Growing up, going out to dine was usually a celebratory occasion, or it would be to a local neighbourhood joint for Aditi Dugar, Owner at Masque Restaurant. “There weren’t as many good standalone restaurants, and I think that’s been the biggest change in the culinary scene – where each standalone is making an effort to serve good quality, fresh food,” she shares who believes that freshness has become key – where food would once feel processed or ‘bottled’, everyone now is much more aware of conscious eating and sustainability, which really is the need of the hour. Excerpts from the interview:
Running an ingredient-first approach Restaurant
I think our ingredient-first approach to modern Indian cuisine sets us apart. We combine traditional and modern cooking techniques, research that goes behind the menu, and inspiration from around the world, to bring out the best in the ingredients. How do the ingredients age? How do they respond to contrasting flavours? How does one use them nose-to-tail or root-to-stem? And ultimately, how do we connect the dots between diverse food cultures? We revisit regional recipes with purpose, and not simply to plate them differently, which is what culminates in our ten-course tasting menus that change every 6-8 weeks.
It’s been quite a journey! I think in the three and a half years since we opened, we’ve streamlined our goals and direction, built relationships with both our guests and our network of farmers and suppliers that we are so grateful for, and have made so much progress in our journey towards both redefining and celebrating modern Indian food and Indian produce.
Being a Woman Restaurateur
This is my first restaurant; starting out, I didn’t really know the tricks of the trade. We began as outliers of sorts, and given the format of the restaurant and how unusual it was, sifting through the advice I’d get from peers was often hard to gain direction from. We faced plenty of hurdles, but I think Prateek (Sadhu, head chef) and I shared a very strong common vision for the restaurant, and that partnership made it work. I will say that I think being a woman in this position might have worked to my advantage – because, unfortunately, it was not as common as one for women to be in, it made people sit up and take notice. That said, I did already have a catering business up and running, and therefore a small, attentive audience in place. Also, as a woman who has to balance work and a full house, I have been fortunate to have plenty of family support. So yes, I’ve been privileged to not have it affect me as much, but when it comes to women in the workplace, it shouldn’t be a privilege – this needs to be the norm.
Key to Success
Quite frankly, what works for me is that I’m not a planner – I take a leap of faith for everything I want to do. If I know something excites me and it’s something I believe in, I will then do everything in my power to make it happen.
Tips for Women in the Biz
I found – with myself and many other women – our biggest obstacle to starting out was a lack of confidence. I started small, at home, and grew my business from there. Even if you can’t open a big venture immediately, it’s always good to just get started in whatever way you can – it will give you the confidence to move forward. I think too many people hesitate because they are unsure of longer-term plans, but end up stalling because that prevents them from taking the first step.
Food Trends 2020
Sustainability and a move towards waste reduction and zero-waste cooking, which I hope is more than a trend!
High on Expansion
We’ve just opened the Masque Lab, a dedicated space for our chefs to research and experiment with a whole host of seasonal ingredients and techniques that draw out the best in them. We’re hoping to explore the boundaries of those ingredients - how do they age? How do they respond to contrasting flavours? How does one use them nose-to-tail or root-to-stem? Ultimately, how do they help bridge food cultures? With just 12 seats centred around the kitchen, guests will be privy to our process and get insights into our wild experiments -before any of it trickles into the tasting menu at Masque.