaheen’s repertoire has grown to include a curated lists of places to see, what to eat and things to do; be it Barcelona, Florence or Lisbon. At times videos accompany the writing and act as mini-stories that transport you into a food market in Europe.

While her travels and foodie tips frame Purple Foodie, the experience of the site still remains one of wanting to rush into the kitchen and play with flour. Shaheen describes her cooking style as a melange of, “classical French training which I build on and add my own modern twist to. It’s comes from years of schooling, work, practice and following some great chefs.”

Shaheen’s hard work has given way to close-to-perfect little spells on her site, which if followed well, can help you make baby meringues, gianduja roulades, tiramisu or a dulce de leche cake. A magic trick? Close enough.

While our desi kitchens can smell and taste the joie de vivre of Shaheen’s honey lavender madeleines through her recipes, she promises there is no match for actually being in France. “There is a sense of prestige attached to pastry and people are constantly creating new techniques and styles… To keep the spirit going, the French even have competitions for every possible thing: meilleure baguette (the winner gets to supply baguettes to the Elysées Palace for the year), meilleure choucroute, meilleur boudin noir, meilleur what-have-you.”

Shaheen’s post on the Marché des Producteurs de Pays, a farmer’s market in Paris, talks about two produce stands she came across: one for chestnuts and one for rhubarb. The chestnut stand had everything from raw chestnuts, chestnut flour and paste to romanticised fire-roasted chestnuts. The rhubarb stand had rhubarb nectar, syrup, jams, jellies and rhubarb juice. “[This] is so inspiring, to take up a single ingredient [like rhubarb or chestnut], learn it thoroughly well, and diversify by making a range of products made with that one main ingredient.”

PC: www.purplefoodie.com
PC: www.purplefoodie.com

Shaheen fell in love with Paris and it loved her right back, starting with the success of her picnic-style pop-up. “The pop-up came about when my friend and now business partner were looking for a way to cook together. We were living in France with a farm and dairy next door and we just had to cook with the glorious produce. We figured we needed people to eat after we were done cooking and started hosting intimate pop-ups that soon scaled up to being restaurant sized with 80 covers per service. It was an incredible experience and we had people from all over the world coming to our pop ups on their visit to Paris.”  

Along with being a chef, baker and an entrepreneur, Shaheen is a writer too, having worked as the consulting Food Editor with BBC Good Food Magazine. When asked her how she managed these many work profiles with finesse, all we got out of her was, “I do different things to keep myself inspired because doing just one thing bores me.”

True enough, considering her next project. The pop-up picnic’s recipes are coming out in a book in 2017 complete with watercolour illustrations of food. It will have snippets of Shaheen’s life in Paris from her Cordon Bleu and Alain Ducasse days and she calls it a, “book about the joy and comfort of cooking food for the ones you love”. She is considering a pop-up in India around the book launch. Fingers crossed!

PC: www.purplefoodie.com
PC: www.purplefoodie.com

To spread the love is what Shaheen does best. She has a loyal following and since the advent of her baking classes in London, Mumbai and Delhi, her fans are known to book in without seeing the menu. They would be glad to hear, cooking classes might be on the cards soon! “I think people are more open and experimental when it comes to baking,” Shaheen says, “People are willing to learn. I enjoy introducing new flavours and textures to people, or showing them a different way of working with ingredients from what they are used to.”

A regular fairy dust sprinkler, Shaheen goes a step ahead and posts international career and scholarship advice along with how-to guides for Cordon Bleu aspirants. “The three things of paramount importance are passion, determination and action,” she adds.

When not baking in Michelin-starred kitchens around the world, Shaheen can be found commenting on her readers’ creations, egging them on. She signs off with the 2 golden rules of baking, “Use scales, don’t underestimate the power of weighing to the last gram. Also, use real chocolate and vanilla, don’t skimp on quality ingredients as they’re the usual deal makers of the dish.”

She has found her happily ever after, and hopefully, so have her recipe-makers.

This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace of base industry disruptors.

Cover photo credit: Hindustan Times