24 Hours with Masque
Our first experience with Masque was during the preview tastings. We went with an open mind and mildly elevated expectations (based on the rave reviews that were already floating around) and found ourselves more than pleasantly surprised. The brain child of Aditi Dugar who owns catering company Saffron and Sage, and Prateek Sadhu, a culinary genius who has worked with the likes of Per Se, Alinea and Le Cirque (across India); Masque checks all the boxes and even creates some of its own.
The idea behind Masque is to hero Indian ingredients and educate guests on just how much our country actually has to offer. Everything you taste comes from within our borders and has been organically grown to ensure the most flavourful and unique experience possible. Being indigenous means Masque will be tempting you with new seasonal menus almost weekly so you can be sure never to have the same experience twice. We spent an entire day with the Masque team to kick off our 24-hour series.
Shriya, Aditi’s sister, and Chef Prateek wake me for our trip to one of Masque’s flagship farms on the outskirts of Pune. Owned by Sanmitra, the farm grows a majority of the produce used by the restaurant. Products include garlic chives, heirloom tomatoes, baby spinach, yellow beets, purple basil and some of the greenest lettuce you will ever see.
The veggies that are ready to be harvested today include some butter lettuce, tomatoes and edible flowers which we load up into the car before setting off for the restaurant.
The 4,500 square foot restaurant has been designed by architect Ashiesh Shah and is located in a quiet mill compound off Mahalaxmi. Stepping inside we are immediately impressed by the calculated restraint of the décor and design.
The kitchen starts to clean and prep the produce that is going to be used on today’s menu. Dishes include Celeriac and Oyster Mushroom Soubise and the Angel Hair, Garlic Chives and Saffron. The energy is a combination of a high energy kitchen and a science lab. Each ingredient is treated with the utmost respect and admiration.
Chef Prateek walks his team through today’s menu which has changed significantly from yesterday’s. After a few questions from the team they go off in shifts for the staff meal before dinner service.
The kitchen starts to prep for service and we take a walk through the ultra-modern kitchen. There’s an incredible smoker which was designed by Chef Prateek and acts as a pit that imbibes ingredients with a deep, smoky flavour. This cooking method is used across rural areas of the country where pits are built into the ground, filled with whatever is cooking and covered up until its ready. Masque uses it for dishes like their Smoked Potatoes- an entire dish highlighting the textures of potato served with butternut squash.
The first few batches of guests enter the restaurant and you can tell the difference between first timers and repeat guests (of which there are many). Everyone is immediately enthralled by the modern brass installation and minimal bar. The cocktail menu is inspired by the five vital elements (air, water, fire, earth and void) and are a big part of the multi-sensory Masque experience.
Knee deep into service and the kitchen remains calm. They go through dishes with mechanical precision and you can see that everyone knows exactly what their job is. One of the chefs accompanies each dish to every table so you get their first-hand description and experience of the dish.
Dining is a truly sensory experience and this comes through clearly at Masque. Rather than hide behind chemical foams and smokes, Masque relies heavily on the pure flavours of their ingredients. The pride and admiration Prateek has for the farms and farmers he works with is apparent in his cooking and we can’t wait for our next meal there.