Unmasking Sustainable Food At Masque, Mumbai

Rubina A Khan reviews the Chef’s Tasting Menu at Masque, Mumbai: “an indulgent and wondrous night of sustainable culinary artistry, Indian style.”

The ‘it’ word right now, worldwide, is sustainable, making it lit to use it in any parlance. Sustainable and sustainability is used rather loosely by most fashion and food companies to sound evolved, aware and green-conscious, making the veracity of their sustainable credo rather questionable, but not at Masque, a wilderness-to-table restaurant in the erstwhile mill lands of central Mumbai. Masque’s ingredient-driven sustainable food experience is real, and how! Together, as owners of Masque, Chef Prateek Sadhu and entrepreneur Aditi Dugar have created an indigenously Indian culinary experience that is inimitably theirs, since September 2016, incomparable to any in the country.

Fern Mallis, creator of New York Fashion Week and the host of Fashion Icons With Fern Mallis at the 92Y, believes “sustainable is the new black”. A well-travelled, food enthusiast like Fern, not to mention fashion legend, made for the best company, unmasking sustainable food at Masque, starting the night off with a round of cocktails. She went with The Calabura, from their Wind series, made with Grey Goose Vodka, Aperol, Lemon, Panama Berries and Sweet Lime and I had the heavenly Aquacollins cocktail, from their Earth line, also made with Grey Goose Vodka, Rose, Fennel Seeds and Saffron Soda, which took me back to my time in Kashmir, watching my grandfather see off dinner guests at home with a box of the elusive saffron strands.

Masque’s 10-course chef’s tasting menu, a first for an Indian restaurant, comprises of seasonal dishes made from ingredients sourced locally and sustainably in India. The restaurant’s first course is always served on their pristine white kitchen counter, which is very conducive for the ‘gram. We chose to have all our courses atop their bar stools, amidst the harmonious and seamless action in the kitchen with a Harvey Specter (Suits) quote of the day courting us through the night. No screaming or flying pots and pans here – just a very decorous and synergised team alongside Sous Chefs, Kamlesh Negi and Rahul Sharma, creating art on our plates, taking us through the finest dining experience in Mumbai.

The first course kicked off with a sweet and savoury explosion of flavours with Kanji, made from seasonal black carrots usually found in Northern India, but are being grown on a land patch outside of Pune, especially for the restaurant. Next up was fresh Barramundi fish, not flown in from Australian waters, but from our very own Andaman Islands, with Raw Mango and Cucumber, followed by Masque’s version of a Caesar salad on a bed of ice – Romaine Lettuce with Garlic, Shrimp and Cured Egg Yolk which was beyond delectable. I had the the Eggplant Gujiya – twisted on its sweet ‘Holi’ head into a savoury creation akin to a Latin American Empanada, with Beetroot Yogurt and Fern had the Carbonara Gujiya. The Pani Puri was accompanied by a Cherry Tomato Tart after which the fresh Mackerel on Buckwheat Toast just blew me away! I have never had mackerel that didn’t come out of a tin, and definitely not one as delicious as this. By the time the Lobster Tzir Czot (Kashmiri style) with Gooseberry, the Katlam with Buffalo Tongue, Brain Butter, Salsify (a root vegetable I’d never heard of, let alone ever eaten) with Garlic Chive Butter, another round of Barramundi in a Curry Leaf and Coconut Broth and the Duck Liver with Gutti Aloo, Morels and Seaweed Butter came up, we were both overwhelmed by the culinary artistry of the chefs at Masque. “I could be anywhere in the world right now – it does not feel like Mumbai at all. This food is just unbelievable!” said Fern and I couldn’t agree more. The night ended only after four rounds of desserts (yes, four!) were washed down with the most deliciously warm Kashmiri Kahva (tea) with almond slivers.

Masque aims to use ingredients and produce that is locally grown and sourced, with exceptions like the duck, that doesn’t fly in from a freezer in China, but fresh off Gayatri Farms in Gurugram, Haryana or the Barramundi fish from the Andamans. The owners travelled across India to bring back the country’s forgotten ingredients, specifically from the Himalayan belt and it shows. There is no hard-selling of the food at Masque – it is all about the food you want to experience, with every dish telling it’s own flavourful story – from the roots it was made of to the salt sprinkled on it. The mountainous berry, Kaafal, a favourite, found in the Tehri Garhwal region, is what the chefs are working on to make desserts from, for their summer menu. The menu does not have any pretentious names for the dishes – just the ingredients, with the chefs expanding on how, and why, way they came to be. Informed chefs leading an engaged team is what makes for a memorable culinary experience at Masque. Occasionally, the restaurant hosts pop-ups with Michelin-star chefs, the next one coming up in May with Chef Jordy Navarra of Toyo Eatery in the Philippines.

