What's cooking in chef Prateek Sadhu's five-year-old kitchen at Masque?
To mark five years of Mumbai-based restaurant Masque, Prateek Sadhu embarked on a five-city tour, which ends this weekend in Ladakh
Carrot Kanji, Tomato Rasam, Ghevar, Kalari Kulcha, Mahua - these are not new names for anybody who has experienced food from different parts of the country. But, at Masque, an ingredient-driven restaurant by 35-year-old Chef Prateek Sadhu, none of these appear and taste the way one would imagine them to be.
For instance, Rasam - a staple in South India - was made with fermented and spiced tomatoes and had a puckering sourness to it. Ghevar, the popular sweet dish from Rajasthan was served in a savoury avatar and looked like a cupcake. The base of the ghevar was topped with mildly sweet apple butter and a generous amount of mousse-textured eggplant sauce. Carrot Kanji, a staple dish during the cold winters of North India, was the big surprise on our table. One can call it a piece of art. Sweet candy cane beets, pickled Kashmiri cherry, aam papad and gongura greens were aesthetically placed in a tangy carrot kanji broth. Mahua was turned into ice cream and served with Pondicherry chocolates, making it just the perfect dish to round off the meal. These exquisitely beautiful looking dishes that truly represented modern Indian cuisine were cooked by chef Prateek.
“To us, modern Indian cuisine isn’t about returning to regional recipes and simply plating them with new tweaks. (For us) it demands revisiting traditional cooking and ingredients with a purpose, and discovering ways in which these can build cross-culture bridges,” shares Chef Prateek, adding, “We work with the same ingredients but take a different route to arrive on the same or similar taste. That’s the principle that we work on. And for us, it’s really really fun. For instance, we make Kadhi (a gravy dish from Rajasthani) but with hazelnut milk. So, when you close your eyes and have a spoonful of it, you would know it is kadhi but has something different about it.”
Obviously not a conventional restaurant, Masque doesn’t have a fixed menu from which guests can place orders. Instead, it presents a multiple-course, tasting menu-only concept with a focus on local Indian ingredients. The menu keeps changing as per the season and availability of produce. Although it has made quite some noise in the restaurant industry since its inception in September 2016 and won multiple awards and recognition, the initial days weren’t easy.
Recalling those days, Chef Prateek, who co-founded the restaurant with Aditi Dugar, shares, “They were tough as hell because what we were trying to do was completely new. At that point, we were asking so many questions like why do you need to do seats in a certain way? We didn’t even want our guests to see the menu because we wanted them to come and slow down and have a memorable experience. Although all the decisions that we were taking were to enhance our guests’ experience and make it truly authentic, sometimes it would leave guests uncomfortable as they couldn’t choose what they were eating, and sometimes that can make you uncomfortable. I have also seen some guests getting up and leaving the restaurant, which is heartbreaking…” When asked if he ever felt like giving up, he chose to be honest. “A part of me would say yes, but there was something in me that was driving me. And, not just me. When I look back at my team, they too had a sense of drive and I would feed off their energy so often. If you are trying to build something that is unique, you and your team need to be on the same page and have the same drive, which fortunately I can say we had.”
But, those days are long gone. Last year, it won the Miele One to Watch Award at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and this year Masque ranked 32nd on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. “I always want Masque to be counted as one of those restaurants that are making a difference. Ranking keeps going up and down but to be able to be recognised as one of the restaurants which are taking a different route is a nice feeling. It was very very humbling for us to get this award,” shares Prateek who recently embarked on a multiple-city tour to celebrate the restaurant. It started with Delhi, where it collaborated with Manor, followed by Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata, where it collaborated with ITC and the last stop is Ladakh where it is hosting at Stok Palace Heritage Hotel.
“Since we were turning five, we thought why not do a five-city tour and take Masque to them and give them its experience,” shares Prateek who prepared a 10-course meal for this tour, some of which we got to experience at Masque Lab in Mumbai for a collaboration he did with Anaori Kakugama, a new culinary tool from Japan that can be used for all kinds of cooking, including grilling, simmering, poaching, frying and steaming. For the vegetarians on the table, he had prepared pickled Jackfruit sausage, which was smoked in Anaori, and served with Kashmir’s katlam bread topped with sesame seeds. It tasted absolutely divine, the tender sausage complemented the crust of the bread. Coming back to his tour, why one of the stops is Ladakh we couldn’t help wondering and so we asked. “That entire region is special to my heart. I have spent my summers there and it has been a big inspiration to me personally. For Ladakh, we are overhauling the entire menu,” shares Prateek, who was born in Baramulla, Kashmir.
What’s next? Chef Prateek, who launched Masque Lab in 2020, a space dedicated to investigation and experimentation into new ingredients and techniques, is excited to dive deeper into the research of Indian food. “I have only scratched the surface and there is much deeper that one has to go. For the next couple of years, it is to research and develop more and more recipes because we have that kind of wing now and I want to make sure that we use it and create something meaningful. Post that, we will figure out our next step,” he concludes.
Though the tour gets over this Sunday in Ladakh, you can experience a 10-course meal at Masque for Rs 4150+ taxes per person