I infuse art into my food: Vinesh Johny, Co-Founder, Lavonne Academy, spins magic out of sugar, cream and flour on a world stage
Imagine a menu replete with gorgeous desserts, swirls of fresh cream, a spoonful of sugar, crisp praline and buttery icing. Take this sweet fantasy further by adding a dollop of blueberry compote, chocolate ganache and salted caramel. Do desserts like these exist? Yes, they do. You would find them in a patisserie called the Lavonne Academy of Baking Science and Pastry Art and its café, situated in the heart of Indiranagar in Bengaluru.
So, whether it is a Mississippi Mud cake or an apple crumble that you want to savour or a banoffee pie that you are suddenly hankering for, this is the place to head to when hunger strikes. At tea time, if you want a quick pick-me-up, you could check out their lemon blueberry cakes or a rose tea cake, topped with dried rose petals. What’s more, Lavonne offers all these bakes and then some, on most days of the week.
YS Weekender caught up with Asia's top pastry chef, Vinesh Johny, co-founder of Lavonne, the one stop bake academy-café-patisserie to find out all about his entrepreneurial journey, the challenges he faced on the way and where he is at now. Was it easy? How did such culinary wizardry happen?
Let’s start at the very beginning, he says.
Where it began
The first step to big things starts with passion. “My brother used to cook and I loved to watch him,” says Vinesh, adding, “I always loved to eat too, which is why I spent a lot of time in the kitchen,” he says.
His interest in cooking began in those kitchens of his childhood. “It used to be basic foods those days. We would play around with everyday home-style food, trying to do something new and fun out of it,” he remembers.
Back then, there were very few restaurants in Bengaluru and very few that were deemed legendary. I still remember how excited my brother and I used to get, every time my dad took us for ice-cream to Lakeview Milk Bar, or Koshy’s for Sunday breakfast and, of course, The Only Place, for steak. But when it comes to comfort food, nothing beats my mum's cooking. Anything she puts on the plate, I’ll gladly devour!”
Koshy's was Vinesh's favourite breakfast haunt as a child
The idea of Lavonne came to him when he was pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management at Christ College.
“In 2008, I wanted to pursue an advanced-level baking course but at that point in time, there were no such courses in India. That was when I realised that there was a void in the Indian market, when it came to teaching pastry making and for high-level baking.”
Vinesh and his pet dog, Mila
After graduating from culinary school, Vinesh worked with The Oberoi Group of Hotels and Starwood Hotels & Resorts, in their respective pastry kitchens. In 2012, he set up Lavonne Academy.
Vinesh got into desserts mainly because of his professor and co-founder, Chef Avin Thaliath.
“I was trying to find my footing during those early days,” he remembers. “I tried all kinds of culinary arts and bartending, before finally settling into pastry. Lavonne was designed as a centre for learning baking sciences and pastry arts. “My aim was to offer world class pastry education that is affordable.”
Vinesh takes a class for his students
From a small space and ad-hoc batches, Lavonne has grown to a strong, self-sustaining, vibrant ecosystem of pastry professionals, from the amateur to the expert.
Today, its USP is the ecosystem it has set up. “You are sure to find great food, talent, learning, and art at any given time here,” he says. “From Chef Marco Pierre White, to Sarah Todd, to Pooja Dhingra and the many visiting Chefs, we have great learning available for the students, and for us as well!”
In 2017, Vinesh was chosen by the Government of India to be the World Skills Expert, officially representing the country in the international arena for skilled Olympics in the realm of Pastry. “It was held in Abu Dhabi and we won our first ever Silver medal during the championship,” he says.
This year, the competition will be just as difficult. They will be participating again in August 2019, in both the Bakery and Pastry contests. The competition is in Kazan, Russia.
In 2016, Vinesh was featured on the first-ever 'Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia' in the Arts category. He was a part of the 'Forbes All Star Alumni' for the year 2017 and again this year.
When asked about these special honours, Vinesh says, “This recognition is an honour and serves as a validation for all the great work we are doing.”
According to Vinesh, there are many skills and techniques that a chef needs to master before becoming a seasoned baker.
“If I had to pick three skills, I would say, the first would be learning to temper chocolate, understand dough lamination, and learn all about piping and completing a cake.”
Vinesh believes that desserts should be simple, clean and delicious
Vinesh says he enjoys making desserts that are simple, clean and delicious. “My desserts have to be in flavours that my customers can relate to and want to buy every day. I present them with a more modern contemporary look to enhance the overall experience.”
Shows and showbiz
The idea of cooking shows is not as new as we would think as the TV show, Khana Khazaana began in the 90s and was a source of inspiration for many home-cooks.
“The difference today is in terms of access to a variety of sources, ingredients, and cuisines,” explains Vinesh. “The cooking shows of the past helped us understand techniques but the shows today, explore variety.”
This means it is a two-fold impact these days. Not only are consumer palates getting more refined and open to exploring multiple options, the F&B industry now has to freedom to explore as well.
“No longer is there a worry that an internationally inspired outlet will take a revenue hit because they don’t serve butter chicken,” he observes. “In the field of desserts, this means I get to play with subtle flavours, infuse art into my food, and not worry too much about the lack of a desi touch.”
Make the perfect dessert
A dessert is nothing more than flour, butter, eggs, sugar, some flavour and a huge helping of art and aesthetic, explains Vinesh.
“It stands to reason that anyone can create great desserts, but the field of pastry and dessert is as much heart as it is, the brain. You can always follow a recipe, but the key to creating magic is to make it your own.”
His tips for making the perfect dessert are:
· Never let go of love, passion, and respect for your art
· Recognise your style of work and elevate it as much as possible
· Keep learning and practising, even the things you have already perfected
· Write down every thought and idea that comes to your mind
· Never be afraid to try something that's never been done before
When he is not working, Vinesh looks forward to going home and spending time with his family and his dog, Mila. Apart from this, fitness also occupies a big part of his day.
“I love spending time at the gym,” he says. “When I get a breather, I take off with some of my biker buddies to cool off on the open roads.”
Vinesh loves to go biking with his buddies
His final advice for all aspiring bakers, chefs, and food entrepreneurs is about learning. “Invest wisely in quality ingredients and equipment. Without these, your end product is always at risk. Creativity stops when the will to learn does.”