For Zeba Kohli, the chocolate specialist of India, her lessons in chocolate-making began at home. Her grandfather, A. Fazelbhoy, founded Fantasie Fine Chocolates in 1946, in Mumbai. And, once Kohli, a third-generation successor, took charge of the brand at a tender age of 18, Fantasie in no time became every chocolate lover’s favourite.
Kohli’s profile is near to boundless; besides being a full-time chocolatier, chocolate consultant and an entrepreneur, she has written three books on chocolates and is also the host of a first-of-its-kind chocolate show on Living Foodz Gimme Chocolate, where she chats with the who’s who of the entertainment industry.
Beginning her chocolate chapter
As a child, Kohli was very fond of science; physics in particular and chocolates. Eventually, she was drawn to the family business. “I remember going to my nana’s office as a baby along with my mother. While I hung around at the shop, I learnt about chocolates, its smell, the various types of it.”
As her college phase approached, instead of pursuing science, Kohli took admission in HR College to study business and regularly visited her mother in the Fantasie office to learn the nuances of chocolates. “I believe things are always meant to be. I even met my husband Rajesh in college and eventually ended up becoming an entrepreneur and then a chocolatier by default.” Everything that she knows today has been learnt on the job.
Now 54, Kohli is as active and innovative with her fervour for chocolates as ever. Every year, she travels to a city in India or in Switzerland, Liechtenstein or Singapore to pursue certification courses in chocolate tasting and baking. 25 years ago, she also launched the popular Swiss chocolate brand Lindt in India.
India’s chocolate palate
The taste palate of chocolate in India is gradually evolving, but as Kohli says, there is still a long way to go before Indians start embracing authentic dark chocolates. “For us Indians, brought up on sweets like sheer khurma, sewaiyan and halwa, ‘sweets’ essentially means meetha. Chocolate for many has been milk-based or staple Dairy Milks and Five Stars.”
But she has observed the palate changing in metro cities, where artisanal bakeries and boutiques are being established. People in these places are regularly consuming content on different platforms and discovering the existence of dark, healthy, organic chocolates that have about 70-80 per cent of dark cocoa and significantly minimal sugar content. “Over the last decade, I have specialised in dark, no-sugar, organic chocolates because people these days like to customise their sweet baskets just like how they like to customise their clothes.”
Local artisanal chocolate makers
“It is amazing to see the boom of artisanal brands in India today because consumers need to have options.” Nevertheless, chocolates in India are at a nascent stage, Kohli believes that the world is an oyster and there is enough space for everybody to have their own brands. “It is not a competition. As long as you have a beautiful basket of top-quality, tasty products at a good price point, you’re going to do well.”
Her own fantastic legacy
Steering back to creating a legacy for Fantasie Fine Chocolates, Kohli was always completely involved in all verticals of the brand. “It was always my passion and never a business drive. I was able to expand from one store to six locations, an online shop, takeaways, deliveries and even, personally, customising chocolates for families and large-scale events.” Not only this, but she also trains renowned mithaiwalas on how to make premium mithais by incorporating chocolate, caramel and flavours of fresh fruits and dry fruits, and has privately labelled for Cadburys and many airlines.
Fantasie’s bestsellers include the original mint and cream fondant, homemade marzapanes, cookies and dry fruit chocolates. One of Kohli’s personal favourites is the hand-rolled truffles that she made after tasting them on a trip overseas when she was 19.
“I love eating and experimenting with flavours. From Indian spices to tea leaves and vegetable/fruit compote, I have tried and fused everything with chocolates.” She adds, “Around 15 years ago, I made Wasabi ganaches for a Japanese family friend who had relocated to Mumbai for work. They were absolutely stunned!”
Kohli sums up and says that this sense of experimenting and being open to new palate doesn’t come from any book; it all comes from the gut, creativity and passion.