Greater than the sum of its parts

Updated: Oct 02, 2019, 08:00 IST | Suman Mahfuz Quazi | Mumbai

In the true spirit of collaborations, chefs Alex Sanchez and Hussain Shahzad have put together a one-of-a-kind swap between their restaurants and a menu with bizarre-but-yum eats, like vindaloo on a pizza

Beef tartare
Beef tartare

With each new menu, it's becoming clearer that Mumbai's foodscape is changing. Less than a decade ago, a collaboration was confined to a restaurant roping in a chef (either a home chef, or a face from a First World country) who spent some time wracking their brains with the head chef to realign their culinary tenor, and tune it to the rhythm of the restaurant.

They would then create a pop-up menu that fit (or was shoehorned) neatly in the space left in the middle. And this simple math — of the two-plus-two-is-equal-to-four variety — is what has largely governed the collaborative space. But such a simple addition overlooks the infinitesimal details, possible to account for only by integration, which forms the spirit of a collaboration, where you don't just juxtapose two things but amalgamate them.

Cardoz's braised beef pasta. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Cardoz's braised beef pasta. Pics/Bipin Kokate

Chefs Hussain Shahzad and Alex Sanchez — who go back five years to their time together as line chefs at New York's famed Michelin star diner, Eleven Madison Park — have managed to identify the gaps in the partnerships they have witnessed in the city so far. So, when the former approached Sanchez for a collaboration that entailed not just opening up each others' kitchens at O Pedro and Americano respectively, but also their space, minds and, most importantly hearts, it gave birth to a distinctly collaborative menu, and a restaurant swap the city has never seen before.

"The thought of doing something like this was always on our mind but it was mostly about when, where and how. You always want to do fun things when you're running the same restaurant day in and day out, so you can stay motivated. And we're turning two, so we wanted to do something that marked a milestone," Shahzad tells us, adding that part of the reason why he reached out to Sanchez was because collaborating with another Goan restaurant would make no sense, and more importantly, because he believes they are "same same but different."

Alex Sanchez and Hussain Shahzad
Alex Sanchez and Hussain Shahzad

Sanchez echoes this when he says, "Hussain and I are close; we have mutual respect for each other as chefs. So one night, over drinks when he proposed the idea, it felt natural because he and I have the same sensibilities [when it comes to food]. We both try to pay respect to the ingredient, source the best produce we can and use the best techniques. It just so happens that he uses a Goan-Portuguese style of combining flavours, whereas ours has a more simple, Californian approach."

At the heart of it, thus, is one goal — clean and bold flavours put together with skilful imagination. What you get is a crossbreed of Western delicacies and Indian piquancy. Like the vindaloo margarita (R750), a supple-as-hell crust swiped with a tangy vindaloo sauce, sprinkled with Sanchez's favourite roasted garlic and Shahzad's love for chillies. Or, the Goan choriz pizza (R750) that marries the whipped-cream-smeared crust with the tartness of the choriz; Cardoz's braised beef pasta (R750; named after O Pedro's partner and Indian-American chef Floyd Cardoz's nana's recipe), a delicate and lip-smacking combination of hand-rolled, green garlic fettuccine topped with a mound of flavourful Goan-spice braised oxtail; and a deliciously lively beef tartare (R350) served with charred peppers and caper emulsion, all tucked inside the crevice of a parched marrow.

Vindaloo margarita
Vindaloo margarita

These cross-pollinated dishes however, are part of the collaborative menu on which Sanchez and Shahzad have been working for the last one month, which involved the two spending time in each others' kitchens. Apart from this, dishes from the regular menu of each of the restaurant will also be available at the two spaces over the next two weekends, while mixologists, too, will helm a bar swap. "It's a little bit like two friends who really get each other are coming together to throw a big party. So, the swap can't just be limited to food, but should extend itself to include drinks, decor and the overall experience that both of us are known for as well," partner at O Pedro, Sameer Seth explains.

And zany or difficult to pull off as this experiment may be, for both Hussain and Sanchez, the collaboration was organic. A large part of that, Sanchez says, was because his counterpart is "humble and open-minded". Hussain agrees that it has been a learning experience that helped further reinstate his faith in re-looking at collaborations in a more holistic manner, instead of skimming off the surface. The idea was to not simply add or subtract, but to create a new formula that recognises that some things are greater than the sum of its parts.

Sameer Seth
Sameer Seth

At Americano, Kala Ghoda, Fort.
On October 5 and 6, 7 pm to 11.30 pm
Call 22647711
At O Pedro, Unit 2, Plot C 68, BKC.
On October 12 and 13, 7 pm to 11.30 pm
Call 26534700

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