Gourmet chocolate artist Radha Shinkre cooks up the ultimate sweet indulgence
By Alexia Fernandes
Cooking was always a hobby for Radha Shinkre, but academically she wanted to study psychology and become a psychologist someday. “After graduation, it got a little overwhelming and I thought of taking a year off to learn more about pastry, since it had always been a passion of mine” Though she expected to return back to academics in a year’s time, her life took a completely different direction and she found her true calling.
Picking up recipes from popular cooking shows on TV, Radha would try her hand at any new technique or interesting recipe. With practice, she realized that hot food didn’t take much, but when it came to baking, precision with the right amount of flour, eggs and baking powder was crucial, and wasn’t all as simple as it looked. This pushed her to pursue a course and learn baking the professional way.
“I don’t have a sweet tooth,” she admits shyly. “Even as a child I hated chocolate.” For Radha it’s the thrill of this creative field and the challenges it offers her mind that keeps her hooked to desserts. She is always looking for new ways to build up on an old recipe and techniques to improvise with a personal touch. “What I love about pastry is that it is always challenging and there’s never a full stop.”
She moved to Switzerland the following year after graduation and opted for a programme in Swiss Pastry and Chocolate Specialization at the César Ritz College. “Switzerland has a centralized location in Europe, surrounded by neighbouring countries of Germany, France, Austria and Italy. Its cuisine too, has borrowed elements from all these countries,” she explains. “The first few months were a little difficult,” she admits. “The head chef was really strict and short tempered and the work hours were really long, so we were expected to stand for hours without a break.” Though the initial months took a little getting used to, Radha really began to hone her skills at European delicacies like Macaroons, Apple Strudels, custard tarts, cookies and of course, chocolate.
“Chocolate is all about temperature control. You can’t just melt chocolate and give it a shape” she explains. “Once melted, it has to be processed till it reaches an optimal temperature before you can actually begin working with it. This process is called tempering. If chocolate isn’t tempered well, it tends to lose its taste and smooth texture.” Though Radha had watched chefs temper chocolate on TV shows and was fairly familiar with the process, she confesses that doing it practically was a more complicated ordeal.
For the second half of the course, Radha was selected to intern at a restaurant in Switzerland but instead of her preference to work in the restaurant’s pastry kitchen, she was offered a spot in the hot kitchen that specialized in Asian Cuisine. “Fortunately, around the same time, I received a call from JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai with an offer to work at the pastry kitchen there with some of the most reputed chefs in the industry.”
“It was a huge operation at JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, so it was quite a learning experience,” she recalls. “The hotel has over 1200 rooms and a capacity of 800-900 people dining at the outlets every day. Usually restaurants have their own kitchens but here the pastry kitchen was the only kitchen that handled everything, right from the banquets, room-service, cafes, and restaurants.” Though one of her biggest opportunities, this was also one of her most challenging phases yet.
“Hardwork really gets you far in life and I learned this the hard way,” she recalls her time working under intense pressure for hours that stretched to 15-16 hours every day without breaks. It didn’t take her long to prove her skills as a young talented pastry chef. Within a period of three months, Radha had managed to impress the head chefs and was offered a permanent place at the Hotel, where she continued to work for a year.
“Within six months of being a permanent member I was awarded for my performance. This was a big achievement for me because it was usually the head chefs or supervisors that received such awards.” Through hard work she continued to excel; and in less than ten months Radha was promoted. “That was when I realized that no matter how good you are or what you do, unless you work hard you won’t reach heights.”
Currently, Radha works with her father managing the family’s Sincro Hotel in Margao, while learning as much as she can about the business operations and management strategies. She plans to open up a restaurant and has a brilliant theme to get going.
In December, Radha quit her job and moved back to India with an intention of gaining a little experience before starting up with her own restaurant. “I wanted to study the markets here and get familiar with the suppliers and the kind of raw materials available.” She struggled to get a job in Goa but was left disappointed. “For a while I regretted leaving my job there because suddenly it felt like I had nothing to do. Now when I think about it, not getting a job here was the best thing that happened or else I would have never felt compelled to push my plans of starting off on my own.”
She currently works with her father managing the family’s Sincro Hotel in Margao, while learning as much as she can about the business operations and management strategies. Radha plans to open up a restaurant and has a brilliant theme to get going. “The idea is to bring different delicacies from around the world and try to match these with Goan flavours.”
Her food reflects the inspiration she draws immensely from her Goan roots. Using locally available ingredients, Radha infuses her food with a hint of fresh Goan essence. “Since concepts like liquor chocolates are common, I wanted to do something entirely different.” A lot of the flavours she experiments with come from the items that are a part of every household. “At home, we often make tea with ginger and lemongrass, so I’ve tried using tea infused chocolates too.” Some of her other extraordinary flavours include lemongrass chocolate truffles, coconut with condensed milk, chili chocolates and caramelized banana chocolates.
Though popular TV personality and gourmet chef Nigella Lawson will always be Radha’s inspiration that drew her to baking during her initial years, her role model is now world chocolate masterchef Frank Hasnoot. “I follow Frank Hasnoot’s work on Instagram. He is the God of chocolate and his work really inspires me.” While her restaurant plans continue to gradually build up, Radha keeps busy with small orders for scrumptious gourmet chocolate hampers that make divine indulgence.