Chef Prateek Sadhu takes Mexican chef-friend for a food trail in Srinagar
As Masque turns two, Chef Prateek Sadhu takes his chef-friend Jorge Vallejo from Mexico City on a taste and foraging trip to Srinagar
Having come here all the way from Mexico City, it is chef Jorge Vallejo's first visit to India. And to ensure that his food journey doesn't end at butter chicken and naan, chef Prateek Sadhu whisked him away to Srinagar over the weekend.
Sitting at Ahdoos, a 100-year-old restaurant in the Kashmir capital's Presidency Road, 36-year-old Vallejo — who runs Quintonil in Polanco district and is touted as one of Mexico's top new-gen chefs — felt at home. "This act of sharing and eating together at the table is familiar," Vallejo explains to us later.
Jorge Vallejo and Prateek Sadhu in Maharaj Ganj, Srinagar
At Ahdoos, they were served a nose-to-tail mutton experience, with delicacies like kebabs, and meatballs and curries made with liver, intestine and chest. "The way Indian food is a mix of spices and colours, Mexico, too, sees an explosion of flavours and colours and meals, which for us, are acts of festivity with the people you care about," says Vallejo, who spent the day scouting through the humble spice market in Maharaj Ganj with Sadhu.
The two go back a long way, having worked together at Noma, after which Sadhu returned to Mumbai to set up Masque in 2016, which has its second birthday around the corner. To mark the occasion, he has invited Vallejo to create a collaborative Indian anniversary menu inspired by Masque's Kashmiri philosophy.
Of spices and foraging
"For this collaboration, it was important to give Jorge a first-hand experience of the Valley and its food," says Sadhu, who gave him a break-up of the cuisine that has both Kashmiri Pandit and Muslim influences. "The pandits don't use onion and garlic, while the Muslims are known for their goshtaba [minced mutton balls in yogurt curry] and rogan josh [red meat stew]," says Sadhu.
Kashmiri cooking involves heavy use of dried ginger powder, Kashmiri chilli, fennel powder, asafoetida, green and black cardamoms, and shahi jeera. "We use a lot of yogurt to make our gravies, with Kashmiri chilli as the focal spice," Sadhu says. The next stop of the Srinagar trip was Dachigam, where they foraged for dandelions, and kohl rabi greens like collard leaves and sorrels.
This is not the first time that the two are collaborating for a special menu. Last year, Sadhu had teamed up with Vallejo in his kitchen in Mexico and Yucatan. With new ideas and ingredients, the chefs are now brainstorming in the Mahalaxmi kitchen. They have come back from the Valley armed with green walnuts, dandelions, quince fruit and Kashmiri chillies.
Back home, Vallejo is pushing the envelope to source ingredients from local producers, and even nurtures a 15mt garden that supplies flowers and herbs for infusions, and strawberries for dessert. "People think Mexico is too polluted to grow ingredients, but it is possible. Thanks to some dedicated farmers, I source honey from a farm 45 minutes from the restaurant, corn from Azcapotzalco, and tomato from Xochimilco in Chinampa," he explains.
Checking out black urad dal
The aim, he tells us, is to represent the flavours of his city, and to be a global ambassador of the country's gastronomy. "The most valuable lesson I learnt was in my grandmother's kitchen, not in any cooking school. It was to cook with love and care. When you cook, it should be with a sense of feeding somebody, not to show off techniques," says Vallejo, while admitting that Kashmir has filled him with inspiration.
"I really enjoyed the countryside. It was a reminder to be in contact with nature, and to be at the very source of an ingredient, nurturing and picking them," he adds.
On: September 21, 22
At: Masque, Gala 3, Laxmi Woollen Mill, off Dr. E Moses Road, Mahalaxmi.
Cost: Rs 9,800
India and Mexico
While Sadhu is keen to give his rice pancakes a tweak with corn, Vallejo was amused to find quince, a European fruit usually used in desserts, commonly used in a sweet-and-sour gravy in Kashmir. Since both countries have high rice consumption, Vallejo plans to use it to make a horchata, a Mexican drink of rice, cinnamon and honey. Here are some dishes that are common to both countries:
* Unfermented flat breads: Tortillas for Mexico, chappatis for India
* Gravies: Mole for Mexico, curries for India
* Common spices: cardamom, chillies, and cinnamon
* Firni and kheer for India, rice pudding or arroz con leche made with rice, milk and sugar for Mexico
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