The Le15 pastry chef speaks about her reading habits and favourite books

Pooja Dhingra has always been a voracious reader. As a kid, she recalls shuttling in and out of Mumbai’s Shemaroo Book Library. Today, juggling her work as pastry chef, author of three cookbooks, and podcaster (among other roles), the entrepreneur behind the Le15 Patisserie and Café carves out time to read as often as she can. She firmly believes that it’s okay to abandon a book halfway — “life’s too short” — and tries to slot in uninterrupted reading time on flights and in airports. It’s a few days after the launch of her new cookbook Can’t Believe It’s Eggless, that we chat with her at the Le15 headquarters in Mumbai.

Busy as she may be, Dhingra is always reading something. She enjoys her Kindle — and that hundreds of books are a click away — but that’s not to say she’s given up on physical books. At the Le15 HQ, wooden shelves, stacked with cookbooks and autobiographies, sit snugly under a staircase. But the more precious stash is inside Dhingra’s office. Her shelf includes Cravings by Chrissy Teigen, Pierre Hermé’s Macron, and The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, which Dhingra recommends for anyone who cooks. These are books that she keeps going back to as well, revisiting for ideas and inspiration.

Pooja-Dhingra-Bookshelf

Dhingra has found book recommendations from Instagram followers, colleagues, friends and mentors, but if she had to blindly trust one person’s opinion, it would be her brother’s. He speeds through dozens of books every year — last year, inspired by him, Dhingra took up a challenge to read 50 books. (She managed to read about 25-30 — still a feat, in our books.)

Another tried-and-tested source for books is the bookshops she discovers when she travels. On a recent trip to Singapore, she discovered the wonderful Kinokuniya bookstore and its dedicated cookbook section. Another favourite is the charming Shakespeare & Co in Paris. It’s from bookstores like these that she ends up lugging home large, hardback cookbooks.

Over the past few years, she’s been drawn to non-fiction, preferring memoirs and stories of building from scratch. This makes sense — her interest in cultivating good work ethics and being inspired by great minds reflects in her taste in reading. Her favourites include Open by tennis player Andre Agassi and The Golden Rules by Bob Bowman, well known as Michael Phelps’ coach. We got her to share some of her favourite reads with us — there’s a book for bakers, a must-read for those setting up their own business, and one that’s inspired her to climb Mt Fuji. Read on.

A book you’re currently reading? Becoming by Michelle Obama.
While Dhingra frequently juggles books — she’s also been reading Rich Dad Poor Dad, which she picked up at an airport recently — she’s excited about Becoming. Only a few pages in, she reckons she’s going to love it, especially because she’s already a fan of the former First Lady.

A book received as a gift that’s really special? Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.
Dhingra was gifted the book by a follower on Instagram, and found it to be transformative. Taking a leaf out of Knight’s memoir, Dhingra and team plan to summit Mt Fuji as well, a mountain Knight writes about climbing, if they meet certain business goals. As motivation, there’s even a mural of the peak in her office.

A book you always gift, other than your books? The High Performance Entrepreneur by Subroto Bagchi.
The pastry chef was gifted this book back when she was 17, years before Le15 came into being. It’s not a gift for everyone, but she makes sure to procure a copy for those she finds fiercely passionate about starting something of their own.

A cookbook everyone should read? BakeWise by Shirley Corriher, and The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit.
BakeWise is best for bakers,” Dhingra says. It’s a handy resource to understand the science of baking or to understand why a recipe went wrong. She recalls reading it 10 years ago and it’s still a book she regularly goes back to. The Flavour Thesaurus, helpful for dinner parties and other gatherings at home, suggests food pairings and is ideal for everyone who cooks, according to Dhingra.

A book you keep going back to? What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey.
Over 14 years, Winfrey shared her wisdom and life lessons in a column for O, The Oprah Magazine. These insightful columns have been collected — after revisions and updates — into this book. We see why it’s something Dhingra keeps turning to.

Can’t Believe It’s Eggless is available online at shop.le15.com.