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Three men in a Japanese restaurant

Head chef Masato Toida, molecular mixologist Sagar Tamang and beverage manager Sean Kelly at Juhu’s Ruka make a peculiar trio

We have been sitting at a table at Ruka, the latest Japanese fine-dining restaurant in Juhu’s Ramee Guestline hotel for 15 minutes, watching Chef Masato Toida at work. Engrossed in his preps, the 63-year-old chef, who earlier helmed the kitchen at the group’s Bahrain property, hasn’t looked up even once; let alone notice our presence.

On the other hand, 24-year-old Sagar Lama Tamang, head molecular mixologist, and 33-year-old Sean Kelly, the group beverage manager, are a sprightly duo waiting to concoct a conversation. Toida, joins in too.

Chef Masato Toida prepares a maki roll. pics/datta kumbhar
Chef Masato Toida prepares a maki roll. pics/Datta Kumbhar

Q. You wear a tie under your apron?
A. Masato Toida (MT): Yes, I am a senior chef.

Q. When did you come to Mumbai?
A. MT: Three weeks ago. I have been working on getting the kitchen started. Fish here is not fresh, so I have to import from Japan. I have an experience of 43 years, I won’t compromise on quality.  

Sagar Tamang and Sean Kelly
Sagar Tamang and Sean Kelly

Q. Did you always want to be a chef?
A. MT: Yes. My father was a police officer, and I didn’t like his dictating ways. So, I joined an eatery. I am from Kyoto, where people cook from the heart. For the first one-and-a-half years, I didn’t get to touch the knife. All I did was clean floors and wash vessels. My first duty in the kitchen was chopping raddish. It had to be very fine.

Q. How many ways can you fold a dimsum?
A. MT: More than 2,000. There are fixed types of dimsums which require a limited fold of seven or 14. The har gow is moon shaped, shumai looks like money bags and kote is pan fried, and moon shaped.

Q. How many hours do you work?
A. MT: In one day? I don’t count. As of now, I don’t allow the chefs here to roll the sushi. I am still training them to chop vegetables and prep up. I make my own sauces too. Japanese food is all about freshness.

Q. Where do you get the energy?
A. MT: I wear the apron and I get instant energy. My kitchen knife is my Samurai.

Q. Tell us about Japanese cocktails and spirits.
A. Sagar Tamang (ST): Sake is a rice wine, served either warm or cold. The process of making it is similar to that of beer. Japanese whiskey is the youngest whiskey in the world. That’s a plus point, as companies think outside the box; like mix a scotch and an Irish whiskey to create a unique batch. They can do all this as they have no backlog of following the book of classics.

Q. People are having more cocktails that ever.
A. ST: Ten years ago, vodka and coke could have passed off as a cocktail, or anything that had fruit juice in it. Today, molecular cocktails can have up to 21 ingredients.

Q. What is the weirdest drink you have had?
A. Sean Kelly: I once had a squid-ink cocktail, which was jet black in colour. It was quite good. But then anything that has alcohol cannot be unpalatable. I’m Irish. I might annoy many mixologists, but I am not a fan of vodka.

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