In a world afflicted, and unfortunately accepting of mediocrity, Masque is unparalleled in India in every aspect of hospitality – right from the reservations team, to its owners, bartenders, mixologists, management team, chefs and the star of the restaurant – its incredible food! Masque was an indulgent and wondrous night of sustainable culinary artistry, Indian style.

Masque is open Tuesday-Sunday, with 7:30-8:00PM and 9:00-9:30PM seatings for dinner. Closed on Mondays.
Sunday Brunch: 12:30PM onwards.
Masque Restaurant
Unit G3, Laxmi Woollen Mills, Off Dr E Moses Road,
Mahalaxmi, Mumbai 400011 India
+91 22 4973 7431/32 | 98 190 69222

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

@Rubina A Khan 2019

RUBINA’S RADAR | FROM RED SOLED LOUBOUTINS IN NEW YORK TO THE CANNES RED CARPET IN THE FRENCH RIVIERA

RUBINA’S RADAR 

Fashion’s boldest bodies and brains know how to work the fiery haute month of May, especially on the French Riviera. The 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France is on fire, the summer temperatures notwithstanding, with beautiful and glamorous women walking the red carpet in breathtaking couture and bespoke jewels at the world’s biggest playground for photo-ops. Cannes is truly all about women, with men in tuxes running behind them, holding up their dresses and patting and settling them down to picture perfection. And what’s the most photographed fashion parade in the world without a wardrobe malfunction, inadvertent or otherwise? Day one saw Bella Hadid in a champagne Alexandre Vauthier gown with an underwear flash that was blinding. Eating an icecream cone in the gown after her red carpet strut, cemented Hadid’s nonchalance at the gaffe, that seemed more designed, than accidental. The red silk “barely there” gown, by Vauthier again, that she carried off so elegantly on the red carpet last year, clung on to her like second skin, with no slip up. That’s the reason Hadid stole the show primarily because nothing happened to the dress that everyone thought, or was hoping rather, would fall off her, and it pushed the fledgling model’s career forward the way it was orchestrated to. Just like this year’s “malfunction”.

Bollywood’s most poised actor, Deepika Padukone made an absolutely stunning debut at Cannes this year as part of L’oreal’s international glam girl squad. On opening gala night, Padukone looked fresh and completely at ease as she worked the red carpet statuesquely in a jewel-toned Marchesa gown with a seductive glimpse of her derrière and legs through the sheer of the fabric, for the screening of Ismael’s Ghosts (Les Fantomes d’Ismael). The following day, she wore a dark green Brandon Maxwell one-shoulder gown with a thigh-high slit for Loveless (Nelyubov) and Wonderstruck. With bold green eye makeup, green velvet heels, and her hair in an updo, it was impossible not to love her chic style, despite being head-to-toe in one solid colour.

Cannes’ most beautiful habit for the last fifteen years, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan seems to have gotten her fashion game on this time around. She pleased everyone, well almost, as she walked the red carpet in an icy blue Michael Cinco ball gown from his Impalpable Dream of Versailles collection, looking effortlessly flawless! But interestingly, about two weeks ago, Cinco, a Dubai based designer with an atelier in the Dubai Design District, was in fittings with the Swarovski heiress and singer, Victoria Swarovski for the same dress in the exact same colour, so it wasn’t exactly a couture debut on the Bollywood star. Though, Bachchan took Cinco’s creation from mere princess level to Disney queen, if there ever was one in the fairytale kingdom of dreams. Her daughter Aaradhya must have loved seeing her looking like a beautiful Elsa in the ball gown. Bachchan was definitely in a royal state of mind given her wardrobe choices thereafter, with her engine red Ralph & Russo gown on day four of the fest. It was just another red dress with frills and stones, with a clumsy fit on the sides, sans any custom couture attributes, aside from the famous face wearing it.

