‘Plating tougher than perfecting flavours’

By: | Updated: March 5, 2017 3:04 AM

His plating techniques get ripped off all the time by other restaurants, but chef Saurabh Udinia of Masala Library admits to finding plating more tricky than getting the flavours right.

Chocolate truffles levitating on charged superconductors.

His plating techniques get ripped off all the time by other restaurants, but chef Saurabh Udinia of Masala Library admits to finding plating more tricky than getting the flavours right. “Inspiration for my dishes comes from my travels all across the country, where I experience various cuisines and combinations. Back in my kitchen, I have a reference point of the remembered taste and I can translate that into my dishes. But when it comes to plating, I have to start from a clean slate. The plating, thus, becomes more challenging,” he says.

However, he admits that innovative plating has become as much part of a chef’s resume as the actual cooking. “We can’t send out a dish that doesn’t look pretty. Our guests are a well-travelled lot these days, and have eaten all across the world. When they come to our restaurant, they expect an experience that matches global standards. We can’t not give them that experience.”

But less is more for him. At Mumbai’s Masala Library, which opened before the Delhi one, he had three elements on every plate. In Delhi, the plates have only two elements. The bar has been raised in terms of technique instead. Udinia now uses more techniques like freeze drying or dehydrating elements for added value.

But it’s the almost-engineer-turned-chef’s scientific background that helps him the most in innovative plating. For instance, he has a dessert with levitating chocolate truffles. Inspiration came from a Ted Talk video of the use of superconductors in Maglev trains that don’t actually touch the ground. Not able to find the superconductors on his own, Udinia contacted the person in the video and sourced them from him. The result is a dessert that leaves every diner gasping. With Udinia currently interested in aerodynamics, expect a flying dish or two next!
Zorawar Kalra, who owns Masala Library, says they have spent a fortune in sourcing the crockery alone. No dish or platter is repeated in one menu, and some of them are handmade plates. Udinia has himself driven to Jim Corbett to collect round stones on which he serves a lotus stem dish.

“Appearance is secondary in terms of our thinking, as we focus on flavours first. But it’s the opposite when it comes to the influence of a dish on diners. They see first, and taste later. So over the years, while the focus on flavour remains strong, the importance of looks has risen considerably, and both are now on a par.”

The ‘theatrics’ of food at Masala Library no longer depend on smoke from dry ice or liquid nitrogen. These are used just because they serve a purpose, like keeping the tubes for a sorbet cold, but not for effect. For that, Udinia is using things like a ‘rotary vacuum evaporator’, which distills and condenses whisky to a colourless liquid. Rasam is given the centrifugal treatment to achieve clarity. He is now planning instant noodles that will emerge from a liquid being whirled into a hot bowl of thukpa from a squeezy bottle right on the table. As the liquid goes into the soup, green noodles float onto the top.

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So who can blame diners if they take to frenzied clicking with phone cameras? Udinia is unfazed too, as more clicks mean more shares and more curiosity about the restaurant.

Saurabh Udinia, Masala Library, Flavour VS Presentation 60:40

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