Exactly one year ago, Masque, Mumbai’s upscale fine dining restaurant, received a prestigious award. It had received the title Miele One To Watch by the list of the 50 best restaurants in Asia. Last month they rose through the ranks to rank 32nd on the prestigious list. Co-founder and chief executive Prateek Sadhu said being on the list was the motivation their team needed after a year of trying to survive.
But, within weeks, feelings of celebration were replaced with worries of foreclosure. In early April, the Maharashtra government announced a curfew between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. and banned dinners, just as restaurants prepared to welcome better times with vaccinations. last year, and if things don’t improve now, they may have to go out of business, ”says Sadhu. “Last year the silver lining was that we could deliver after midnight. Now we have to close at 8 p.m. Sadhu believes the only way the industry can survive is for the government to provide some relief to offset the heavy taxes and fees paid by these companies to the state.
“The hospitality industry is a people-driven industry. Our job is to create memories for the guests when they enter, ”he says. When restaurants were closed due to last year’s lockdown, Sadhu’s team reflected on introducing home delivery menus that would create memories and instill a sense of warmth. They launched Milestones with Masque, a take-out concept to celebrate special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. Other than that, they were one of the first restaurants in town to introduce picnic baskets called “Chef’s Pick” which featured a menu curated by a member of the Masque team. “We were trying to have fun and hoping that would translate into the take out menu. It is food that gives a feeling of joy, ”says Sadhu.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
What happened around this time last year?
Just before the announcement of confinement, we won the Asia’s 50 Best One to Watch trophy. Our morale was high, but the world had different plans. Last April we were really confused. The only thing we wanted to do was survive no matter what. It is my inherent belief that adversities bring out the best in you; it is a terrible thing to waste. We were thinking about how we could create joy through food, which led to concepts like celebrating milestones and the picnic basket.
How did this “joy” translate into your menu?
When times are tough, we always look for comfort and familiarity. Using this as a criterion, last year our menu had ghee roasted baos, to chatter, thukpa, biryani and ice cream. Around August-September, we introduced the American-style Tailgate concept: while dinner was still prohibited, people could park their cars in front of the restaurant and enjoy a meal of burgers, fries, crispy waffles and of pina coladas. The response was overwhelming and it felt like a silent festival.
Masque Banana Honey Ice Cream.
What happened to your team?
From chefs to administrative employees, we are a team of 31 people. We were lucky to be able to keep every member of the team and there was no pay cut. As a chef and co-founder, I am extremely proud.
Last month, did you launch a spice brand?
My wife Aashina Kaul and my friend Zainab Burmawalla started it and I support their initiative. It’s a brand run by women called Paushtik. The idea is to introduce hyperlocal spices by sourcing quality ingredients. For example, we have the Maharashtrian Goda masala and the East Indian bottle masala. I helped by procuring Kashmir saffron and participated in the creation of state spice blends. The manufacturing unit is in Pune. It is run by women from rural areas near the city who are skilled in mixing spices. There are now 20 masalas and we plan to grow to 40 in three months and take them beyond India. We’ve been working on Paushtik for a year and he’s a pandemic baby.
With the second containment in place, what are your plans for Masque?
This weekend we will be reintroducing the concept of chef’s choice. One of our chefs will decide the menu and we will execute it with him. It is conceptualized by my colleague Chief Kamlesh. He had traveled to Mexico and he will recreate dishes with culinary memories of that trip. It’s going to be fun and hopefully result in a memory you will never forget.