When in Kashmir, eat as the French do.
In 2014, Saqib Mir and his wife moved back to Kashmir after living in France for about 14 years. They had a dream to open the first-of-its-kind French bakery in Srinagar. Saqib had just completed a professional three-year diploma course in French bakery.
After months of preparation and hiring and training the bakers, just when the bakery doors were to be thrown open, the devastating September 2014 floods came as a big jolt. The bakery was inundated.They lost everything.
Saqib and Melanie Mir, owners of La Délice, the only French bakery in Kashmir
The machines and ovens inside the workshop were damaged as muddy waters from the flooded Dal Lake rose to submerge the bakery. “Years of investment for the bakery was lost in one day,” Mir recalls the weeks following the floods when he had decided to move back to France and give up on this dream project. “We had invested all our savings from 2007 in the project but all that was lost in the floods and everything was damaged in the bakery.”
Disappointed and dejected, the couple went back to France, only to return a year later.
“We couldn't just give up on our dream,” says Saqib, adding how he spent those restless months in France thinking of returning home. They wanted to come back and give it another try. “We came back with nothing and started working from scratch.”
La Délice bakers at work
They picked up the pieces, slowly, but surely, starting to make the bakery functional again. Mir’s parents also pitched in with some financial help. “We bought a few new machines and hired a few bakers,” says Saqib.
Today, the bakery has a team of 10 employees, including three bakers and a chef.
In the summer of 2015, Le Délice, the only French bakery in town, was thrown open to the public. “We were surprised to see the positive response from people as they came in from day one,” recalls Saqib who felt encouraged. “And I was delighted to see that a lot of local people here showed interest and already had knowledge about French bakery,” he says. People also urged them to open more outlets in the city.
Freshly baked French sweet treats
The 'Le Délice' couple first met in 2002 when Saqib was travelling in Karnataka, selling Kashmiri handicrafts. Melanie was also touring the state. It was love, instantly.
Later, after marriage, in 2005 the couple wanted to exhibit Kashmiri culture and handicrafts in France. “We had received a lot of support from the French government as it had offered free space and stockage,” says Saqib. “But it didn't materialize as there was no help from the government in Kashmir.”
Saqib’s wife, Melanie Mir, works as a production coordinator in France, and routinely shuttles between Srinagar and Paris. She will be moving back to Srinagar to work with her partner on another dream project, just as soon as she's done with her pending work in Paris.
“We are planning to open a French café here and I am looking forward to working fulltime on the café in the coming year,” says Melanie who likes the idea of meeting different people at one place. “I would like people here to enjoy their time and taste the best of French bakery in a proper French café.”
A slice of French heaven on the banks of the Dal Lake
Inside Le Délice, a variety of French bakery is stored in small, elegant glass bell jars peeping out from the display shelves. Fresh bakery off the ovens is brought in by the bakers from the workshop inside. Saqib is involved in the entire process, constantly giving inputs to his young bakers, ensuring pure raw material is used in the bakery. He is also constantly taking feedback from his customers to improve and add more variety to the bakery.
The interiors of La Délice bakery
This is the only French bakery in Srinagar where you can buy a range of delectable French bakery – from sponge, lemon cakes, butter/almond croissants, canele (small French pastry with a soft custard center) to baguettes (long, narrow French loaf), congolais (coconut biscuits) and other French delicacies that have been baked with care to achieve the right taste. “The love for bakery is common in both French and Kashmiri culture,” says Saqib.
As the word spreads about this unique French bakery in town, more orders and more customers means increased pressure on the small Le Délice team. But Saqib doesn’t want to compromise on the quality which his customers have gotten accustomed to. “I bake less at times as I want to focus on the quality of the bakery,” he points out, “and not on quantity.”
So the next time you’re in Srinagar, and have a dessert craving, make sure you visit the only French bakery in town – Le Délice. Ask for the macarons.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Majid Maqbool
Photographs by: Ruman Hamdani