While in New York, Fern Mallis the award-winning creator and organiser of New York Fashion Week and now a Director of the Fashion Institute of Technology Foundation, interviewed Paris based shoe designer, Christian Louboutin. The conversation took place at the prestigious 92nd Street Y on Wednesday, May 17th, for her Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis ticketed series. Needless to add, it was a sold out event that was live streamed as it always is, for those who want to listen in. This conversation will undoubtedly find its place in Mallis’ second edition of her first book, Fashion Lives: Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis, published by Rizzoli in April 2015. It was a marvellous interaction between Mallis and the shoes designer of Egyptian and Lebanese descent, wherein he talked about his soul, and his famous red soles.

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Christian Louboutin and Fern Mallis | Photo: Michael Priest Photography

Expelled from school at age 16, Louboutin went to work as an intern at the famed Parisian cabaret Folies Bergère and did odd jobs for the dancers, but the one that fulfilled his dream was making shoes for them, he told Mallis. “I was all about shoes; I was not about fashion. I had cinema and music but not fashion. When I first started I wanted to design shoes for showgirls. But it was a very good way to learn about shoes because for showgirls, they’re very important. They have very little costumes in general, so shoes are a strength, a weapon, a posture,” he said. He was curious why all the dancers ate veal carpaccio, and he was told by them, “You’re so stupid. We’re not eating it. We’re putting it in the shoes,” rolling it up for cushioning, explained Louboutin.

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Christian Louboutin and Fern Mallis | Photo: Michael Priest Photography

At 18, an interview at Christian Dior led him to an internship with Charles Jourdan in the early 80s, wherein he learnt about the business of shoes, followed by design stints at Yves St Laurent, Chanel and Maud Frizon. Along with two of his friends, he opened the first store in Paris in October 1991, with $150,000, including the price of the lease. Louboutin found the inspiration for his trademark red soles in 1993 in red nail paint. The inspiration he describes as “a courtesan living out her life in a circus” turned his surrealistically beautiful shoes into an international success story. Known for his sky-high heels, he thinks flat shoes can be sexy, as proven by the legendary French actress Brigitte Bardot. He went on to tell Mallis that his “Love” flats were created after he saw a photo of Prince Charles staring at Princess Diana’s size 42 shoes.

Today Louboutin also has his own beauty line of nail polishes and lipsticks. “You have to give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. The red sole, which is my trademark and a sign of my ambition, started with the nail polish. It’s nice to remember in your flesh exactly where you started,” he said.

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2017

Modern Japanese Food Theatrics At Yuuka, Mumbai

Rubina A Khan reviews Yuuka, a modern Japanese restaurant in Mumbai: “a theatrical flourish of art on your plate, heightening the sensory pleasures of all five senses.”

Multicultural and lauded Chef Ting Yen of the award winning Oishii Boston in Massachusetts, USA, opened Yuuka on the 37th floor of a hotel that is now the St. Regis Mumbai in August 2014 with a game-changing menu that went beyond sushi, sashimi and sake. Such is the temptation of the masterpieces created by Chef Yen that Mumbai’s discerning palates’ coquetry with Yuuka’s extraordinary Japanese flavours has swiftly escalated into an irrepressible culinary affair since. I first partook in this affair extraordinaire in the opening year with my favourite New Yorker and fashion visionary, Fern Mallis, and then again a couple of times in 2017.

Each dish is a theatrical flourish of art on your plate, heightening the sensory pleasures of all five senses, with your eyes taking in the visual magnificence of the food, some of which is literally on fire, your nose deciphering some familiar, and some unfamiliar ingredients of the dish and the accompanying cocktail, feeling the texture of a crispy lotus root in your hand, your ears resonating with the crunch of the first bite and the final explosion of exquisitely paired flavours in your mouth, making it an unforgettable experience that stays with you forever.

The Yuuka indulgence cannot but start with the Truffle Edamame, Crispy Lotus Root and Okonomiyaki, followed by the spectacular Avocado Tartare, an incredibly complex, but delicious creation with avocados, corn dashi, crispy shallots, parsnips and ice that Executive Chef Akhilesh Singh and Sous Chef Swapnil Doiphode create everyday for enthralled diners like me who can’t seem to get enough of its theatrical presentation and divine taste. The Hamachi or Yellowtail Salmon on Fire is another house special that continues to amaze patrons with its “lit” act, that’s akin to a performance really. Freshly grated wasabi roots make for the best accompaniment to the sumptuous Salmon Truffle, Tiger Tear Maki and Vegetarian Truffle Maki and even a seasoned wasabi lover needs to go easy on this as it hits hard, but feels so good.

