Mrudula Putcha, a 32-years-old pastry chef from Hyderabad, found her true calling much later in life. She started off as an electronics engineer and even went to the US for her masters in the field. But after returning to India, fate guided her towards her true passion! Her recently opened second branch of The Humble Pie is a testament of her hard work and immense passion. We had a conversation with her about her journey over a tasty chocolate tart!
Share with us, your journey towards becoming a pastry chef.
Surprisingly, I always dreamt of being a chef. I remember discussing it openly for the first time when I was 17 but it took me another 10 years to truly materialise this dream. I went in a different direction — decided to pursue engineering and the thought of opening a cafe was buried in the back of mind.
After I finished my masters in Network engineering in The US and came back to India, I started my hunt for jobs. I was working for a telecom company overseas and I assumed I would find a similar job and settle down like one of the millions in Bangalore’s IT crowd. But as fate would have it, I did not find a job easily. After trying for a year unsuccessfully and being extremely bored at home, I decided to put this free time to good use.
I have always loved cooking and the idea of working in a commercial kitchen. However, having been brought up a vegetarian, I knew I wouldn’t really be able to work in a full-fledged kitchen so my next option was pastry. I found Lavonne Academy of Baking Science and Pastry Arts in Bangalore by chance!
I enrolled in their 6-month diploma program. At this point, I was simply trying to test the waters. I did not have any experience in it so I did not know what to expect. But the 6 months were truly amazing! I had so much fun that time simply flew by. I then went on to intern in a 5-star kitchen. The working hours and the pressure was crazy but I knew this was the industry I wanted to truly be in. I initially worked as a home baker for a few years before finally feeling confident enough to start my brand as a retail outlet. I opened my first store in HSR Layout, Bangalore in June 2018.
Tell us about your first cafe and now the opening of your second one!
Our first store is more a takeaway pastry shop, tucked in the by-lanes of HSR Layout. We did not market it, we did not even put up any hoardings inside HSR Layout. Our motto is to serve desserts with integrity. We make what we like to eat, and we make sure we make everything fresh and in small batches. While initially people were surprised with our prices, once they tasted our desserts they kept coming back. They could taste the difference between us and any other cafe/bakery. Through word-of-mouth more and more people started coming in, ordering online, calling us with inquiries for custom orders etc. This is what gave me and my team the confidence to open a second cafe. Our cafe in Koramangala opened very recently in June.
What’s the story behind the cafe’s name?
100% of the credit for the name goes to my friend Suzanne. Her brand is called Hen Fruit Oven (hen fruit = egg!). I found the name so witty and interesting, I tasked her with coming up with a name for my brand. She did not disappoint. There were some other candidates like “Pie on the sill” but we finally settled on The Humble Pie because it resonated with me. As the name suggests our desserts are humble. That’s not to say they are not tasty. We just don’t make a huge deal about describing the difficult to understand, niche terms, just to market it. We make straightforward desserts that are tasty.
No matter how fancy or simple or different something looks, what you take away at the end of the meal decides its worth. With our desserts, we hope you can taste quality ingredients, the care we take to make it and the freshness.
What draws people to ‘The Humble Pie’?
While about 65% is our desserts, the rest of the 35% is how we always make it a point to have honest conversations with our customers.
We are human after all so if we make mistakes but we own up and make up for it. If a customer asks us for recommendations for other good dessert places, we will give them. If they want to know what goes into our desserts, we tell them. And because of this a lot of our regular customers have become our friends. If I am sitting at the cash counter, sometimes customers walking past will wave at me/my staff. We are slowly creating a community!
How has your upbringing influenced your work?
To be honest my upbringing in a middle-class Telugu family is as far away from pastry culture as you can imagine! How I chose engineering in the beginning reflects a major part of my upbringing. But I cannot deny roots do mould us into becoming who we are. My roots taught me to be sincere, kind to those that work with me, honest in what I make and sell. When I worked in commercial kitchens I was appalled at how little the kitchen staff made, the crazy hours they worked and how underappreciated they are by the higher-ups and owners. When I decided to go my own way, I also decided in adapting some core values of understanding and kindness. My chefs strictly work 8-hour shifts with breaks. I have promised them that as the brand grows, so will their salaries. And we all treat each other kindly and with love like you would treat friends and family. If you are angry/upset, it reflects in whatever you create but because we are all creating with joy that reflects in our desserts.
What is your range of pastries?
We sell brownies, cheesecakes, pies, tarts and now we will be selling beverages including curated beans to create our coffees in our newest store! Our best-selling dessert till date, beating others by huge margins, is our scrumptious baked cheesecake. The cheesecake specialty is that we serve it with your pick of homemade jams and toppings 100% made from scratch. We never use pre-mixes and preservatives and try to stick to seasonal flavours. Everything is made in small batches (really small batches!) to make sure it meets our quality standards.
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