After three decades in the Armed Forces and all the military discipline that entails, Gupta now invests time in sweeter pursuits, all tempered, cast and frozen in his kitchen. His off-duty repertoire vacillates between morning runs, reading and being an atypical sous chef to his wife Rajni before taking the lead for the sweet finish. Dollops of caramel are folded into wisps of milk chocolate for the perfect communion—dense, creamy, and familiar. Gupta’s coffee cubes come wrapped in cheery foil, delivering a hit like a shot of freshly brewed espresso. We’re gladly swapping our morning cuppa out for one of these. Gupta once commanded three ships, the last of which—the INS Brahmaputra, at 126 meters; a frigate nicknamed “The Raging Rhino”—is framed for posterity outside his home. He spent that time rising in rank, retiring old friendships, and forging new, long-lasting ones. He was once deployed in the Mediterranean, during a time of conflict between Israel and Lebanon. “We were sent on a mission to evacuate Indians from Lebanon. We went in from Beirut harbour, and an Israeli F-16 Flying Falcon bombed the area around the ship. They were attacking the Hezbollah. It shook the civilians we had on board, but we made it out unscathed. Those were exciting times.”
Gupta’s entire tenure wasn't at sea though. He mapped his time between Mumbai, Cochin, Visakhapatnam—the three naval bases—and “Delhi when one was pushing files at the headquarters.” Some of his most memorable times happened deep South in Kerala’s Ezhimala; a town in Kannur district. A rear admiral by then, he was entrusted with the setting up of a new Naval Academy. “It was during a time when the Navy had stipulated that they only wanted engineers as officers,” he said. “We had to set up our own college, which also included military training over a four year course. We were tasked at the time with training, and educating 700 naval cadets. I spent two and a half years there.”
Occasionally Gupta would dine with the cadets. Visiting galleys meant interacting with the cooks. The cadet’s mess back in Kerala had a lovely galley and cadets after their physical activity, would demolish ten slices of toasts with two eggs apiece. Gupta recalled being a cadet in the NDA, when they’d be rationed 20 grams of butter—to be split four ways. Porridge and corn flakes came supplemented. “In the world of authorised ration, we’d have little leeway by way of swapping oil out for butter, which we did. And the tables were then lined with nothing but butter. They (his cadets) must’ve been fed up” he said, with clear nostalgia clouding his gaze. His home in ‘god’s own country’ was a small sandy patch of land looking out to the Indian Ocean. “We used to give malabar parathas to our cadets—a specialty in Kerala. We hired a couple for this because our navy chefs weren't equipped. This couple [who made them] would have to rake up a horrendous three and a half thousand at a time. They’d start at eight in the morning and be done only by lunchtime. This would happen twice a week,” he said. “Because of my love for cooking, my favourite place was the galley.” Gupta’s chocolates don’t subscribe to the bean-to-bar niche, but they do however, come responsibly-sourced and packaged. All orders—a single box, or sixty kilograms a sitting are cast and wrapped by him and his wife. “I don’t add stabilisers to my products, so when it’s 45 degrees out, unlike store-bought chocolates, mine won’t retain their original shape. So in that sense, my process is pretty unadulterated.” he says. You’re not likely to find traces of hydrogenated oil, stabilisers, or foul smells that are bred over time in unwrapped, on-the-rack chocolates. His double-boiler sieves quality product that has—after several trials—now become a trusted formula for his sweet treats.
“The biggest drawback of being in the Armed Forces is when you start rising in rank, your friend circle keeps diminishing,” he said. The Malabar Coast, the torpid backwaters, and a two a half years’ bank of Sundays presented Gupta with the perfect opportunity to kick back and spend hours in front of the TV, or take to (the more exciting), sailing. One such television broadcast of chocolatier Zeba Kohli and her process on a languid Sunday, brought him to his Eureka moment: “chocolates with a touch of the sea.” Later his brand’s tagline, he was drawn to the accessibility of countertop chocolate-making, and what his unique affiliation with the sea could bring to the table. Nauticolates officially kicked off with his daughter’s wedding back in 2013. They went out with the invites and a note that read simply: “These chocolates were made by the father of the bride and have a touch of the sea.”
An instant success, Gupta hasn't looked back since. He has since been found siphoning caramel into dark chocolate, or peppering orange rind, mint nibs, or slivers of almonds, to his cocoa base. “I’d like to make something like a Ferrero Rocher one day,” he says of his next move. “Mint is my favourite of my own. Walnut rocks in general. I once tried a batch of wafers coated with my chocolate, which I thought were great. My chocolate making is quite methodical, so before I start (with a new recipe), I write everything as it would follow a step-by-step procedure.” A fledgling enterprise at first, Nauticolates is now in it’s fourth year running, and the man behind it all, is still as keen as on the day he started. “I recently found out about this chocolate-making machine in Europe that’s quite affordable. It allows you to control the quality of chocolate and its consistency. I’d like to buy that next.” he finishes with a broad smile. For large orders or just Tuesday, hit up Nauticolates via Facebook here, or on Zomato, here.