Meet the Bakers – Nandini Sivakumar & Bhavna Rao

Lotsa Lavender – Smells fresh and relaxing – I am sure that’s how Nandini and Bhavna’s kitchens are! It’s totally amazing that we have people from varied professions getting their hands into baking and this time, let’s meet Bhavna, the dentist and Nandini, a business journalist turned author turned baker. This duo began and run Lotsa Lavender. While most of the baking is managed by Nandini, Bhavna chips in with all sorts of help – getting orders, helping pack for large orders, brainstorming on nitty-gritties of running a business, pricing etc. She also undertakes smaller orders every now and then comes up with amazing flavour combinations. Says Nandini, our newest flavour – the Paan Cake was from Bhavna’s experimentation in the kitchen.

Q: What’s the background to Lotsa Lavender? Did you girls having a childhood eating cakes and the likes?

 Nandini: I grew up in Delhi eating some of the most scrumptious Tam-Bram food. But Delhi had its effect on our daily meals and Dal-Roti was as much staple food as was Rasam, Sambhar and Curd rice! We had no oven and my mom was no baker. In fact, we were not much of a birthday celebrating family either. Birthday cakes were ordered sparingly. Our birthday sweet dish was typically rava kesari or semiya payasam. My mom also makes some awesome low-fat carrot- jaggery payasam sans any ghee or sugar. My fondest memory of cake is thanks to our Christian neighbour who made sure we got loads of homemade fruit cake for Christmas.

Bhavna: I grew up in a Maharashtrian- Brahmin Doctor family with my mom always making low cal sweets with minimum sugar, ghee n oil considering both my parents are diabetics themselves. Just like Nandini, cakes were rare at home, and there were almost no cake-cutting birthdays. My grandma used to bake plain eggless pressure cooker cakes now n then, the real inspiration towards baking n starting a venture came thro Star World and TLC. I hardly watch any TV, but when I do it’s always Masterchef, Rachel Allen’s bake, Nigella’s Christmas, Ultimate Cake off, Fabulous cakes and Choccywoccydoodah. Although I wish I could do a lot more baking, I am really glad and proud we actually started this venture off and thanks to God, the two of us are able to take our passion forward.

Q: Can you tell us more about the book you co-authored? how was the experience?

Nandini: I’d say the decision to quit my job and start working on the book was one of the best decisions I’ve taken. I wrote the book Why Onions Cry: Peek into an Iyengar Kitchen along with Vijee Krishnan. Vijee is a homemaker and an awesome cook. She was looking to compile all of their treasured family recipes into a book and came to me for the same around the time I was planning to quit my job as a correspondent in a business newspaper. I jumped right in! The book features authentic Iyengar recipes that find their place on festive and every day ‘elai saapadu’ ie. dishes served on a banana leaf during meal times. It was more than a year of hard work on every aspect of the book –from getting the proportions right to organizing the contents of the book, researching at temple libraries to figure out the impact of religion on Iyengar food, working with the designers for months to get the sort of look we wanted and to finally getting the award!
The photo-shoots were also enjoyable but back-breaking days. It was a 10-day affair, with Vijee’s dining room converted into a make-shift studio. The shoot would start at 9 in the morning and go on till 9 at night! We made all the dishes in our kitchen in large quantities to fill the gargantuan-sized traditional vessels that both Vijee and I have inherited from our own families. We also borrowed some from friends and family. We used to cook 4-5 dishes everyday to serve about 15 people – all this non-stop for 10 days!

Every recipe was tried first in Vijee’s kitchen and then in mine to ensure every ingredient was mentioned properly. We also passed on select recipes from the book to friends who were not much into cooking to check if they could turn out perfect dishes going by our method and quantities.

Q: What are you bringing to the table this bake sale?  

The girls: At Lotsa Lavender we bake only with whole grains. We don’t use maida or white sugar and avoid refined, processed ingredients altogether. We bake with whole wheat and millets and use palm sugar and jaggery for sweetening. And please don’t be under the impression that whole grain baking is any less exotic or tasty than its refined counterparts! Everything we make is fresh and made-from-scratch. Even when we make a pineapple cake (that’s rare) or a blueberry pie (rarer still), we don’t use easy-to-get canned products like pineapple slices or blueberry pie filling –we make our own. At the bake sale too, all out products are going to be whole grain and free of refined flour or sugar. Most of the products we make are vegan too, which basically means it has no butter, milk, curd, eggs or honey. The decision to bake mostly vegan was from a health point of view, more than anything else.

Our star attraction is also going to be our pure extracts – Vanilla and Almond as well as our Vanilla Bean paste. We’re also working on pure Orange, Coffee and Lemon extracts and we hope to bring samples of those for the sale.

Q: Future plans? Do you plan to open a store / perhaps get into unexplored areas of baking?

A:  We hope to make whole grain baked goods a part of everybody’s diet – be it for special occasions or every day eating. We eventually want to move out of our home kitchens and start off a quaint little bake shop, but don’t want to hand over the reins of the oven to others! We want to do the actual baking ourselves too! We’re a crazy duo.

I wish this crazy duo all the very best in their venture and I hope to be able to see you girls sometime soon. Cheers!

PS: There’s another dentist showcasing at this bake sale (who also happens to be Bhavna’s senior) More on her tomorrow 🙂 

All the best girls. Rock it.

If you want to grab all the healthy stuff and yet indulge, please visit stall # 6, at the Grand Annual Bake Sale, on Saturday, 24th Jan 2015 between 4 and 7 pm, at Spaces, #1, Elliots Beach Road, Chennai. 


2 Comments Add yours

  1. That was a wonderful account of our being journey so far! Thanks Deepa 🙂 And yes, hope to meet you soon!


  2. Anonymous says:

    Awesomeness. .. looking forward to it… would like something for my little one too as she loves wheat… 🙂


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