El Bulli might have shut down, but Ferran Adrià continues to influence food globally. We see similar techniques coupled with Indian flavours at Masala Library in the capital.
What’s special about matar mushroom, dahi bada, jhaal muri or a thukpa with noodles, you might ask. And, why would you go to a restaurant—and an upscale, fine-dining one at that—to eat dahi bada? But what you get at Masala Library, Delhi, in the name of these dishes, which are part of the new menu, is some highly innovative and spectacular food. And, astoundingly, the flavours evoke the same memories as the original dishes. Commonly available jhaal muri, perhaps the most common street food across India, takes the form of a cookie. But looks are deceptive. The grains of puffed rice, flavoured with tamarind and spices, bind together in a thin cookie with some magical glue that is actually a coating of corn syrup and maltodextrin, which invisibly binds the grains together to form an intricate web. The result: a crisp, spicy concoction that could be addictive.
The dahi bada is actually a microwaved sponge of a mixture of gram flour and black chickpeas that has been aerated in a siphon machine. The tempered and flavoured curd is also light as a foam, having had a hit of aeration. The flavours: true to the original, but with textures and looks that are completely different. Now imagine a noodle that actually arrives as a paste of green peas in a squeezy bottle on the table. But pour the mix into the hot thukpa soup and it sets into strands of noodles. Magic? Just a powder called ‘methyl cellulose’ that mixed with the peas enables this transformation in a hot liquid. An inspiration straight from El Bulli.
Imagine prawns and you would salivate at the thought of succulent chunks of flesh. What you get instead is a sort of panna cotta served atop a simple curry of coconut milk and red chilli. The perfect emulsion of the panna cotta is actually a blend of tiger prawns, shrimp and basa mixed with butter, cream and salt in a thermomix set at a very cold temperature to retain flavours. Some steaming and there you have it, flavours straight from the seaside.
“Inspiration for my dishes comes from my travels across the country, where I experience various cuisines and combinations. Back in my kitchen, I refer to the remembered taste, which I translate into my dishes,” says chef Saurabh Udinia of Masala Library. He relies on his scientific temperament for all the “hocus pocus” in the kitchen, using techniques like centrifugation, condensation and simple chemistry to achieve theatrics and the right presentation. However, he knows where to draw the line, using theatrics not for mere effect, but to serve a purpose, like liquid nitrogen to keep the tubes of a sorbet cold and not just to wow diners. But wow he does, especially at a time when food goes much beyond flavour and presentation, becoming entertainment as well. Zorawar Kalra, managing director of Massive Restaurants, which runs Masala Library, adds, “With the launch of Masala Library chapter 2, we plan to offer an unparalleled and exclusive culinary experience. The dishes are a gastronomic voyage, capturing the grandeur of centuries-old customs.”