If you have wondered how some of the finest culinary minds in business wok their muse from paper to plate, this new series takes you behind the burner for a peek. This month: Chef Dhruv Oberoi of Olive Bar & Kitchen waxes eloquence on his new dessert creation, the Moringa Matcha Mille Feuille. 

By Madhulika Dash

Much like fashion, food too is all about taking inspiration from the old and making something new. 

If there is one segment of cuisine that proves this famous saying, it is the desserts. Since the beginning of cooking history, desserts or sweets have followed the suit to perfection. Each older classic has been the muse behind a fresh innovation. And one dessert that has probably inspired most in the recent years has been the French pastry called Mille Feuille. Or as it was once poetically referred to as gâteau de mille feuilles, or “cake of a thousand leaves.”

Interestingly, the thousand leaves though an exaggeration, says Chef Dhruv Oberoi of Olive Kitchen & Bar, was a classic ode to not just the intensive technique that led to the creation to this wafer thin sheets that would melt in the mouth, but also the desserts itself that is even today described as flaky, moody, crumbly, and certainly a technique that is hard to perfect – which in my years of work I can tell you takes time not just to come to a recipe that can produce the same result time and again, but the flakiness with which you can work with it.”

For the dessert specialist Chef Oberoi, perfecting the Mille Feuille through the years has been a curious mix of both passion for desserts and a keen observation of the techniques that are used at home to create some of the equally fascinating sweets like khaja and sutar feni – each, he says, “a brilliant example of techniques that can turn wheat into this amazing treat.”

But where the French/Italian pastry, which is said to have originated around the 17th century, aces to others is the composition. Even when you look at the most basic presentation of the Mille Feuille, which traditionally was three pastry sheets layered in between with pastry cream and dusted with icing sugar on the top,  says Chef Oberoi, “it looks ritzy and has this mischievous quality of a stunning thriller. This simple yet clever presentation opens a new playground of presenting ingredients, techniques, and a chefs’ flair for creativity. And it is that quality that made Mille Feuille such a brilliant muse behind some of the finest dessert recreation and presentation.” 

The Ambiguous Origin 

Which brings us to the question as to which version of Mille Feuille did create such ripples in the world of desserts? After all, if history is to be seen, the desserts’ origin is mired in debate. While some believe it was created by François Pierre de La Varenne, in 1651, and finds mention in the early popular cooks’ books published around the time. Then there is the theory of how the dessert that was made in honour of Napoleon – though it is hugely contested today whether it was for the emperor or the place, with opinions preferring the latter. And then there is famous pastry chef Adolphe Seugnot, who claimed that the modern presentation of Mille Feuille was his signature creation, who changed it from being a simple custard/vanilla slice to the wonderment it is today. Other sources credit it to French chef, Vincent La Chapelle, who changed the pastry cream recipe to marmalade for his cookbook- and was among the first to showcase how versatile the custard slice could be. 

As per Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food, mille-feuille could have been inspired from the Hungarian dessert, Szegediner Torte. Created by Austrian pastry chef Jozsef C. Dobos, this 19th century creation uses crepe-thin slices of cake to create the layered structure with chocolate ganache as filling in between and a caramel glaze. 

For Chef Oberoi however, the more likeable story of the modern-day version of Mille Feuille is the one that was created by Chef Marie Antoine Carême, world’s first celebrity chef and the father of grande cuisine. When it came to rethinking classic or giving it that grandiose, says the seasoned pastry expert, “few could match what Chef Carême did during his years as one of the most celebrated chefs of the French dining space. And one such dessert that he redefined with his touch, and in doing so transformed it into this brilliant platform for experimentation was the famous Mille Feuille. It was his touch that the layers become more delicate, the filling and glaze more nuanced to include even fruits.”

Making of The Moringa Matcha Mille Feuille 

So when the slow food advocate began researching on the new ingredients to incorporate into his dessert repertoire, following the food steps of the celebrated chef was a given – and the muse of choice became the all-loved Mille Feuille as it, says Chef Oberoi, “was the perfect mode to not only create a dessert with interesting taste and textures but also a showcase that showed each and every ingredient in the most unique way. 

After months spend on R&D of the ingredients during which Chef Oberoi zeroed on moringa powder instead of fresh leaves for better consistency and control on the bitter taste, and the choice of sake to give that sharp contrast that elevates the flavours of the matcha tea and moringa, the locavore chef began working on his version of the Mille Feuille. 

It was while researching on the famous French-Italian pastry that I chanced upon the creation of two very interesting Indian sweets that though do not adhere to the French technique have the same palate effect. One of which was khaja and another, adds Chef Oberoi, “saptapuri. Both use the technique of layering thin sheets and then re-rolling to not just create these flaky sheets but that crisp, melt in mouth feel.”

That awareness completely changed the storyboard for Chef Oberoi, who instead of adhering to the stacked rectangular shape went for an oval shape that allowed for a floral presentation of the sweet he aptly titled, “Aroma of The Hills.” 

True to the name, Chef Oberoi’s Mille Feuille uses a matcha and moringa power infused Chantilly cream, with yuzu curd which “I like to alternate with Gondhoraj lemon zest” and finished with sake ice cream dollops, which during season is changed with ice cream made with palm nectar. Thus, giving the dessert an unforgettable lightness and after bite aroma with the signature grande richness one associates with the French pastry.