Yamazaki single malt cocktails, Sake and Martinis add to the modern Japanese food experience, amidst the mirror and brocade deconstructed origami patterns and the black and gold reef inspired wall, with magnificent views of the city by day and sexy, shimmering ones at night. A new favourite of mine is the Gold Leafed Chocolate Mousse with Truffle Icecream. It just does not get any better than eating truffles in an icecream! “I added a tiny amount of truffle to the icecream for a subtle taste, because any more would overpower the flavours and kill the taste,” says Sous Chef Swapnil of his latest creation. The decadent Green Tea Cake, all 40 layers of it, with rum-soaked raisins and matcha dust is an absolute must at the end of your meal here.

I’d reviewed Yuuka for Harper’s Bazaar earlier, and what I wrote back then still holds true today. The fabulous new additions to its already enticing menu has me entranced and the consistency (a very rare attribute in Mumbai, and in life in general) of the distinct flavours and textures of the dishes I had eaten almost two-and-a-half years ago and most importantly, the knowledgeable, friendly and familiar service by the Restaurant Manager Prasad, who remembered my preferences from the last time around in 2014! Knowing what to order can be rather daunting, and uninformed choices can dull any culinary experience, but the service team here walks you through every dish, discreetly participating in your experience, making it a marvellously memorable one!

Yuuka is open everyday from 12PM – 3PM | 7PM – 12AM
Level 37
St. Regis Mumbai
462, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400013
+91 22 61628422 Yuuka

©Rubina A Khan 2017

From Couture To Carats, Bibhu Mohapatra Designs His First Jewelry Line, Artemis For Forevermark India

Each season, New York based, Indian fashion designer, Bibhu Mohapatra’s collections play out a new, olde world story on the runway, a historical throwback to some of the most fascinating men and women that ever lived, and this year is no different.

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       Fern Mallis with fashion designer Bibhu Mohapatra 

Annemarie Schwarzenbach, a journalist and photographer in Europe during the 30s fueled his Bauhaus inspired SS 16 line and the audacious Empress Dowager Cixi, a concubine of Emperor Xianfeng, who went on to become a ruler of the Chinese Qing dynasty, his Fall RTW16 collection with dominant hues of red, at New York Fashion Week in February this year. He couldn’t be more paradoxical in his design approach, elegantly consummating the past with the contemporary, with the visual flourish of an artist. What made him embody the spirit of Empress Dowager Cixi in his collection this time around? “Courage and confidence are the two qualities that I admire the most in people. My muses always have these qualities in common and Empress Cixi was a dreamer. With her focus and perseverance, she went from being a young concubine to a ruler of the Chinese empire for half a century. My clothes, inspired by her, are meant to bring out those qualities in women and empower them,” said Mohapatra of his current muse.

Mohapatra is not the biggest name in the fashion business, yet, or the go-to designer for the coveted Met Gala or the Cannes red carpet photo-ops, but his designs are worn by some of the most influential and ingenious women in the world – the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, Jennifer Lopez, Eva Longoria, Priyanka Chopra, New York Fashion Week creator, Fern Mallis and the stunning model du jour, Kendall Jenner. It is an incredible triumph for his young eponymous fashion label that launched its first collection in Fall 2009.

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Kendall Jenner in a Bibhu Mohapatra outfit (2015) Picture Credit Unknown 

From dreaming up fashion runways in his hometown Rourkela, in Odisha, India, to designing for Halston and J Mendel, his Economics degree from Utah turning fashionably expendable in the interim, to settling down in New York with his own atelier in the Garment District, Mohapatra’s heart is “most humbled and gratified” with the distinguished set wearing his designs. Interestingly, it was fashion connoisseur Fern Mallis and author of Fashion Lives – Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis, who suggested his name to Michelle Obama’s stylist when they were exploring young, new designers, making the initial connection for Mohapatra, and that’s how the most famous woman in the free world came to wearing, and loving his designs. “I love Fern! She is one of my closest friends and a huge supporter,” said Mohapatra, who recently launched a jewelry line, his first, in collaboration with Forevermark India called Artemis in Mumbai.

