Green is the colour of the hour. Here’s delving into sustainable development in food production with chefs Matt Orlando and Prateek Sadhu, together for ‘amass’-ive pop-up

Turn the page of the previous issue of UpperCrust to the Bombay Buzz Metro section and you will find an iridescent Heirloom Tomato staring right back at you, courtesy Masque, the trending restaurant by Aditi & Aditya Duggar with Chef Prateek Sadhu at its helm, in the quiet industrial area of Shakti Mills. We are right back at their table today, not to sample their new menu – one that changes with the seasons, with the freshest, locally-sourced ingredients, true to the restaurant’s farm-to-fork principle – but to garner a deeper understanding of the philosophy behind it all, what makes Masque the ambitious, audacious and delicious game-changer on the city’s culinary scene! And what brings the owner/chef of one of Copenhagen’s deeply-rooted, we mean literally, fresh from the earth, young restaurants, one that serves as inspiration for its Bombay brother!

Chef Matt Orlando of Amass beams with joy for this opportunity to experience first-hand his own way of helming the kitchens right here in our city of gastronomic bloom. Masque X Amass was a pioneering pop-up held at the ‘bistronomic’ fine-dine with the chefs putting their toques together to deliver a menu that had gourmets, from abroad as well, flock to and relish in the delights, bursting with freshness and flavour. The 12 courses ran the gamut from Barramundi with Nasturtium, Bitter Almond and Turmeric; Goan Sausage Churros, Fermented Potato Bread, Pork Belly with Turnip, Black Pepper and Sour Cream; the intriguing Tomato, Nut Ricotta, Pickled Rose and Strawberry; Lamb Breast with Mustard and Kohlrabi; Marzipan, Tandoori, Parsnip and Sour Pancake; tantalising Macadamia with Curry Leaf and Burnt Wood Oil; Cashew nut, Palm Jaggery and Burnt Chocolate; Sweet Potato and Buckwheat… and some more of the good, clean and green stuff courtesy Masque X Amass. With the use of ingredients sourced from the country itself, the pop-up made diners feel right at home, replete with a playlist all the way from Amass and the first course served straight off the pan in the kitchen itself for an unsullied experience, in taste and feel.

“There is a similar focus on ingredients and the importance of a relationship with the farmers. More chefs should collaborate like this. India has such a deep tradition of food. Flavours are wild. This trip was all about inspiration,” begins Chef Matt, short for Matthew, we clarify. He is tall, talented and ever-so pleasing and when he speaks green, you listen. “The logistics of such a pop-up or bigger still, the everyday operations of such a restaurant itself is the greatest challenge. Even in Denmark, I have to ensure the ingredients sourced and served are the freshest and this is where you have to learn the art of, and be adept at, flexibility.”

While for Masque, it is in the beginning stages, for Amass, it’s a vision that’s seen fruition since 2013 and is continuing to do so on its ever-evolving journey. Sustainable development in food production is the name of the game and Chef Matt brought his skill to the counter with the establishment of his dining room arena. With the aim of communal eating characterised by the spontaneity of ingredients sourced from their cultivated kitchen garden with over 80 varieties of plants including leafy vegetables, berries, herbs and flowers, Amass brings ingenuity to your plate. Want to know more about it, head to the open space and sip on a glass of red while they take you through their practices and guide you on a sustainable lifestyle. ‘What we eat affects the environment we live in and food, hence, should be beneficial and not harmful to our planet’. One of the most influential goals of the world plan for the next 15 years is sustainable development in cooking in order to preserve our health and the health of the world we inhabit.

