The French Feast

Starting from zero, Babita Karkaria's love for food and freedom blossomed into The French Window Patisserie. Patrons swear it's a distinctive culinary experience...asking for more!

The Womenz team had an opportunity to interview Babita Karkari, Owner & Executive Chef, The French Window Patisserie, Pune, India and here’s what she shared with us

Please tell us about yourself? 

After 13 years of a successful corporate life, I took a sabbatical to travel and see as much of the world as I could. I had a long-cherished dream of a culinary career, and this led me to the gastronomic capital of the world – France. A dream turned into reality after specializing in Pastry Arts from L’Ecole Nationale Superieure de la Patisserie (ENSP), followed by an extensive work stint with the world pastry champion 2009, Chef Jerome Langillier. Life has never been the same since.


Do you love cooking?  How you developed this hobby? 

Cooking has always been an art form and a stress buster rather than just a hobby for me. Being part of my mom’s kitchen since very young, first tailing her and mimicking her every move, then as her apprentice, I finally took over completely when I lost her. Coming from a foodie household with a compulsive obsession for the largest spread every time the family got together - the expectations set and met by my mother – I found it a joy to see happy faces at the end of every meal and worth every bit of effort. Encouragement from my father and brothers, and a lot of discussions centered about food only provided more thought for food (pun intended).


What inspired you to start The French Window Patisserie? How did you coin this interesting name? 

Two specific points that inspired me to start The French Window Patisserie – my love for food, and my extreme need for freedom to define my own fate. Corporate world taught me the ropes of people management, had also exposed me to the larger world  - culture and food - during my international assignments. In being led, the corporate life also seeded the idea of exploring what it is to independently lead. After that it was only a matter of when, rather than what or why – and TFWP came into existence. 

Focused on classical French pastry, the idea was to open a window to the world of a different culinary delight. A window is as much about looking outside at the newer experiences in the world, as it is about peeking inside – like that into a soul. The French Window therefore represents a new experience in the confines of the known. A lot of new experience, and a lot of soul.


Tell us more about The French Window Patisserie and its USP’s? Any special dish you offer which is popular now? 

My idea of food is that it should be simple, yet unravel itself with melee of flavours and linger long after the last bite; engulfing you with warmth every time you reminisce about it. Food, for me, is joie de vivre and that is what I like to recreate in my kitchen and share with all our patrons. We specialize in French pastries, which are very elaborate in their composition; and the rest of our menu is an extension of this to accommodate more varying palates. 

We possibly are the only patisserie in town who specialize in French delicacies like Opera, Mille-feuille,choux pastry and more. And importantly, we pride on serving everything made fresh the same day.  We also offer flavours which are unique to us; whether it is savories, drinks or desserts. 

As part of the larger window now, we have also added an European main course menu.



Your initial journey/struggle and motivation to scale this far?  

Every entrepreneur has a tale; the struggle just adds to the romanticism of it. It goes with the territory they say. And rightly so. Just that over the years, first during my corporate stint which required me to travel for long periods and then in my current business, I have realised that things eventually fall into place. We all learn to juggle, accommodate, adjust and develop a balance over a period. And with close family and friends who matter, they understand the challenges; rather they join hands and be with you. And then it is all worth it. Suddenly it is no more a struggle, rather just another part of work life and growing up. 



How is the response from customers? Would you like to share any funny or a learning experience from any particular client?  

However clichéd it may sound, it is still a fact that our customers drive us forward. We listen very carefully; accepting and making changes where we could and educating where we can. Our patrons are largely regulars, most on first name terms. They speak to us as if they were speaking in the interest of their own business, and we listen. And the ones who join new soon become part of our journey. They leave small notes behind on paper napkins, or walk up to us and speak their mind. We encourage it. And we make it a point to acknowledge every comment, every post, every mention on the social media platforms. It has been a good, open, communicative, evolving and growing relationship – like a healthy marriage (pun intended).



