Prateek Sadhu of Masque: distilling India on a plate

The country’s most experimental chef takes to the road to celebrate five years of the Mask of Mumbai and share his ingredient-driven approach with pop-ups in five cities

It is a dark and stormy night. Traffic on Delhi’s rutted roads crawled for hours. In the quiet, tree-lined neighborhood of Friend’s Colony, however, some 35 diners at boutique hotel The Manor prepare for a treat: a 10-course menu featuring some of the bravest and most forward-looking Indian cuisines. guardians to date.

Inside, Chief Prateek Sadhu, 34, is getting ready to unroll everything. It’s the first day of a three-day pop-up from Masque, his Mumbai restaurant. Tickets sold out within 48 hours of the announcement. Pop-ups in four more cities will follow – Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and Leh, where Sadhu will continue to add elements to dishes, building new ones as he takes inspiration from local cuisines and ingredients.

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Unique and universal

Before the pandemic hit, Sadhu was doing just that at Masque – a restaurant without a menu, where patrons are encouraged to sit in a ‘lab’ and find out how he brings together thoughts and flavors after trips to different regions. and farms across the country. . The restaurant, which turns five in September, recently reached number 32 on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2021 – the only Indian entry outside of Indian Accent in New Delhi (at number 18).

The Masque team arrives in Delhi

But this is the first time that many foodies from other Indian cities have experienced Sadhu’s distinctive cuisine, because even within our competitive and growing restaurant, Masque is more specialized than popular, more experimental than massive. Which is a shame because it is perhaps the only one in the country that favors pure experimentation over commerce. If Masque was cinema, it would have been Satyajit Ray’s.

Like auteur cinema, there is both the unique and the universal in Sadhu’s work. Take, for example, some of his Delhi pop-up dishes: the first class was “Carrot kanji, bhekti‘- pickled and salted fish, marinated Kashmir cherry, marinated lime, gongura green vegetables, aam papad, and carrot kanji. Sour is perhaps the least accepted taste by the Indian palate. But Sadhu pushes that limit with this sour study. Fermented traditions from all over India layered – northern India kanjioriental aam papad, South gongura, the marinated lime of the many Pan-Indians relentless, and the elusive Kashmir cherry.

In lesson two, Sadhu puts’ Corn Pani puri, kalari kulcha, ghevar and chok charwan with tomato rasam‘. What could be the thread of thought that ran through his mind as he brought together such disparate regional influences? A study of textures: crusts and breads from several Indian regions. The ‘pure veg’ Marwari ghevar serves as the basis for Kashmir lamb liver, surprising purists, but look closely and you will find a redefinition of the idea of ​​Indian bread.

Part of the Delhi pop-up menu

Food that does not flatter

Sadhu appears to use his individual experiences – his Kashmiri roots, his travels, and the innate internationalism that stems from his stints at the world’s top restaurants such as Alinea, Le Bernardin and Noma – as a goal to examine more universal Indian culinary traditions. Kashmiri lamb neck yakhni meeting morels miso in what turns out to be his most popular dish that night; rogan josh sausage and katlam, Jammu bread, masquerade with casual-chic NYC; and Pondicherry chocolate combine with native flower liqueur from central India mahua that few urban Indians have tasted before.

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“In a way, what he does is the opposite of what I do because I don’t mix the different regional cuisines,” said chef Manish Mehrotra, one of Sadhu’s guests that evening. , who came with her teenage daughter Adah. The Hindu weekend. Mehrotra, widely regarded as the father of modern Indian cuisine, whose iconic dishes with an Indian accent continue to be copied and regurgitated by chefs even in small towns, finds Sadhu’s voice to be one of the most unique of Indian cuisines. “He mixes up cuisines and isn’t afraid to experiment even if diners here don’t accept certain tastes or the importance of things like acidity, something all Michelin-level restaurants grant internationally. “, he emphasizes.

