What began as a hobby when I was 14 years old soon germinated into a deeply passionate adventure. From the little girl that baked her first cake in a pressure cooker to the person/chef I am today, my journey has been shaped by the various people I’ve met along the way. After all, where would we be if it weren’t for the people that we look up to, the ones who have mentored us and the ones that continue to inspire us.

The foundation of my baking knowledge was laid early on, thanks to my Nani. During one summer break, she taught me how to caramelise almonds and coat them in chocolate. The gorgeous aromas of toasted nuts, molten chocolate and the slow-burning sugar were so intoxicating that they still linger in my memories.

As a child when someone asked me what I want to do when I grow up, with a very enthusiastic and confident nod, I’d say that I want to start my own chocolate factory and bake cakes!

From then to now, I have come across many gurus that have taught me life lessons and shaped my journey. As a pastry chef, chocolatier or even an entrepreneur here is what I have come to learn and realise.

It is imperative that you never let the fear of failing stop you from trying. It is better to give it your all and pursue your passions.

Be Resilient

My grandma had to escape from Lahore to Ahmedabad with three children when India and Pakistan were divided. To sustain her family, she started cooking, baking and teaching home science. She loved gardening. She would grow vegetables in her garden and ferment them into pickles for sale.

I used to visit her in the summer holidays and together we would make carrot halwa cake out of carrots growing in the garden. She was the one that pushed my parents into letting me follow my dreams and become a pastry chef and chocolate maker. She is the embodiment of a woman’s strength in my life and I aspire to be tough and resilient like her.

Be Curious

Living in France, among some of the most renowned patisseries and chocolatiers, my passion became more than an obsession, almost a way of life. Pierre Herme, Christophe Michalak, Claire Clark are some of the names that continuously inspire me.

I remember a time when I was adding finishing touches to a few desserts for service at Pierre Hermé’s boutique, when I heard someone comment from behind me, “C’est a la folie! C’est magnifique!” meaning “Bravo, Sanjana! As an internee, you’ve done an amazing job on the decoration”. 

‘A la folie’ was an expression for something exceptional, magnificent and madness in a good way. This stuck with me as I realised that no job is too small and there is much to learn from even the smallest tasks.

Learn to Survive

Life is not a bed of roses. In all honesty, the hospitality and pastry industry is not the same for men as it is for women. You have to be tough and passionate. You have to take charge and be a good leader. But more than anything, you need to learn how to push through. There are many women today that are beacons for other women aspiring to showcase their talent in this industry. I myself look up so many of them.

Even with the current situation today, businesses and start-ups need to focus on survival. Making profits and sticking to plans is no longer an option today. You need to have good survival instincts.

Try New Things

I remember the first time I ever taught a class. No one had the slightest idea, but I was terribly nervous. I also remember when I first went to France to learn more about French pastry. Things don’t always turn out the way you want them to. People don’t always treat you like you think they will. Situations that you have dreamed of can also sometimes get scary when you are in the moment. It is imperative that you never let the fear of failing stop you from trying. It is better to give it your all and pursue your passions. What’s the worst that can happen? You might disappoint some people. But if you never try and you let your fear get the best of you, someday you will end up disappointing yourself.

So always be open to taking up new challenges. Today, as I look back to the first time I ever tried something new, I am without any regrets.

Team Work

Cheesy as it may sound, team work makes the dream work. My time with Chef Michalak at The Plaza taught me the importance of teamwork. While you could be the best pastry chef in the world, when you are in a busy kitchen prepping for service, it is like a beautiful live orchestra. You must be in sync with your team. Each one makes the music better for the entire audience. The absence of even one musician does not go unnoticed.

As your team grows, so do you. By delegating tasks and believing in your employees you give them a chance to understand where their strengths lie and that allows them to become better at their work.

The most important thing that budding entrepreneurs and aspiring pastry chefs need to realise is that not every day will be sunny. Creativity and ideas don’t flow like water out of a tap. You will have good days and bad. It is only when you endure the bad, do you recognise and appreciate the good. Never, ever give up.


  • Sanjana Patel is Co-Founder, Creative Director and Executive Chef at La Folie, where she manages their luxury segment. She is currently responsible for production operations and creative direction for the brands La Folie Du Chocolat and La Folie Lab. The passion that drove her to build the brand is a reflection of her love for the art of beautiful, hand-crafted French chocolates and pâtisserie.  Sanjana’s journey is an aptly sweet one and started at an early age. After receiving graduate degrees in Food Management in London and Chocolate Technology in Germany, she moved to France to explore her creative side at Ecole Grégoire Ferrandi in Paris, one of the most respected pastry and chocolate art schools in the world. At 22, Sanjana started as an apprentice at Pierre Hermé, and soon become the first Indian chef to have worked in their labotoire, assisting in the recipe development at Vaugirard. This was followed by other stints with talents such as Jean-Charles Rochoux, Patrick Roger and Olivier Bajard, she donned the role of the Chief of Chocolate Production under Chef Camille Lesecq at Hotel Le Meurice. She moved on to Hotel Plaza Athénée in the Dorchester Collection, under Chef Christophe Michalak and Chef Alain Ducasse. With seven years of invaluable experience in France under her belt, Sanjana returned to India, where she soon became known as the first Indian Pastry chef to be making a real difference to the way pastry and confectionary was looked at and approached, in India. Her passion for her craft and expertise as a flavour artist resonates in every creation at La Folie. Over the years, she has received national and global accolades. She was crowned India’s Pastry Queen in 2015 and ranked as the 4th Best Pastry Chef globally at the World Pastry Queen Competition in 2016. Her domestic and international successes only serve to spur her creativity further, as she creates her unique avant–garde, couture-style French delicacies, which have earned her titles like ‘The Scientist’, ‘Game Changer’ and ‘The Original.’ Now, she has embarked on a journey to create chocolate from its origin – the bean. She travelled to cacao farms across four continents to source fine flavour cacao for creating unique blends of couverture chocolate. She shares her adventures at La Folie’s small batch Bean to Bar Chocolate Factory and Café in Mahalaxmi, Mumbai, which also houses The Classroom, a state-of-the-art studio for immersive cooking and interactive learning.