SugarPlay: Rewriting the dessert game using savoury and other “unusual” dessert ingredients

With exotic flavours and unusual ingredients, SugarPlay, India’s only online patisserie, is pushing the envelope of what makes up “regular” desserts

16 Mar 2017

Kokum. Mustard. Pepper. Cloves. Green peas. Dill. These aren’t flavours you would normally associate with desserts or any kind of sweet treat. But at Mumbai-based SugarPlay, these humble ingredients are the stars of Chef Amit Mehta’s signature dishes. He boasts of several signature recipes but two particularly stand out — The Original Sin, a tart with a combination of Belgian dark chocolate and clove ganache, along with poppy seeds and sea salt caramel; and the Konkan Opera, a chocolate jaconde with tender kokum cremeaux and honey cremeaux.

The interplay of sweet and savoury

According to Chef Mehta, the idea of using savoury and other “unusual” dessert ingredients was a natural progression towards the perception of what flavours should evolve into. The graduate from Le Cordon Bleu explains, “We wanted the consumer to experience newer flavours, without consciously making it seem like an acquired taste. Flavours should make sense on the palate.”

Getting the right balance of flavours and textures is crucial and the chef says this was a challenge since he had to develop recipes with ingredients that had not been used in desserts before. The case he makes is for the Konkan Opera, with its trio of dark chocolate, tender kokum and honey flavours. He says, “Dark chocolate pairs well with acidic flavours such as raspberry or passionfruit. We wanted to play around with this familiar flavour association, but use the acidity that tender kokum imparts.” The end result? “We paired a lightly flavoured chocolate jaconde and honey cremeaux with a tender kokum cremeaux that was mildly acidic and floral.”

The Original Sin and The Beautiful Mess (a white chocolate and raspberry mousse with mustard béchamel and a coconut sponge) are SugarPlay’s bestsellers. According to Chef Mehta, the response from the clientele has been overwhelming. “A 58-year-old foodie who tasted The Original Sin said that this is how our chocolate and caramel tarts should have been all this while. Such feedback makes the whole effort worthwhile,” he says proudly. But quiz the chef on his personal favourite and pat comes the reply, “The Paradox which is a coconut panna cotta with pineapple and black pepper compote, chocolate, hazelnuts and jaggery. It’s a personal favourite since it’s rare to have so many ingredients coexist so well in a single dish.”

Going the distance

SugarPlay is rewriting the norm in yet another way: it is India’s only online patisserie. “Since it was an experimental menu, I did not want to risk investing in a brick and mortar store at the outset. Thus, selling online was the perfect option,” says Chef Mehta. He points out that retailing online has given the SugarPlay team a lot of advantages: “The geographical areas that you can showcase and sell your products in, becomes irrelevant. Your market could be as large as you need it to be.”

However, this also posed the biggest challenge. “All our desserts are extremely delicate and temperature sensitive, and we wanted the product to reach the customer at the optimum. This was challenging because we had to deliver from our kitchen in suburban Powai to the rest of the city.”  Chef Mehta says it took much trial and error for the logistics to finally smoothen out. The SugarPlay team has tied up with delivery partners to ensure same day deliveries from Powai to south Mumbai.  “We deliver twice a day, over pre-designated time slots, and the products arrive at our customers’ homes and offices in perfect condition.”

The way forward

As the e-commerce boom shows no signs of slowing down, Chef Mehta is confident that it is the way forward for patisseries too. And he’s confident of having a first mover advantage, “Getting into the online space early has given more advantages than we had imagined earlier. The most crucial of these is logistics.”

Getting SugarPlay up and running has undoubtedly been a mammoth task, but Chef Mehta says he was always confident of pulling this off. “Having worked in London and Singapore, I’ve come to realise that there are more similarities than differences in people who like eating out,” he says. “People love to break the monotony of flavours and textures, they want to be wowed by chefs, they all need a good experience, and they expect a reasonable bang for their buck.”

Having tasted success with the online retail format, Chef Mehta is hungry for more, “I would love to open a store, and with the response that we’ve had with our desserts so far, it could be in the not too distant future!”

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