Meet Arwa Siraj: Engineer Turned Baker from Kashmir

Tell us about yourself?

My name is Arwa Siraj. I am from Srinagar. I have done my schooling from Presentation Convent Higher Secondary School. I am an engineer and am currently pursuing M.tech from the Islamic university of science and technology, Awantipora. Professionally, I am a baker. I run my business under the name of “Auburn by Arwa”

Tell us about Auburn and how did you realize that baking is what you want to do?

Auburn by Arwa is like a dream come true to me. I have always been passionate about baking and cooking since early childhood. I used to try my hands on different things now and then. I was always curious and watched YouTube videos and blogs to get my hands on some recipes which I then tried. Sometimes it went well but sometimes I failed and it fuelled my curiosity. It was only after I was done with my B. tech I thought of taking my passion for baking, seriously and went for a course in baking, to Delhi. Auburn by Arwa is a one-stop place for all your customization needs. We bake customized cakes and cupcakes. From birthday cakes to party cakes to big wedding cakes, we do it all.

Tell us about difficuluties you faced in this line of business

I believe every business venture faces a range of challenges at the onset but given the unstable and uncertain nature of our place, it becomes quite a big deal for anyone to keep the spirits high. From procurement of material to our packaging requirements, not everything is available in Kashmir. Ordering them from outside takes time and high transportation costs. Bakers have to work at odd hours, too. You are very busy for your entire shift, the work is both physically and mentally demanding. Hygiene and food safety requirements are important and increasingly hot topics on the agenda for any bakery events. Effective product promotion is very important to get your product flying off the shelves and a digital catalog has become the new method to promote it. Sometimes running out of inventories can lead to missed order deadlines which are later followed with many severe repercussions. The shutdown post august 2019 and then covid 19 was also a challenge. We had to work with all the safety precautions in place. The passion and enthusiasm towards our work keep us going on.

How do you stay up to date on the latest culinary practices and trends in cakes?

I have always been open to learning so if I ever find any new trends or techniques that can be beneficial to me I never hesitate in adopting them. Besides this is a profession that requires constant updating. Industry websites, blogs, twitter feeds, trade, and consumer magazines within the baking industry provide a plethora of information about the going on. Plus my imagination and creativity help me go beyond what is in trend. I was the first to introduce pull-me-up cakes, piñata cakes, and mini cakes in Kashmir. Currently, I have started the concept of “surprise and explosive boxes” and it is doing well. With time I will amalgamate more techniques together to run this bakery in the best way possible.

What improvements would you want as a baker in Kashmir?

As a baker, I would say we need to improvise and find ways of replacing the refined all-purpose flour with healthier options like gluten-free flour. Because this is a major concern for bakers. Also, this profession is still not given the appreciation it deserves so I believe from our schooling itself we should be exposed to various academic fields associated with these professions that will also help us to diversify our options of working. We have to move ahead in life rather than being stuck with just a few professions, we have to aware people about the depth and scope in such fields and the responsibility for that lies both on the government and the citizens of Kashmir. Then, people need to appreciate and acknowledge the efforts put in by home-bakers providing fresh and hygienic cakes and bakeries.

Interview by Durdanah Masoodi

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