Prateek Sadhu: Seabuckthorn and smoke
Seabuckthorn is one ingredient which our entire kitchen is really proud of, says Prateek Sadhu
Prateek Sadhu graduated from The Culinary Institute of America in 2011 and worked with, among others, Thomas Keller (of The French Laundry and Per Se fame) and René Redzepi (Noma), before returning to India and setting up Le Cirque in Bengaluru. Masque in Mumbai is his first independent venture. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What’s the one new ingredient that you’re working with right now?
Seabuckthorn is one ingredient which our entire kitchen is really proud of. It’s a berry that grows in Ladakh, where I travelled in the first week of September. The whole process—going to Nubra, staying there for a week to forage 60kg of seabuckthorn—was very exciting. The berry is very distinctly tart and full of vitamin C. Back in Mumbai, while working with it, we realized we had to (a) add carrot juice (which has the same carotenoids as seabuckthorn) to retain the colour and (b) balance the tartness. After a lot of experimentation, we made an ice-lolly out of it—it was sweet, tart and peppery—and paired it with a black-pepper mousse. We serve it as a pre-dessert.
The cooking method that’s got you all excited.
Ninety-nine per cent of my cooking, be it pork, lamb, seafood or root vegetables, is done sous vide. It produces the most consistent results. In fact, right now, because carrots are in season, I have a dish highlighting them—and I know, with 85 degrees Celsius temperature, 99% vacuum and 45 minutes of cooking time, the carrots will be done perfectly each time. It takes the guesswork out of cooking and, most important for a restaurant, it is consistent.
The cuisine that intrigues you the most.
Japanese food and ingredients, their cooking techniques—that’s something that never ceases to make me wonder. They have very limited topography but the processes they follow, be it fermentation or ageing, each of them produces very distinct flavours. Take the sauce called tonkatsu: It’s vegetable-based and full of umami. I’ve never been to Japan but Tokyo, which has the highest number of Michelin-star restaurants of any city in the world, is a magnet for all chefs. Plus, the Japanese are a very disciplined people. They’re very respectful towards their art—they can dedicate their whole lives to just perfecting the sushi. There’s so much to learn from them.
Your favourite city for food. And a memory.
New York is one place that has a great food vibe, ranging from starred restaurants to the guy on the street selling churros. My favourite food memory is eating mochi ice cream in New York City.
Starter, main course or dessert? Which do you prefer cooking—and eating, and why?
I never trained in pastry but desserts are something I love experimenting with. Since it’s the last thing we eat at a meal, I think it’s very important. While launching Masque, I realized it would be very difficult to find a pastry chef on the same wavelength as me. So I decided to do it myself, with the help of my team, a couple of whom have training in pastry. It was a huge learning for me but my unconventional approach actually worked since I’m not bound by the regular flavour combinations. Of course, sometimes there are disasters. But our desserts are innovative in their own way—and people still ask for the pickled peaches and almond-milk ice cream that we had in our launch menu.
Your favourite protein to cook with, and how would you do it?
I love cooking steaks—first cooking it sous vide, then resting it and finishing with a hard sear on both sides. The other thing I love is cooking proteins on a spitfire...in fact, it’s something that goes back to my childhood, I’ve always loved smokiness, charriness. I was everyone’s go-to barbecue guy and even now, in the kitchen at Masque, I have a mango-wood spitfire where I finish my proteins, and also smoke potatoes and the like.
The best thing about being a chef.
There are many but to be able to taste the best possible ingredients in the world is just superlative. And of course, coming in to work every day to create something new.
The worst thing about being a chef.
You become socially awkward since you have no time to socialize! And, after sometime, it’s just kitchen talk that excites you.
What’s in your fridge? And what’s for dinner?
Sourdough bread, cheese, bacon, eggs, ham, beer. So it’s definitely a sandwich for dinner, washed down by a beer.