It was the shop fronts with their delectable display of freshly-baked baguettes, macarons and pastries that first caught Saqib Mir’s attention as he roamed the streets of Paris. The young Kashmiri had moved out of Srinagar at 18 to get away from the vortex of violence and suffering in the Valley and had started a business in handicrafts. But, he loved food and enjoyed the many culinary delights that the French capital offered. “It’s true that in a country like France, where gastronomy, and food in general, have a great place in the life of common people, it could only inspire and motivate me to learn the French savoir faire. I was particularly attracted by the windows of the bakeries. They looked so different from what I had seen in India and everything seemed so delicious,” says the 34-year-old, who was in Delhi for a three-day pop-up at Perch in Khan Market. Mir would go on to enroll for a course in bakery in 2012 and by the time he got his diploma, he knew he had found his vocation.
In 2015, along Srinagar’s Boulevard Road, Mir and his French wife Melanie opened Le Délice, the first such boulangerie in town. Like the Parisian bakeries he admired, Mir’s glass-fronted shop gave a glimpse of all that it had to offer — croissants and pain au chocolat, caneles (French pastry with a soft custard centre) and congolais (coconut biscuits) and other desserts, attractively packaged, that were made using local produce by local staff whom he had trained.
The move back to Kashmir had always been on the cards — he had longed to take his son back to the place he had come from. “Like every Kashmiri, we hope that the situation will improve; the slightest upturn makes us dream about a peaceful Kashmir. It is a beautiful place to live in and has a climate that is very suitable for baking. Also, like in France, we wanted to emphasise on eating natural and organic food,” he says. Kashmir, like France, he says, has a vast repertoire of bakes. “The famous cream roll is always on my mind. We are thinking and working towards reviving traditional Kashmiri desserts and giving them a French touch or vice versa,” he says.
Soon after he launched Le Délice, the floods in Kashmir forced him to shut shop. It took another year for Mir to open his bakery again. This time, too, the good times ended far too soon. As violence escalated in the Valley last year, it necessitated another shutdown and a move away from Srinagar “for my child, who needed to continue school in normal and safe conditions,” says Mir. The pop-up in Delhi was, in fact, to test markets and take Le Délice to other cities in India. “Chandigarh or Delhi would be ideal cities to open branches in. We are looking for investors in Delhi, while keeping open the bakery in Srinagar, of course,” he says.