When Saritha was a child she would wait impatiently for Sunday afternoon. For that was the chosen day of the week when her mother would whip up a dessert for her and her brother. That apart, there were delicious, yummy cakes on their birthdays and baked treats for almost all family occasions.
“Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that each time she baked a cake, it was a special occasion for us!” says Saritha Subramaniam, founder, The Baker’s Nook, a popular bakery brand in Chennai.
As the siblings grew older, they began to help their mother with the baking. “In the absence of modern gadgets, we relied entirely on muscle power – my brother and I helped her with creaming of the butter and sugar. It was for a sweet reward – dregs of batter in the mixing bowl and on the whisk,” recollects Saritha.
Saritha thus tiptoed into the baking world holding her mother’s hand and is today an accomplished baker.
Getting into it professionally
As a child, lending a helping hand to her mother while baking was enough to spark off Saritha’s interest in the food industry. She says she even tried getting into a catering college after finishing school but that would have required a certain level of formal Mathematical training, which Humanities student Saritha didn’t have.
She, however, enjoyed cooking and baking at home, experimenting at all levels and making the most of it.
Marriage beckoned followed by the birth of two children, after which she found time weighing quite heavily on her hands. “My daughter had begun school and I had family support at home to take care of my son. I soon drifted back to my old and most favourite passion, baking,” says Saritha.
In 1994, on being urged by her family, Saritha began a small home catering business called Crunch n’ Munch, through which she supplied Chinese and Continental food, cakes, cookies and desserts to customers in Anna Nagar and Kilpauk in Chennai. Still being a sleepy little town with very little exposure to these kinds of food, Chennai was waking up to such ideas.
“Fresh cream cakes courtesy Cakes n Bakes had just taken the city by storm, and people were discovering the pleasures of Black Forest, Pineapple Fresh Cream, Nougat etc. This meant that my little business did extremely well, because the playing field was so small,” explains Saritha.
Also there was a growing tribe of people getting interested in learning how to cook different things at home, for themselves and their families. The next step, therefore for Saritha, was to offer classes. Thus started Saritha’s baking classes in small batches for those who wanted to learn to whip up simple cakes, cookies, Continental and Chinese recipes.
All was going well, till in 1996, a sudden change in family circumstances brought her catering business to a halt. Saritha’s spouse moved overseas and she had to bid adieu to her passion and take up a different business.
Passion is what was difficult to separate her from and Saritha continued to cook for family and friends. Then it was the Facebook group of Home Bakers Guild which inspired her to get back to baking. “Those posts from members rekindled my dormant love for the food industry. The challenge now lay in trying to educate myself on how much had changed since 1996. I had to equip myself with new techniques and materials, and read a lot about the demands of the market. I signed up for classes on cake decoration, fondant modelling, icing workshops and the like,” she says of her journey.
Arming herself thus, she launched The Baker’s Nook in May 2014. It was a big step, both personally and professionally, because she was finally going back to doing what she loved. With her children all grown up and well able to take care of themselves, it only meant that all her time and resources could be dedicated to her new business.
The Baker’s Nook
It has been a very satisfying one year journey for Saritha at The Baker’s Nook. She has been part of four bake sales to date, including the very prestigious Annual Bake Sale of the Home Bakers Guild in December 2014. “Each one has been a valuable experience, in terms of helping me to understand the market better and to connect with fellow bakers. My journey of learning continues as I keep upgrading my skills, in keeping with the latest market requirements and trends in the cake decorating world,” says Saritha.
In addition to cupcakes and cakes, with various kinds of decoration including fondant and sugar work, Saritha also makes a variety of baked goods. Be it healthy muffins to cookies, pies, dessert cups, dessert jars and savoury products like quiches, breads, rustic stuffed breads, buns and rolls, Saritha also has her range of dips and spreads that have become very popular. They are indeed, a healthy alternative to mayonnaise and ketchup.
Constantly on the lookout for new kinds of baked goodies, Saritha says it’s challenging to run two different ventures simultaneously, one of The Baker’s Nook and the other one of textile, leather and cosmetics testing.
“But I would not give this up for anything,” signs off Saritha.