Zeba Kohli on culture, legacy and all things chocolate

Queen of luxury chocolate in India, Zeba Kohli tells Tsunami Costabir about growing up with chocolate, incorporating it with tradition and making it her own!

Zeba Kohli is a third-generation entrepreneur of ‘Fantasie’ – a pioneer of chocolate in India – and a first-generation Chocolatier. She is the host of ‘Gimme Chocolate’ on Zee TV and has three cookbooks credited to her name, with more in the pipeline. Zeba is a professional chocolate taster, consultant and expert. Firmly rooted in her Indian traditions and a mother of two, we figured, who better to talk about culture, tradition and experimenting with chocolate than the chocolate queen herself?!

A sweet story
Chocolate has a remarkable history. Dating back to 450 BC, when people used to make fermented beverages out of cacao. Cacao seeds were believed to be a gift from Quetzalcoatl, the God of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency.

Chocolate gained popularity in India during World War II when it was given as a ration to soldiers. The southern parts of India have the appropriate climate to harvest cocoa, and so the production and consumption of chocolate blew up – India is a land that takes its sweets seriously.

Carrying on a legacy
Zeba’s Nanaji, as part of many of his business ventures, founded the exclusive chocolate shop ‘Fantasie’ in 1946. Initially, Fantasie was womencentric with the aim to skill and empower underprivileged women. Zeba takes pride in holding up that vision even today, upskilling and empowering women and men from all walks of life. “We want to have a space for everyone at Fantasie,” she says. “I took it under my wing to encourage people’s strengths rather than weaknesses by skilling them with guidance through my friends, colleagues, international chefs and myself. I want them to enjoy all the privileges Fantasie can afford.”

The festive connection

Moving on… since chocolate and festivals are an unmatched combination, we ask Zeba about her festive chocolate traditions… She shares, I have a very cherished memory of Diwali with my Nana, who taught me to write with a wooden quill dipped in saffron water. I would copy whatever he wrote and sprinkle crushed rice grains on it. When I asked him the meaning, he would say, “Diwali me hum naya chopada kholte hai” (We open new accounting books on Diwali). I was too young to understand its significance, but I could sense the celebration in the air! After that, I would run down to the chocolate shop to pick up baskets of chocolate for everyone at the office… I was the messiah of good times!

“I would run down to the chocolate shop to pick up baskets of chocolate for everyone at the office!” “Our stories of sweets, food and gifting have passed down generations and, over time, we try to recreate that same magic in our own way.”

“Keeping that energy of looking forward to new beginnings and closing up old chapters is my daily mantra. I wake up focused and positive. Everything gives me energy – the sunlight, flora, fauna and knowing that I have a legacy to uphold. What I love about Indian culture is the foundation we get. Celebrations are done with prayer, havans, mithai and gifting! Opening your doors to welcome neighbours, family, friends and people who’ve made a difference in your life – giving them a box of sweets or just a sweet message… It’s such a rich culture to be part of!”

“The product you get from fusing exquisite Indian mithai with some exquisite chocolate is something to marvel at. You do it for drama, for tradition, for taste and most importantly, because you can!”

A dash of chocolate

“Our stories of sweets, food and gifting have passed down generations and, over time, we try to recreate that same magic in our own way. My keen desire to uphold my Nana’s historic chocolate journey has led me all over the world – unravelling their unique, territorial delicacies. And what I’ve learnt is the beauty in fusing and infusing international flavours into sweets and chocolate. People like to experience the world of flavours and decide for themselves what suits and doesn’t suit their palate.

“Make your creation your own – incorporate whatever you like, make it healthy, make it natural, choose your favourite type of chocolate, source the best ingredients for your palate and taste, and have fun with it!”

Do-it-yourself

I love empowering home cooks. With the right technique and guidance, your fantastic creation is not so far away! Here are two simple and amazing recipes that you can try :

PETHA CHOCOLATE SHEETS
Ingredients
200 gm chocolate
60 gm Agra ka petha, chopped

Method

  1. Melt and temper chocolate and pour onto a lined tray.
  2. Cool for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove from the fridge and garnish with Agra ka petha.
  4. Put it back in the fridge to cool for 25 minutes. Serve.

Note: Dark chocolate pairs really well with Agra ka petha. But if you are craving sweeter milk chocolate, it tastes great too.

CHOCOLATE SHELLS WITH RABDI
Ingredients
24-piece chocolate mould(s)
250 gm chocolate (dark/ milk/ ruby/ blonde)
150 gm fresh rabdi Method

  1. Melt the chocolate using a double boiler method and pour it into the mould(s) to create hollow shells. Allow it to set.
  2. Demould the shells and fill them with chilled rabdi.
  3. Garnish with nuts, cranberries, or any crystallised fruit of your choice.

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