A post graduate in Chemistry and an international business management degree in hand, the CEO of Arkay Productions, is now doing what she loves doing the most. Madurai born Krithika Radhakrishnan started baking as a hobby for friends and family and is today baking professionally for her brand Arkay Cravings and Rich Yumm Bakes. She started her career in television through AVM Productions’ Mangaiyar choice and then appeared in the weekly Suvaio Suvai on Kalaignar Television channel where she pioneered in microwave cooking.

She then started her own production company Arkay productions and started producing cookery and health shows for DD Podhigai. Apart from this, she has also played a very active role in several social activities like in the districts that she has been with her husband Dr. J Radhakrishnan who served as District collector from 2001 to 2005 in Salem, Sivagangai, Thanjavur and Nagapatinam. Krithika has received the Sevai Semmal award for woman related issues from APC Mahalakshmi College in 2005, Homeprenuer award for Media Entertainment from Brand Avatar in 2018, the AVM Mangaiyar Choice award for the 1000th episode on Sun TV, besides many other big awards and accolades. She has also authored many cookery and nutrition related books.

When and how was your first tryst with food and baking? What are your earliest kitchen memories?
I started my television shows in 2000. It was telecast in Sun News Channel. The first dish I showcased was a Black Forest cake. The program was about how a busy man can bake a Black Forest cake easily. It was a popular cake in those days and it still is. It was my first demo and I was very fond of baking and also loved eating it. I started baking a lot after that for my son at home. Now I have started reaching out to people and doing customised cakes. I use the best of ingredients and designs for every customer. Of course the crème- de la-crème have access to the best, but my idea is to give the best to everyone. I also feel that a lot of taste buds in Chennai have to upgrade to newer things and get more aware of the trends around the world. Not only for cost reasons, but also because there are healthier options available now.

When and how did your love for baking turn into a profession? Did you learn baking professionally?
I’m mostly a self-taught baker. There are doubts and there are experts to clarify things and we mutually discuss tips on baking and keep improvising. I keep watching a whole lot of bakers on YouTube and social media, but ultimately what I create comes out of my own creativity. I’m not a rote memory person, I’m more of an extempore person. And that applies to my baking also. So, even if I like a design I never copy it exactly how it is. It was always comes out as my own creative version. I imbibe and take inspiration. I’m more of a thought person. I don’t read much. I think a lot. I have a lot of creativity and love to experiment extensively. Even my regular shows are based on healthy cooking. Whenever I’m making a meal it’s usually in the evenings. Morning is a busy time, so I have a lot of help at home. Of course, I give the idea for the menu for the day. But, for evenings, I get creative always make something new and exciting like stir fries, sauté and healthy versions of all the fresh veggies. My kitchen is a lab where I keep ideating something new.

What was your family’s reaction to the same?
They are very appreciative of my baking. Bread was one that I started during the lockdown. Earlier it was only cakes. I used to imagine it’s very laborious and since it requires a lot of kneading, I didn’t try it for a long time. But then when I started reading some material and understanding how bread develops, I decided to try baking it. We wanted to make croissants. During the onset of Covid, we were missing croissants and good breads. My son made an initial version of a croissant and it turned out fairly decent. The main hitch about it is our climatic conditions in Chennai, as generally these croissants are a part of European cuisine. We wanted to replicate the same European version of a croissant and not Indianise it. So we had to study and read a lot on the temperature, the butter etc. which plays a major role. In the initial period, understanding the methodology takes some time. They can get burnt or not rise sometimes. But once we started getting the hang of it, we started loving our own bakes. Every time they turned out really delicious. Since I was going on baking every day, we started eating quite a lot. When we have to buy, we don’t buy so much. But when it’s being baked fresh at home, we tend to eat more, as it is always accessible. Anything for that matter, if it’s homemade it is tasty. All my bakes are fresh and made on the same day. Creativity, freshness, balance of flavours and methodology play major role in bringing out the taste of these bakes. My breads don’t have any preservatives. It won’t even last longer than two days as we finish it before that.

What are the baking trends across the world currently that you like to follow and what are you bringing to the Chennai palate that’s different?
My signature ideology was to use fast yet nutritious cooking, using the ingredients at home. With my recipes, one doesn’t need to go to a gourmet store. I don’t want food to be complicated. Now we have bakery whipped cream easily available, but when I started baking even Amul fresh cream wasn’t available. I used to get pouches of dairy fresh cream on ice packs. I used to show how one can easily bake a cake with just a few ingredients. I feel while cooking isn’t a rocket science, it shouldn’t be made too complicated. The work that I’m doing, my friend might find strenuous. But I like to make it a simple process. I choose simple recipes and when I craft out a recipe, these would have been crafted on the moment and would take maximum 5-10 minutes to make, with all the ready ingredients.

What are some of your signature bakes? What do people love about it?
People love my artistic way of my baking. We are a family of bright colours. We don’t usually go into subtle shades, which also extends into our baking. The colours, the appearance and of course the taste is what everyone appreciates. I make sure every single layer has a different filling. If the cake has three layers, I make sure every layer has a unique flavour. So when a person is taking a slice, they will get a different flavour in each layer. I find that very interesting. My concepts keep on changing. Also, I do baklavas, gulabjamun cakes and rasmalai cakes. People are loving my fusion cakes. Also, I used to change old traditional recipes that are high in calories with low calorie ingredients that people are loving.

One kitchen tool you can’t do without?
The knife of course, a good sharp knife which is comfortable for chopping veggies and chocolate. Baking tool is a scalpel and a spatula and my kitchen aid also. Heating is important for baking, but so is cooling, so for me ice cubes are equally important as much as the hot oven.

Who are some of the bakers or chefs that you follow on social media or admire their work and career in general?
There are so many of them who are so good that it would be unfair to name only a few. They’re all good and are doing their best creatively.

Your views on the baking scene in India and how it’s growing?
Lockdown has been a turning point for home bakers. I was into television from the beginning. I used to feel baking is too much of hard work. Several people used to ask me where they could buy what I’m cooking or baking, but I was never into selling B2C. I have also written nine books in English and Tamil. So I was happy reaching out to millions with my TV show. I had several obligations with my family, but the lockdown gave rise to several home bakers. I was one who started only for home purpose only, but soon I was talking to a friend who wanted some Christmas hampers for a friend and it was by chance that I started commercially. What was so gratifying was the heartfelt appreciation that I received.

What are your future plans?
I have an e-store that’s online. I like the digital feel of it. Mine are more custom made and I always ask people on how they want it tailor made. Instead of saying we have this menu and you choose. Infact we also do sugar free cakes and people who hate fruits I customise them. If they’re coming to me, I feel it’s my responsibility to give them exactly what they need. I have my Facebook page for people to order. My name itself is my brand name. They can Whatsapp me, or DM me on Instagram or Facebook pages. I’m starting my online cookery classes soon. It will be a paid FB online or a YouTube private session.

– By Namita Gupta