A Dash of Paris in Delhi - Christine Samandari talks with You & I

It is because of the Samandari’s that Delhiites get to experience a slice of Paris in their city. As founder of the famous bakery, L’Opera, Christine has made sure that the establishment’s patrons need not visit the boulangeries of France to sample authentic French breads and pastries.

Tell us what the journey has been like for you as an Iranian-French woman in India.
The journey has been very fulfilling. Since I moved here back in 2008, about nine years ago, I have felt welcomed in India and have taken a great liking to Indian culture, traditions, and hospitality. As a trained sociologist and anthropologist, I love to discover new cultures, new civilisations and, most of all, new peoples. Obviously, there are differences between our life in Paris and the one in Delhi. But with support from family and friends I have been able to adapt and feel at home very rapidly. I would also say that my profound involvement in my family business, namely L’Opéra, has been a great opportunity to affirm and rediscover my appreciation for French culinary culture.

What inspires you, and how do you keep up with baking trends around the world?
I spent most of my life in France, and so being exposed to the concept of cooking and baking was an integral part of my culture. What inspires me, generally speaking, is the constructive resilience manifested by those who must overcome difficult obstacles in their lives and achieve great things, while inspiring others. I see this in the bakery world as well, as it is both a science and an art. It requires an immense – and often underestimated – amount of persistence and patience. As I often travel to France, I have the opportunity to visit pâtisseries – boulangeries there, and try to keep myself up to date about the latest trends and offerings. Plus, I regularly consult news concerning the latest developments of top brands of our industry.

You are a strong believer in the Baha’i faith. Can you tell us a bit more about it and what it means to you?
The Baha’i faith, which originated in mid-19th Century Persia, is above all about the unity of mankind. It is a global religion that calls for the transformation of individuals, society, and institutions by infusing a sense of spiritual morality that stems from a realisation that we are all one, with shared aspirations for harmony and success. It is an essential part of my identity, and it inspires me to see the good in the world, and I aspire to make each day better than the last.

You work in what one can call a family-run organisation with your husband and children working with you. What is that like?
One great thing about working in a family business is that there is a sense of profound confidence between us, as well as an expectation that the driver for the success of the enterprise is intrinsic, as opposed to requiring external pressures. I love and admire my husband and children very deeply, so it is a pleasure to work with them. But it is, of course, like any undertaking in life, not without its challenges.The role of relatives can sometimes be conflated with corporate hierarchy, leading to occasional complex situations. But we try to be as forthright and pragmatic as possible, and I think this strongly mitigates any fallback that may arise from said confusion. In short, I do not think the powerful brand L’Opéra would be where it is today if we had not worked together as a family by diligently contributing our personal qualities and attributes to the mix.

What is one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
I would say have a strong belief in your potential; remember that we are all endowed with a set of qualities and talents that can render us extremely helpful to society. It is just about having the drive and support to bring those out and utilisethem dutifully. Be resilient, as obstacles will appear in ways that you least expect them, but end up teaching us lessons that we could never have learned otherwise. Have dreams and never give up on them.

What do you love most about living in India, and what do you miss most about Europe?
There is a level of dynamism and sense of entrepreneurship in India that deeply attracts me to it. I love the family ties that bind people together, and how fervently many Indians experience their culture, while maintaining an open-mind vis-a-vis others. The wildly colourful outfits that are often worn also entice me, as does the frequency of dance in this country. In Europe, I mostly miss my daughter and grandchildren, as well as family and dear friends. Of course, I also miss taking a stroll along the beautiful avenues in Paris, visiting the splendid museums and having a cup of coffee or tea at one of the city’s numerous sidewalk cafés.

What are some of the other things you are passionate about?
I have a great passion for music, art, and beauty. I think there is something profoundly spiritual about beauty; seeing something beautiful or hearing a piece of classical music uplifts the soul, oftentimes more so than words. It is a universal language, a force that touches hearts despite language, cultural or religious barriers.        – as told to Suneela