Experience being the best tutor, Chef Matt realised what an industry of waste he was employed in, the enormous food business. Starting off at the young age of 16, after having worked in a pizza joint for two years, he followed his passion at the cost of his education in restaurant management, and left San Diego and the comfort of a close-knit family for New York, that too immediately post 9/11. The bold move took him further to train at top establishments such as Le Bernardin and later Per Se – for 12 years, where he worked alongside his wife Julie who serves as his restaurant manager today – Belmond Le Manoir and Fat Duck in the UK and Noma in Copenhagen. The revelation from all these years led to the beginning of Amass, a journey from farm to plate in 2013. Cooking backwards is what you will hear the chef deem his technique, which involves the use and reuse of ingredients to be environment friendly and working around them to define a menu that changes by the week. And which involves an intense recycling programme to adhere to the norm that the products are key and the way you treat them equally intrinsic.

Explains Chef, “For instance, we take food trim and brown cardboard, shred it and use it as compost in our garden. The stems of parsley are ground and the powder that you acquire tastes like seaweed which can be used as seasoning. Fish bones make delicious fried snacks and coffee beans go on to serve as ingredients for flatbreads. Meats are stored in a meat-ageing fridge. We have one farmer for beef and one for pork. As for the menu, we never repeat a dish. Creativity and progression, freshness are vital.” What is available today might not be tomorrow, sustainability is a race against time.

So you have dishes that incorporate five varieties of winter vegetables made delicious in a range of ways, carrots that are rehydrated and used again, pickled pine, brown butter that is reduced, pork that is grilled served with celery and sour cream, raw fish in cold pressed almond oil with turmeric and papaya and so on. And in the production of the fare, there shall be no wastage of the ever-precious resource, l’eau de vie. “We save and save water by boiling it and using it to wash floors. 80-100 litres a day,” states Chef Matt. There is much involved in the execution of sustainability in food production and it is a profitable investment in so many ways. “Oh yes, we received a $21,000 rebate with our conservation methods.” With a gold organic certification, Amass ensures its products are pesticide-free, right down to its wine selection which is also in keeping with environmentally ethical production, building a strong relationship with winemakers who are more farmers than the former. Through it all, you discover a world apart, where purveyors and your staff are more family, like-minded and supporting you in what you believe. Chef Matt began Amass to challenge people’s perceptions of fine-dining and today they have the critics eating out of their plates. It’s all a refined experience, cooking and serving, dining, too, with a conscience.

Heirloom Tomato 8 Final
Heirloom Tomato Tart

We’re still at Masque, to bring you back to the restaurant that has forayed and arrived into the sustainable sphere here! The young Executive Chef Prateek strongly believes in the challenge they have taken up since September last year. “Before Masque opened, I travelled to Ladakh and resided in a remote village on the border where sea buckthorn berries were available aplenty (try the ice-lollys at Masque made from the same, if ever on the menu again). This time with Matt, we roamed through the villages of the South interacting with farmers and expanding our green network. Genuinely, it’s a win-win situation,” shares the CIA NY graduate and culinary professional – with Alinea, French Laundry, Noma, The Leela and the Taj Group being few among his repertoire – who first met with Chef Matt at Noma and then worked at Amass for a stint to gauge the plausibility of their philosophy back home. A collaborative effort that can break barriers in ethical food production and reserve the vastly depleting resources of our planet for the generations to come.

Sounds idyllic, a utopian allegory one might say, but nay, is real as can be and in the making as we speak. Courtesy environmentally conscious chefs such as Matt and Prateek – the former a family man who enjoys snowboarding through the entire month of February when Amass is shut and visits Japan when he can; this when he’s not over at Julie’s on his days off, spending time with her family dining and relaxing.

And the latter, a go-getter who holds Japanese cuisine and cooking techniques in high regard, a Kashmiri boy who cherishes time off to hike, trek, the outdoors, and spend time with his friends and family whenever the opportunity provides itself.
Of course, travel is a common practice, a chef’s prerogative, for this is where creativity flows tenfold and inspiration is gained best. With chefs Matt and Prateek, it’s no less and their endeavours in sourcing local and organic ingredients are optimally fulfilled hence.

This feature was published in the Jan-Mar 2017 issue of UpperCrust and used here with permission from the publisher. Photos: courtesy UpperCrust.