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A piece from Bibhu Mohapatra’s Artemis line

Mohapatra is ecstatic about this new creative dimension his design sense is roused by. He finds designing for both, couture and carats, “very different, with the only similarity designing for both being the ultimate target consumer who wants the same finesse, style and quality in the fine jewellery that is intrinsic to the garments I design. I have always dreamt of working with diamonds and designing a fine jewellery collection and this collaboration came about from a casual meet and greet with the Forevermark team in India about two years ago. So, before I actually got around to discussing this opportunity with the Forevermark team, I was reassured by the brand about the responsible sourcing of its diamonds, which was one of the most important and key deciding factors for our collaboration. It took more than a year to put the Artemis collection together and we have about 35 pieces in all and the collection is growing.”

Is the Artemis line an extension of his creative pursuits as a women’s wear designer? “Artemis is an extension of my brand as a lifestyle brand. When I had my first meeting with the Forevermark team, it became apparent to me that not only will I get to work with the finest of diamonds to create some unique pieces, but I will also get the opportunity to create something that will be available to a broader clientele, rather than just to a select few. Artemis is a collection of iconic pieces that are eternal. The sun, the moon and the stars play a powerful role in our lives and our loves and all creations in the world. For over 5,000 years, Vedic Astrology has provided a method of understanding the compatibility of couples. I have combined the forms and phases of the sun, moon and the stars to create a sensual, romantic line that brilliantly comes to life in the Artemis collection. The different shades of gold represent the sun, the moon and the stars and the Forevermark diamond at the heart of this collection embodies all the closely held secrets of the universe. The muse of this collection is someone who is well exposed to the world and appreciates the craft of fine jewelry and believes that these pieces are not merely for decoration; but that they represent a state of lives together.”

There is almost always a celebratory female power, barring the odd male, in the characters Mohapatra picks out from historical archives for his mood board that resonate in his arresting, structured designs that stems from a deeply personal, feminine chord. “I have been shaped by women in my life, namely my (late) mother and my sister. My mother gave me everything I have today. She not only taught me how to sew, but she instilled the design sensibility in me. My sister indulged me by wearing my hand-stitched designs at home, but it was a gold jacquard top with a pale yellow chiffon skirt that she wore out at a function that got people talking and gave me the feeling that I was doing something right. I was so proud of my tailoring in that outfit. My sister has refined taste and she only wears select pieces of mine that suit her lifestyle. I am always inspired by women, not only professionally and creatively, but also personally,” said Mohapatra, who likes to describe himself as an “emotional designer”. “I call myself an emotional designer because I see clothes as tools to improve and empower the lives of the wearers by providing them with confidence. I am inspired by real people and deeply moved by their stories. The stories that shape the character of a person become my key sources wherein I draw my references from whilst working. Sketching and designing are both emotional processes for me.” If he had no creative or financial restraints and were asked to run free with his imagination to create a spectacular dress, who would he make it for and how expensive would it be? “Well, it would have to be for someone really special and the value would be priceless.”

Mohapatra is the only Indian designer based in the United States with an atelier in New York’s Garment District, an enviable international clientele, and stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, Neiman Marcus and Lane Crawford in China retailing his designs, but he does not have flagship stores in India or anywhere around the world, yet. “It’s in the pipeline. It’s my dream to open my first store in New York. All good things take time,” says Mohapatra, who desires “to be present in many parts of the world, touching as many lives as I can with my clothes, jewellery and other products.” Given that he loves cooking and traveling his “two passions after designing”, he could very well expand his brand into a home and living line soon.

The designer finds the fashion sensibility of the Middle East “incredibly refined and interesting”. Will the Artemis line retail in Dubai soon? “We just launched in India and our focus will be the Indian market for now. Dubai is a great city and the women there have such a definitive style. We will definitely look at launching Artemis in the Middle East in the future.”

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on 25 May, 2016

©Rubina A Khan 2016

Disclaimer: Kendall Jenner’s picture is from an unknown source on Google. If you own this picture, we’ll be happy to rightfully credit it to you. 

Award Winning Creator & Organizer Of New York Fashion Week, Fern Mallis, With Her First Book, Fashion Lives – Fashion Icons With Fern Mallis

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Fern Mallis | Mumbai

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Fern Mallis | Mumbai

Fern Mallis | Getty Images

©Rubina A Khan 2015