Scrumptious Swirls

Words by Kate Lucky

Photos by Paulette Phlipot

Words by Kate Lucky

Azarmeen Pavri has spent a lot of time in laboratories: in high school, in college and as she worked on a PhD in public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. But today, she’s not an academic or a researcher.

“Unknowingly, I had been honing the skills of a baker,” she says, as we sit over iced drinks at a cafe near her industrial kitchen in Redwood City. Those skills have since become a business—and for good reason. The treat Pavri specializes in requires nothing short of scientific precision.

Her artisanal confectionery, Délice Glacé, makes meringues—delectable, melt-on-your-tongue swirls in rose, lavender, passion fruit, chocolate and vanilla, some bedecked with sprinkles. The desserts are “clean,” meaning they are gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and low-calorie, made with just a few simple ingredients. They have no fillers, no starches and no preservatives. (That said, they’re shelf-stable, and will keep in your cupboard for months at a time.) Meringues can be dressed up with layers of fruit and cream…or you can pop one (or two, or three) in your mouth, just as they are.

Délice Glacé means “frozen delight” in French. It’s a nod to how Pavri got her start, baking frozen meringue cakes. Those desserts were tasty, but prone to melting, difficult to transport and far from shelf-stable. So when a major lifestyle store asked her to do a pop-up, rather than carting in coolers, she recognized an opportunity—start selling the meringue cookies she’d been tinkering with. Laughing, she describes the pop-up’s success: “I sold out really fast!” The retailer asked her to come back again, closer to Christmas. She did—and the customers came out in droves. But when a line formed out the door, the store shut her down. Customers loved those meringues too much; they weren’t buying the store’s seasonal peppermint bark!

That experience gave Pavri the confidence she needed. She started visiting local grocers with bags in hand, asking their buyers to give her treats a try, learning what she needed to about bulk orders and barcodes. “You’ve got to put yourself out there,” she asserts. “If you’re not willing to promote, if you’re not willing to go into stores and say, ‘Hey, buy this! You don’t have it on your shelf! Taste it!’, then you won’t succeed.”

Today, Délice Glacé has found success. The company distributes in about 50 stores locally, including Whole Foods locations as well as smaller local markets like Sigona’s, Robert’s and Draeger’s. “I’m so fortunate to be working in an area and at a time when people are valuing the small maker,” Pavri says. She also sells directly to consumers online, and wholesale to other national retailers via a San Francisco company called Faire.

There’s a reason, other than deliciousness, for the demand. Not many companies make small-batch meringues. The treats are labor-intensive and finicky, requiring exact combinations of time and temperature. On top of that, Pavri has high standards. She refuses to use egg whites that come in cartons, which means hours of cracking shells and separating out yolks by hand. She carefully tests all her flavors, ensuring the vanilla doesn’t taste too medicinal and the pumpkin spice isn’t too cloying.

Back when she was developing recipes in her home kitchen, her three children were her taste-testers…and they were honest. “I remember going into my daughter’s bedroom and saying, ‘I just made these… They taste pretty bad, right?’” Pavri recalls of an early lavender test. “She’s like, ‘Yeah, it tastes awful, Mom.’”

Fortunately, Pavri gets excited by technical challenges. Take chocolate, which doesn’t react well with meringue. She had to come up with a special incorporation technique. It worked! Right now, her team is developing a dairy-free strawberry milkshake flavor.

Unfazed by setbacks like shortages of good passionfruit or delayed deliveries of superfine sugar, Pavri takes all in stride. (Even if she has to pulverize regular sugar with a coffee grinder.) “Everything with a meringue has to be just so,” Pavri explains. “It’s such a clean palate that flavor is going to burst through. The balance has to be impeccable.”

It’s that exquisitely balanced flavor, and the simplicity of the meringue itself, that has allowed Pavri to earn the trust of the health-conscious-yet-sweet-toothed retailers and customers in her Peninsula community. It’s a community she’s been part of for a while now. After leaving her native Pakistan for college at age 18, she spent time in England and New York before moving to the Bay Area 20 years ago. “This is the longest I’ve lived anywhere,” Pavri reflects. “That makes such a difference as an immigrant. You always feel like: ‘Where do I belong?’”

But indisputably, Redwood City is now her home. She supports her culinary neighbors, enthusiastically recommending the biscotti and focaccia at nearby La Biscotteria, and the glass-cased goodies at the shop we’re in now, Cocola Bakery. She pays it forward, too. The industrial space she works out of used to be home to a natural popsicle company; she gave that entrepreneur advice. “We try to help each other,” she shares with a smile.

Just as other small business owners can learn from each other, Pavri hopes her kids are learning from watching her work (and working themselves!) at Délice Glacé. “One of the most important things I’m able to teach them is just to put your head down. Get it done. Sometimes, you’re not going to love that,” she notes. Even in a very hot kitchen, even when you’re tired, the batch has to come out just right.

And the batches do. Because of Pavri’s expertise, because of that laboratory training, but also because of the most important ingredient of all. Not egg whites. Not super-fine sugar. “This is passion, really,” she sums up.

Melt-in-your-Mouth –