Sana Nair of The Mellow Yellow Co.: On The Art & Business of Being A Home Baker

Happiest when cooking for others and ever-chuffed to explore the world of culinary art, Sana Nair has never known a life without the love for food and baking. Imbibing this passion from her grandfather, the lady has been busy in the kitchen since she was a young adult, and baking for F&F over the years led her to realise that, “I could only see myself doing something food-related.” The is when the then fresh faced business graduate enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu to learn cuisine and pâtisserie, and there’s been no looking back since, as she puts it.

Starting The Mellow Yellow Co. in December 2014, Nair has had the capital wrapped around her spatula for over three years now. From comfort treats to her own experiments with classics, each creation that comes out of her home bakery has you placing the next order before you’ve devoured the last crumb. Gems like Nutella Sea Salt cookies and lemon meringue treats are the trump cards in her pile of ace preparations. The MYC kitchen’s Double Chocolate Nutella Cookies are certified one of the best in #OurCity, and will have you indulging in more often than your nutritionist would like. When not whipping up goodies, she likes to travel and discover different cooking techniques from across the globe, read and forget about the real world, and daydream — because who doesn’t! We speak with Nair to unravel how she’s whisked away Delhi NCR into the mellow yellow world.

Tell us about the genesis of The Mellow Yellow Co.?

After working at a few professional kitchens for a couple of years, I decided that if I was going to tirelessly work endless hours, it was going to be for myself, and that I was ready to put all that I had learned so far to use. I had many ideas and concepts in mind that I would only have the freedom to work on in my own space, so I decided to take the plunge and start The Mellow Yellow Co.

How would you describe your style of baking? What inspires your creations — are you a purist or stumble upon recipes through kitchen experiments?

There is no particular technique, but rather an amalgamation of different techniques that I have realised work best for me through trial and error over time. I work with flavour pairings and recipes that may sometimes be bold and experimental, and sometimes classic and simple, often getting my inspiration from simply a craving for something I can’t quite pinpoint, which I then try to recreate.

I like to think of the basic theme of my baking as ‘comfort food’ — something that hits the spot like a warm apple cinnamon cake on a winter afternoon or a Nutella sea salt cookie for a midnight craving.

The home baker industry has grown by leaps and bounds in the recent years. According to you, how do the coming 5 years look?

There is definitely a lot of scope and opportunity for growth within this industry, with the food scenario in India evolving and consumers becoming more open to trying new things.

However, with the market of home bakers now mushrooming more than ever, I think quality and consistency are key factors that will determine the future of the businesses, as consumers now have a vast number of options to choose from, not leaving much room for error.

In this age of hyper PR and social media chatter, how has it been building your brand without either of the two?

Social media and the internet in general have made it a lot easier to increase visibility and reach out to a large number of people, but since most of my business is generated via word-of-mouth, I feel that keeping a personal connect with not only my customers but also my food really does make all the difference. As clichéd as it may sound, in the pursuit of business it is important to not forget the love and passion that were the initial motivation behind it.

What’s your take on the changing outlook and demand by the patrons over time?

The patrons define the business to a large extent, and it is their ever-changing demand and feedback that encourage us bakers to step out of our comfort zones and strive for innovation and improvement.

How’s your journey been over three years?

Apart from burning multiple batches of cookies (and occasionally my fingers)? It’s been absolutely wonderful, nerve-wracking, enlightening, exhausting, rewarding, challenging and exciting all at the same time! It’s a continuous learning process and like in any business, there are days that aren’t perfect, but most days are a reminder of why I love doing what I’m doing.

Do you intend to enter the commercial brick & mortar space anytime soon?

Work in progress!

One pro-tip for up and coming home bakers?

It’s not as easy as it may look, so make sure to get some hands-on work experience in a professional environment to get a feel of how the industry really works before you start your own venture. Learning from experienced professionals how to think on your feet, deal with work pressure, and adapt to different situations in the workplace will really help you in the long run.

Your Nutella & sea salt cookies are to die for, what’s the secret behind this ace concoction?

This was one thing I was obsessed with getting right, and worked on for almost six months to get the right balance of flavours and texture. In fact, we still keep tweaking and trying to improve on the recipe based on customer feedback. I’d call it a trade secret!

As we tuck into our season’s favourite mango vanilla cakes, here’s looking onto Nair building the Mellow Yellow empire (and our expanding waistlines!).