Anuhya Reddy worked as a barista at the local Starbucks in London. The smell of fresh ground coffee and croissants filled the air amidst the silent chatter and muted keyboard clatters from the tables. Although this was just a part-time job halfway across the world, she felt a familiar warmth she hadn’t felt in a while.
Anuhya, a twenty-three-year-old architecture graduate from Chennai, was in London for a fifteen-month-long master’s program in city design at the Royal College of Arts. “We travelled a lot because of the course,” she recalls, “During our study trips, I would use my pocket money to try out the local food!”
One day, she chanced upon a flier indicating an open house at London’s Le Cordon Bleu. For all of the ‘none chefs’ reading this, the prestigious institute for the culinary sciences is synonymous with what the IITs are for engineers in India. Anuhya walked into the campus during an open house, eagerly collecting pamphlets as she dreamt of plating and presenting decadent pastries amidst the masters in the industry.
“Hotel Management is not a reputed degree,” people back home would say when a young dreamy-eyed Anuhya expressed an interest in the culinary sciences. So, Anuhya hid the pamphlets under her bed and put her dreams aside.
Around that time, the short gig at Starbucks led the young architect to stumble upon another part-time gig with a Jordanian home baker. “It was a beautiful open kitchen,” Anuhya describes, explaining how the space promoted interaction. She was one week into the job when the baker had to return to Jordan for ten days. Her heart beat faster. “I barely know how to bake a cake!” Anuhya thought to herself. However, Anuhya trained for two weeks and effortlessly ran the bakery by herself for ten days.
“Those ten days gave me the confidence to go all in,” Anuhya says three years later from behind the counter at her open kitchen set-up—this time, back in Chennai. Finale, her first venture into the food industry, completes a month of trials on the day of our conversation. She arranges her display with freshly baked cream-filled doughnuts, choux pastries and pastel macaroons at her new dessert bar as she narrates her journey.
Back in London, Anuhya was only twelve months into her fifteen-month-long master’s program when she finally built the courage to take the pamphlets from under her bed and give the application a shot. Le Cordon Bleu accepted her application. She immediately transferred her fees from the Royal College of Arts to the culinary school to pursue the nine-month Diplôme de Pâtisserie at the renowned institute. Little did anyone know that the young architect would return as an ambitious pastry chef with big dreams.
The program was rigorous. The exposure, however, was beyond expectations. “I interned at a Michelin star restaurant in the heart of London,” she recalls, “My shift was from 6 am to 11 pm! The work was intense. The hierarchy blurred—everyone worked on everything. We were like family!” she gushes. She continues to describe how the experience was pivotal to establishing her small team at Finale.
The covid pandemic in 2020 extended her stay in London. People were still going to restaurants but in smaller numbers. The young chef reaped the benefits of the situation before returning home later that year. “The best part was the generous tips,” she adds as she bursts out laughing.
On her return to Chennai, she ran a two-chef test kitchen at Sandy’s, where she met Sandesh Reddy, a Chennai-based restauranteur who would eventually become her mentor and investor. In the kitchen, her job entailed experimenting with new products for Sandy’s and other restaurants like Sage and Lavender, French Loaf and Beachville Cafe.
“A year in, I got Covid and had to take a step back from my career,” she says. “You’re ready to run your own kitchen,” Sandesh said when she began her job hunt after recovery. The moment had come. She would start her own dessert bar.
The following months involved conceptualisation, project reports, driving around the nooks and corners of the city and contacting every to-let board in sight. “My design degree came to use after all,” she shrugs as she recounts the process behind designing the layout and brand.
Finale was up and running within forty-five days—with cosy Scandinavian-style interiors, a zealous team of young pastry chefs and a state-of-the-art pastry kitchen with a rotational menu.
The people of Chennai are accustomed to a standard menu of items. “I sell a variety of pastries that you do not normally find around the city,” she explains, “The rotational menu makes it exciting for the customers and the chefs.” While the seasonal fruits determine the ‘flavours of the month,’ the weekends are for experimenting and creating new products and flavours. “Last month, we made about thirty different products with mango and strawberry flavour profiles,” she says.
“I was that kid who hides my food under the bed when no one’s looking,” Anuhya Reddy bursts out laughing as she narrates how her love for food was a mere coincidence. “For some reason, Masterchef was always playing on TV,” she recalls. Reynold Poernomo instantly became her idol. There was something about the way he plated and presented food. While all the other kids were filling up slam books and scrapbooks with memories and milestones, Anuhya filled her pages with all of Poernomo’s recipes and pictures. “I’ll go back to it on a dull afternoon,” she thought.
Here she was twenty years later at (the) Finale—drawing a crowd into a former obscure residential street near the Music Academy, empowering young chefs to follow their dream and drive the dessert realm of Chennai.