Chef Daniel Humm serves a 10-course, plant-based menu at Masque, Mumbai

Chef Daniel Humm’s 10-course, plant-based menu is a collaboration between his restaurant in New York, Eleven Madison Park, and Mumbai’s Masque on a culinary project, ‘A Nod To Nature’s Best’

Updated - September 08, 2023 03:36 pm IST

Published - September 04, 2023 09:05 pm IST

Chef Daniel Humm with Aditi Dugar and Chef Varun Totlani at Masque, Mumbai.

Chef Daniel Humm with Aditi Dugar and Chef Varun Totlani at Masque, Mumbai. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“We are running out of time and we need to start now,” begins Chef Daniel Humm, owner of Eleven Madison Park (EMP), as we sit down to chat about his collaboration with Mumbai-based ingredient-driven restaurant, Masqueon a project titled, ‘A Nod to Nature’s Best’ that explores plant-based food. Passionate about plant-based food and recipes, Daniel emphasises the need to adapt to sustainable living and eating.

Tomato tea with gondhoraj lime and chilli and dosa with tomato, drumstick and marigold.

Tomato tea with gondhoraj lime and chilli and dosa with tomato, drumstick and marigold. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Our food system is collapsing. There is plastic in the ocean. The fishes are full of diseases that we have never seen before. It is making us sick. The meat industry is destroying the planet. The Amazon forest is being destroyed. These forests are the lungs of our planet and by chopping them, we are not just running out of resources, but also harming the earth. Every week, there is a new natural disaster that we are not even prepared to deal with. This is why food has become a very powerful language now. We are bringing a plant-based food-eating experience to the world to show how magical it is. We want to inspire other restaurants and chefs so that slowly, everybody adapts to this concept because we don’t have time to sit around,” says Daniel.

On August 23, the EMP team, along with Daniel, landed in New Delhi where, accompanied by Aditi Dugar, director and founder of Masque and Varun Totlani, head chef of Masque, they explored the local food and sourcing native ingredients. Later they travelled to Kashmir. Daniel arrived in Mumbai on August 27 to lay out the collaboration dinner with Masque on September 1 and 2.

King trumpet mushroom with ginger and lemongrass.

King trumpet mushroom with ginger and lemongrass. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Under Daniel, his restaurant has received many accolades— in 2017, EMP was ranked number 1 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. He says: “ Receiving awards comes with a big responsibility. For a decade, our restaurant was famous for duck, lobster, caviar and all kinds of meat, but I always felt there is something higher than just winning awards. The supermarkets are full of choices and options in products. For example, the dairy section has different kinds of milk such as almond , rice , soy , nut milk and so on. A lot of these products are full of preservatives, multipliers and are highly processed. Some of these products are advertised for what they are not. Most importantly, we are forgetting that we need these products to taste good.”

“Eating plant-based food is extremely enriching, plentiful and diverse and that is where chefs really need to step in and take the responsibility to make the future as delicious and healthy as possible. As a chef, it is really important for me to celebrate each and every ingredient and be aware that we are sourcing the ingredients in the right manner,” he adds. Daniel, who is a vegetarian by choice, says he is constantly trying to make plant-based food more delicious.

Black truffle tart.

Black truffle tart. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Talking about the demand of plant-based food, Daniel says “It is a fact that the planet is running out of resources. There are several studies that explain how by 2050, we will need five planets to feed our one planet if we continue to eat the way we do right now. Eighty per cent of all the farm lands in the world is used for animal farming but it only accounts for 11% of the calories. Choosing plant-based food is not a trend or something I came up with; this is just a reaction to the reality.”

The bond with India

The first time Daniel came to India was in 2017 right after EMP was named the world’s best restaurant. During the five week- trip, Daniel travelled to Rajasthan, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Rishikesh, Mumbai and New Delhi. “Initially, I was drawn to India for spirituality and yoga; but after coming here, I realised how food is an important part of our lives and our planet and it is just been inspiring since then. That trip was the beginning of my thought to explore plant-based food and become more thoughtful about our planet.”

This time, while in Delhi, Daniel stopped by a street vendor who was making samosas. He took the ladle from the cook and started frying samosas. “To me, India is a very powerful place. From spices, spirituality, weather and people, everything offers so much learning; one feels the time we have is never enough. These kind of experiences teach any human to keep their ego aside and embrace life every day and not try to control a situation,” says Daniel who adds that he would like to explore southern India during his next trip. “I have never been to the south and that is the next thing I want to really explore. I want to learn more about Ayurveda and naturopathy cuisine in Kerala. I would also like to add Goa to the list,” he adds.

Tonburi with avocado and sorrel.

Tonburi with avocado and sorrel. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

At Masque

Varun says the idea behind a 10-course plant-based menu was to showcase what both the restaurants (Masque and EMP) do in a cohesive way, even as they celebrate the abundance of Indian produce. 

“The food was obviously Chef Daniel’s choice and style of cooking, inspired by the French, Swiss and American cuisines. We went plant-based for this collaboration because we wanted to highlight what he does, but with our Indian twist,” shares Varun.

Some of the items served included a black truffle tart, tomato tea with Gondhoraj lime and chilli; dosas with tomato chutney and marigold; cactus karonda (Bengal currants) and fiddlehead fern with miso ambemohar rice and hemp.

The process of sourcing ingredients

Masque has been sourcing ingredients from local farmers and producers during their foraging trips every year. Varun narrates the ingredient hunt they went on with the EMP team: “It was not as intense as we usually do; going to Kashmir was a last- minute plan as Uttarakhand didn’t work out due to weather conditions. We sourced ingredients such as praan (wild onion or shallot), rhododendron, kafal (bayberry),hisalu (aHimalayan raspberry), chestnuts, fiddlehead ferns, wild ratanjot (alkanet) that is used as a natural food colour and stone fruit. At a khawa shop in Kashmir, I was surprised to learn that people there sweeten their tea using gulkand (rose petal jam). Daniel loved it. We bought 2kg of gulkand from a vendor there. We also saw the tradition of drying vegetables, for use in making curries in winters when the produce is scarce.”

Every research trip helps in forming a lasting relationship with local communities, something that Varun believes is very important. “It is because of these relationships that we have local suppliers who sell their produce directly to us. For example, we have a local vegetable seller from Jodhpur who sends us photos of local produce and if I need something, he will pack it in a box and send it via bus that reaches Borivali. We recently bought karonda from them.”

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