You asked, here it is: How it started
I have been M.I.A. blogwise, lately, I know. I’ve been super busy slinging curry at Rangoli, making plans, and pumping out caramels. Things are progressing quicker that I can anticipate, so apologies for the lag in rhythm.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m using this blog primarily as a way to document my journey as “the candid confectioner,” so the next handful of posts will likely be retrospective. Who doesn’t like a trip down memory lane? I do…a habit that I have inherited from my very sentimental father. Let’s start from the beginning.
As most of you have likely heard my boss, Vikram Vij (pictured above in one of his infamous tunics), is going to be one of the new dragons on Dragon’s Den. Folks, that dragon is the one who, in the middle of a busy lunch service, told me to sell them at Rangoli’s in-house market. Two Christmases ago I wanted to make something for everyone at work. Why caramels I can honestly not remember, though I imagine that it had something to do with missing these amazing apple spice caramels that I used to look forward to getting at one of my favourite local spots, Finch’s Tea House. I did not grow up with handmade candy, but something about unwrapping that treat and savouring it after my usual blue brie and prosciutto sandwich gave me a sense of odd nostalgia. Before I settled on caramels however, I consulted the ladies who are behind the awesome food at Rangoli. Raj, one of my favourites, replied “no, we don’t like caramels.” I had a feeling that she had no idea what I was talking about and having had some of their own homemade sweets, I was sure they didn’t know what they were missing.
In general, I have never taken no for an answer very well. Determined, I looked up caramel recipes. I came across an earl grey one and thought, “if I can use earl grey, why not Chai?” I went to work, and went through a few batches of wasted caramel before I was satisfied with the product.
The next day, I brought a mason jar with a label saying “To all you lovely Rangolites: Merry Christmas!” and offered them first to the ladies. Raj looked at them with a sense of doubt, nodded with thanks, and went back to her mise en place. Dejected, I went on to open the restaurant. A while later I went to the pass to grab a caramel, but the jar was missing. Out came Raj, cradling the jar in her arms with a huge smile on her face (Raj is always shy about smiling presumably due to her gap teeth, but I’ve always thought that she was absolutely gorgeous). Bindu, one of my other favourites, came up to me and exclaimed, “Stephanie! Sooooo tasty! I ate TWO!” In that moment, I felt super proud. Every day, the ladies make me food as if they were cooking for their own daughter. For the first time, I made something for them that they enjoyed.
Perhaps I got a little cocky after that. Normally, I say very little to Vikram other than “hello,” “lunch was good,” “sorry, I’ll get it done,” and “Vikram, someone would like you to sign their cookbook and take a picture.” That night, as he walked in, I perked up and offered him a caramel. His response? “Stephanie! Do I look like I need a caramel?! I’m trying to lose weight!” I murmured “erm…ok, have a good night” and went home. I shook my head at myself for being so silly as to offer a celebrity chef my homemade candies. In fact, I even had a sigh of relief because I felt that maybe I had saved myself from embarrassment at having Vikram consume a mediocre creation.
The next day, we had a crazy lunch service. At around 12:30, when shit was hitting the fan, Vikram came in, pointed to the bar area (where the jar of caramels was) and yelled, with those crazy green eyes, “STEPHANIE!” My face went red, and my heart jumped to my throat. I thought, “ah shit! what did I do?!” He continued, “those caramels, ARE FUCKING KILLER! I took TWO! And brought some home for my kids!” Caught in my initial reaction, I asked, “What? Is that good?” He replied, “They’re awesome. You should sell them in the market!” Gobsmacked, I stared at the food that I was about to run from the pass. Bindu yelled, “Steph! Wake up! Cheti Cheti! (quickly!)”
I didn’t think Vikram was at all serious. There was no way someone like him would think something that I made was “fucking killer.” I laid it to rest. But apparently, he was as serious as he was about curry. And I thought, what the hell else am I doing with my life right now? Mike Bernardo, Director of Operations and Wine Director at Vij’s (and this year’s Sommelier of the Year!!!) generously helped me set it all up while his partner, Carole Morton (my absolute life saver) helped me come up with the branding. Within months, I was up and running, making caramels in the corner of the Vij’s kitchen on two small burners. Last I checked, the caramels are one of the best sellers in the market next to the naan bread, not skipping a beat in sales from the first week they landed on the shelf.
You won’t see me on Dragon’s Den or Recipe to Riches anytime soon, asking Vikram to invest. I am much too shy for that. Frankly, letting me take on this opportunity was something I never expected, and I’m learning things I never thought I would learn. I am exhausted and terrified most of the time, but I have a feeling that that’s a good thing, otherwise my gut would have said no (a no that I would have taken) a long time ago. My friends, colleagues and new-found community, who have been nothing but supportive and encouraging, have a lot to do with that nagging urge to keep going.
Thanks guys. And thanks to Vikram, who decided that he did need a caramel after all.