“Chocolate is an emotion,” says Varun Inamdar, and rightly so. Everyone has a special relation with chocolates; a memory, a story. But Inamdar saw chocolates as something more and took it to a place few have. It does not, then, come as a surprise that he is known as the ‘Prince of Chocolates’. He is the brand ambassador of Ecuadorian cocoa in India, the goodwill ambassador of India cocoa, a recipient of two National Awards, and a Guinness World Record holder. The chef tells LuxeBook all about his adventures in the world of chocolates.
Tell us about your foray into the world of chocolates?
I have always said that I never wanted to be a chef. All I wished was to be is in the kitchen. That statement, over the years, has taken a life of its own and has been received, perceived and used in a lot of ways. People make it sound like “a boy from a small town now a celebrity chef.” Well, today when I am known as ‘The Prince of Chocolates’, brand ambassador of Ecuadorian cocoa in India, goodwill ambassador of Indian cocoa, represent India on International forums as an official speaker, two National Awards on my shelf, Guinness World Record holder for the world’s largest chocolate mud pie it all looks as if I am living someone else’s life. I have always been a hard core kitchen chef, with no chocolate around me. But life had other plans. I was literally entrusted in the pastry department without knowing a thing. I had no choice. I learned the ropes with my head down handling the managerial jobs too, because I was very good at that. That day I made a promise of winning all awards pertaining to this. I was too adventurous with my goals, but I am happy I worked towards it. So, that was my entry into the chocolate world.
What is the most challenging project you’ve ever taken up? And which one are you most proud of?
My Guinness World Record should by far be the most challenging thing I have ever taken up, and of course, the one I am most proud of. It all started when I was a child. My father for my 8th birthday had gifted me the Guinness Book of World Records. I was so fascinated by the winners that I told myself there could be nothing bigger than that. I slept that night with the book on my bed. I had no plans of being a part of it ever. But sometimes you outlive your dreams. An event organiser approached me to put up a concurrent show. Me being me, I suggested we create a world record.
After a year of planning, baking small batches, working on the maths, travelling to Udwada to get the mould and the oven fabricated, the hunt for collaborators and helpers began. On D-day, it was like the making of a dramatic movie. At 2 am, after working for 18 hours non-stop, we cracked the golden number of 3000 pounds! The fork lift that was on board to lift the pie from the working area to the oven finally lifted me. We rejoiced, cried and celebrated the moment.
What is the story behind your brand Barcode?
I had been to Vietnam years ago to represent India as a chocolatier. I wasn’t the most watched out name on the list, forget being the star! They all thought why a country with no solid cocoa history had a representing chef. I had 15 minutes to speak and my speech moved them and changed their perception towards India’s cocoa. I had been working on a special project for almost 12 years because it was supposed to be detailed, in-depth and well researched. It was time I brought it to life. I came back to Mumbai and started work on the same.
That is how ‘BARCODE – Artisanal Chocolates’ was born. Barcode is all about India. It is a handmade box made from khadi and when you open it, it has a little story about Gandhiji and the role of the natural fibre in our freedom struggle. The box has 29 artisanal chocolate bars that use single-origin chocolates from across the globe. Each bar represents an Indian state. I created this as a private label. Whenever I am invited to meet any foreign dignitary, leader, celebrated star and/or an icon, I carry the box. Over the years, it has been gifted to 51 Prime Ministers and Presidents, including Barack Obama, Nicholas Sarkozy, Vladimir Putin, tycoons like Richard Branson, Indra Nooyi, superstars like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, His Holiness Pope Francis and others.
What are some of the marketing strategies do you most rely on?
I don’t rely on strategies at all. I am a chef and not a marketing guru. I keep it simple – taste, flavour, look, mouth feel and memories. Everything cannot be just about strategies. Food loses its essence when attached to strategies. It has to move you. That’s it. Chocolate is emotion. Chocolate doesn’t need marketing. When emotions are attached to marketing, the charm is lost. I don’t know whether I should say this or not, but I have not spent a dime on PR and marketing ever.
Where do you source ingredients from?
My ingredients come from around the country and straight from the source. What excites me are ingredients like Lakadong Turmeric, Black Cardamom, Fenugreek, Carom seeds, Kokum fruit petals. One, because it is daring and adventurous to pair them with chocolates and they are flavour profiles that no one has used in the world. People are busy with caramel, chilli, cinnamon, coffee and the likes. Be different.
How has chocolate consumption evolved in India?
India, for the longest time, was known as a milk chocolate-eating country. Gradually, as the travel sector opened up, people’s tastes evolved and single-origin cocoa, artisanal and gourmet chocolates became popular. India is a difficult market for anybody to crack because of the varied demographics and the country’s size. It is also extremely price sensitive. You cannot impress Indian clients just with a story or a marketing strategy. Here, taste is given importance.
What would you like to say to the many aspiring chocolatiers in the country today?
Everyone must chart their own journey. Successful or non-successful, they must all dare. Heroes are born, when opportunities are created. I did not have a godfather in the industry. I dared. I followed my passion. And that’s why I am what I am – big or small is for the world to decide. I feel like a perpetual beginner and that’s why the learning never ceases. Lastly, don’t follow others. Believe in your instincts.