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INTERVIEW

“We can dive deep into R&D and create new flavours”
Monday, 16 March, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]

Masque, in the heart of Mumbai, is an ingredient-driven restaurant equipped with the city’s first-ever Test Kitchen. A truly chef forward restaurant, the brand is constantly finding new ways to present flavours and textures with each dish it serves under the watchful eye of CHEF PRATEEK SADHU. In an email interview with KIMBERLEY FERNANDES, the chef describes the joy and fascination he experiences while working at the restaurant and its Test Kitchen with rare ingredients from remote locations across India to create a truly amazing dining experience for guests and patrons alike. Excerpts:

What’s the core idea behind sourcing ingredients from remote locations?
The idea was to put focus back on local and indigenous ingredients which aren’t always available to everyone, or aren’t often cooked with anymore – to showcase the abundant produce of India, rather than just putting out dishes. Some ingredients are foraged from India’s northern belt, others are from our farm or small-scale farmers around Maharashtra and Uttarakhand.

Give us details that come into play with the workings of the lab.
The lab is primarily a research and development space where we’re developing new flavours and dishes for Masque. It becomes a base where we can dive deep into R&D and try to create new flavours through different techniques, using Indian produce.

What kind of research goes into each ingredient before it makes its way to the lab and further to the table?
Well, to rephrase the question slightly – the lab is where the research goes into each ingredient. When we get an ingredient, we start by asking questions: how can we develop a particular flavour from it, how will it respond to different cooking methods and times, how do those results then pair with other flavours? For example, when we were experimenting with mangoes, we were trying to identify what other flavours we can yield from it, since it has quite a high sugar content. We put an ingredient through various tests, whether that’s different cooking techniques, converting it into different textures, or prolonging the cooking process to get a desired flavour. There’s various elements and lenses through which we look at an ingredient. It goes without saying that not every experiment unveils a product we can use, but the ones that do always open new doors and learnings that we can continue to build on and that finally make it to your plate.

What do you hope to achieve from this pioneer venture of having a test kitchen in the heart of Mumbai?
One thing we hope to achieve is developing and cataloguing new flavours. We also see it as a way to build community – once we’ve settled into the space, we’d like to involve schools, students, chefs and F&B professionals to come be part of the research.

What do you hope the guests will take with them from this exclusive dining experience?
We hope to showcase that there is a different narrative or language to Indian food than what is already familiar to us. We’re trying to showcase Indian food with different techniques and ingredients, and trying to develop new flavours that can contribute to one’s sense of a new Indian cuisine.

What is your definition of ‘modern Indian cuisine’?
To me, it’s an interplay between traditional and modern cooking methods and inspirations; revisiting regional recipes and ingredients with a purpose, not just re-plating them with a few new tweaks. How can we find ways to build cross-cultural bridges? Sometimes it’s combining the essence of two dishes; other times it can mean borrowing the central idea of a dish, but reworking it in an Indian context.

How do you hope to inspire younger patrons and veterans alike, with your cuisine?
I think the Indian food space is on the brink of a new and exciting era, and it’s a privilege to witness and be a part of that. I hope it helps us push the limits of what we know of Indian food, while retaining – and encouraging – pride in our history and traditions.

What can guests expect from the ‘freestyle kitchen experience’?
A more intimate dining experience, for starters – the lab has only 12 seats, arranged open-kitchen style. Guests will be privy to our process and get insight into our experiments, before any of it even makes its way to the Masque menu. We also expect that at times, the lab dinners will feed into ongoing research. There’s no set format at the lab, no one particular cuisine we’ll be adhering to – it’s a space where chefs can bring their ideas alive. We’ll be opening a number of dates every month for ticketed dinners, and it’ll be open to private bookings as well. Stay tuned!

What do you hope to achieve with this purely chef-forward restaurant space?
It’s a space where our chefs can riff on ideas they’ve been toying with, expand our work on fermentation and R&D to feed into the Masque menus, and a space where we can open that “behind-the-scenes” work out to wider audiences as well as collaborated with other chefs and industry peers.

What about plans such as expansion and collaboration?
We’re always open to collaborations and have been doing so since Masque opened doors – it’s a great way to encourage an exchange of ideas and knowledge, as well as showcase what we have in terms of food, culture and history. And as for expansion – this itself is our next big step, so we’ll be focussing on the restaurant and the lab for now!
 
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