As a woman did you face any hurdles in your journey so far?  If yes, how you faced & conquered them?  

I faced the same challenges that all green horns face while starting their journey in entrepreneurship. In my case the hurdle was not about the gender, as much as it was about shifting gears from a corporate life to an entrepreneurial life. From LEVERAGING an available support system to achieve a business goal, to CREATING a support system to continually sustain and grow business – is the challenge that one is more concerned about. 

From being only a specialist, to being a generalist and a specialist simultaneously -  is the difference that needs to be handled. The transition from being a part of the team to creating a team, creating an ecosystem that is based on sound fundamentals as well as flexible enough to adapt to the unknown that lay ahead, and make every component tick simultaneously -  from being a specialist organ player to conducting an orchestra is the challenge that needs overcoming. Starting from zero sure has its fair share of challenges, but in these very challenges is an opportunity to build and mold things the way one wants. In these very challenges is the fuel to build something beautiful. Gender then reduces to being a side story, if any.


What are your future plans? 

The plan for now is to consolidate; get better at what we do good. Build more depth to what we are good at then spread ourselves thin. Our eventual plan, and towards which we have started taking baby steps, is to become a cultural corner thriving with showcase and discussions about various art forms, philosophies, et el over some great comfort food. We will encourage a good debate on topics of common interests (politics? Not really. Cricket? May be). 

We have plans to start a community table soon; a place where unknown strangers share a table, get to know each other and start new conversations. It will be a table that will sit 15-20 people at anytime, and open to anyone who wants to sit there and share – food and conversation. 

We are also embarking on a community initiative called Community Cookie Jar. This is an initiative inspired from a small cookie jar filled with irregular sized cookies we currently have in our patisserie. People can eat whatever they like from it, and leave behind whatever money in it as they so feel; and not leave any if they so like. The collected money goes towards feeding the underprivileged children or a variety of other similar charities. The bigger initiative will also have an online presence aimed at sharing stories and the work being done; inviting people to be part of it. We want to make it a community effort and together give back to the society.




Your biggest achievement so far? 

Starting with home delivery from the small kitchen of my home in 2011, we opened the first window in Koregaon Park in 2014 with the idea of having a take-away point closer to our patrons. This morphed into a small café with our regular customers requesting for small bites made to order. We never even had the opportunity to design a menu then; there was no menu infact. And when we finally ran out of space, that we opened a bigger window. It has been a journey defined and directed by our patrons. And it has been extremely fulfilling. The Times Food Award for the Best Desserts in 2015 and now again in 2017 is in a way a small validation of the faith that our patrons have put in us, by voting for us to win these awards. 



Your views in gender equality and women empowerment in India. What is your message to the women out there who are struggling to prove themselves? 

Things are certainly improving; we have come far from where we started at the beginning of the 20th century. Today women occupy some of the most important positions in the corporate world. The glass ceiling, if it has not cracked completely, the lines are sure visible and felt. Some of the most important success stories in entrepreneurship are women. The overall education levels are improving, women increasingly do realise that they are equals. Yes, there are challenges; yet things are changing - however slowly. We need to communicate the success stories of women more widely; for more women to know that it is possible and doable, and for men to realise the importance of a woman as an equal. We only need to create the necessary momentum; the empowerment will be a direct consequence of this very momentum of a wider recognition. 

I do not think a woman needs to prove she is an equal in the race for gender superiority. She only needs to recognize that she is already an equal. The rest will follow. We are our own source of empowerment, we are equal; and in accepting and recognizing our equality will be an inherent healthy respect for the opposite gender at all times.  A word of caution: let not respect be misunderstood for subservience – in either direction, and things will work out just fine for everyone.

The Womenz team thank her for sharing her story with us. We are sure that her story will certainly inspire our readers.

Babita can be reached on Linked-in, twitter and Facebook 

First Published: 03-May-2017- 17:30