The five-year plan

  • Influenced by zero waste, techniques such as fermentation and local ingredients sourced directly from farms, the philosophy behind Masque has remained the same since its inception. Even when Sadhu focused on finding various sub-regional cuisines. So what is his ambition for the next five years? “It’s always to survive,” he says frankly, of the difficulty of balancing business success with cutting edge experimentation. The pandemic has made it more difficult. “The next few years will certainly have to be devoted to healing our current difficult scenario. But, personally, my ambition is to deepen Indian cuisines. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. I want to look at homemade recipes, bring them to the restaurant after R&D, understand the different regions and sub-regions, castes and sub-castes, and how food has changed so much in the country, ”he says.

Sadhu’s signature style is neither purist nor populist, and it is certainly not derivative. In fact, his individualistic experimentation is one of the ways forward for modern Indian cuisine. ITC’s Manisha Bhasin agrees. “There are two schools of thought in Indian cuisine, one is purist and the other is inventive. But what I love about Prateek’s food is that it’s not about presentations; the food speaks to me, there is a purity in it, ”says Bhasin. ITC hotels will host Sadhu pop-ups in Chennai, Kolkata and Bengaluru.

Younger chefs like Dhruv Oberoi of Olive, who was also the guest of the pop-up, add that this is perhaps the most daring experimentation in Indian food to date – with a sense of internationalism in the dishes. “While some of the dishes like lamb yakhni were comfort, there were daring combinations like chocolate and mahua that I had never known before, ”says Oberoi.

Chiefs Dhruv Oberoi, Manisha Bhasin and Manish Mehrotra

Chiefs Dhruv Oberoi, Manisha Bhasin and Manish Mehrotra

What is authentic?

I remember the first meal I had at Le Masque, the first week it opened in Mumbai in 2016 in a mill that had fallen into disuse. There were Himalayan rye bread and Leh sea buckthorn berries, there were potato textures using techniques like dehydrating, baking in an earthen pit and under vacuum, there was specially pressed olive oil from Rajasthan. The whole approach has been described as ‘botanical bistronomy’ – what appeared to be a blend of international cooking styles using carefully selected (and often unseen) regional ingredients. Over the past five years, this orientation has been accentuated.

Barramundi with koji, carrots and passion fruit kanji

Barramundi with koji, carrots and passion fruit kanji

Sadhu is now using Indian ingredients and cooking styles and techniques and reshaping them. But the sense of internationalism still binds them together. Does he consider his food to be Indian? “Indian cuisine as we know it today is the result of constant evolution. What is authentic? Does my mother rogan josh more authentic than what my aunt cooks? The authentic is subjective; food is the result of migration and is constantly changing. So while tradition is important, innovation is essential, ”he says. His Indian cuisine, he emphasizes, is not about going back to regional recipes and simply spicing them up with new tweaks. “It requires revisiting the ingredients in completely new ways that can build intercultural bridges,” he adds.

While you eat a bhetki with clams rogan with a puri flavored with Goan sausage, thinking about intercultural bridges is inevitable. The context menu will continue to evolve over all of its stops, much like the food journey itself.

Upcoming pop-ups will be priced at 5,500 plus tax. Bengaluru August 20-21 and Chennai August 27-28.

Chef Sadhu and his team

Chef Sadhu and his team

Hat tip

Sadhu’s innovative cuisine and internationalism (which comes from his studies at the Culinary Institute of America and his work in the best restaurants in the world) have earned him recognition since the launch of Masque. In its first year, it was ranked in the top 10 on Food Tank’s 2016 list of innovative restaurants in the world. In 2020, the restaurant received the Miele One To Watch award in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list before making its debut this year on the main list. Sadhu was the first Indian chef to be an ambassador for the Krug champagne brand and most recently contributed a simple but inventive chunda peach beet recipe to the #Amexforfoodies cookbook featuring recipes from the world’s top chefs. Before the pandemic, Masque had also worked with top chefs around the world to organize pop-ups, including Matt Orlando, who heads the Copenhagen Amass, in 2017.

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