2023 was the year of the millet and of regional cuisines. But some would say that it has been an ongoing effort from the preceding years that is finally starting to make a tangible impact. From Chef Thomas Zacharias of Locavore traversing the nation to learn and document local cuisine to Maiyam Past Food in Auroville that serves up traditional fare to chef Rachit Kirteeman working to revive Odia dishes, the collective effort is something that is rightfully becoming a culinary movement of preservation and education of plurality that runs through Indian cuisine.
The Research Led Approach of NAAR
Prateek Sadhu is a Kashmiri-origin chef who deserves to be rightfully among the above list. Through his research ventures, he has brought much-needed attention to Himalayan cuisine and the unique ingredients that are part of the culinary landscape of the locale.
In the mystical hills of Himachal Pradesh, where the air is crisp and the mountains whisper tales of centuries, the chef has now created a culinary haven known as 'NAAR'. This gastronomic adventure is his brainchild, spurred on by his intense journey from the bustling kitchens of Mumbai's Masque to the serene mountains that has birthed what some are calling India's most ambitious destination dining experience.
NAAR, meaning 'fire' in Kashmiri, captures Chef Sadhu's burning passion to spotlight Himalayan cuisine. It's not just a restaurant; it's a celebration of the vast, inspiring land and its people. With a philosophy rooted in purpose, curiosity, and creativity, NAAR takes you on a journey through the six unique seasons of the Himalayas. He perhaps sums it up best in the quote that is highlighted on the website for NAAR.
Crafting a New Language for Indian Cuisine
NAAR's food philosophy pushes boundaries to showcase the flavours and stories of the world’s greatest mountain range. The menu is an inspired blend of produce, flavours, and techniques sourced exclusively from the Himalayan region. The chefs artfully combine culinary traditions with wonder and respect for the land, creating a new space for ingredient-focused, researched Indian cuisine that's as delicious as it is distinctive and also ensures the preservation of age old techniques and flavours.
As the seasons change outside, so do the plates at NAAR. Each dish is a tribute to the six unique seasons of the Himalayas, offering a sensory experience that mirrors the promise of sunshine in spring, the ripening of summer, the lusciousness of monsoon, the hues of autumn, the harsness of winter, and the nip in the air from early winter. Currently, NAAR is treating their guests to the flavours of early winter.
A Journey to the Heart of the Himalayas
Chef Sadhu's culinary adventure unfolds in the tiny village of Darwa, overlooking endless hills. The restaurant, nestled atop a cliff in Amaya, offers a panoramic view of the Himalayan belt. It's not just a dining experience; it's an immersion into the chef's journey – from his departure from Kashmir in 1990 to becoming a recognised chef in his own regard.
Naar's intimate setting, with only 16 seats, allows guests to breathe in the crisp mountain air, stroll to the nearby farm, and forage for wild herbs along bubbling brooks. It's an ambitious venture, and every detail, from the mountain-inspired logos to the locally sourced materials, reflects the Chef's commitment to authenticity.
According to those who’ve dined at NAAR, such as the writers for Conde Nast Traveller and World’s 50 Best, The dining experience at NAAR is a symphony of flavours and stories. The evening starts in the salon, Chef Sadhu's 'living room,' where 80s tunes set the tone for cocktails and canapés. One is urged to sip on their drinks crafted with house-made liqueurs from Himalayan berries, like sea buckthorn. Once the guests move to the main dining room, dishes that creatively interpret the seasons and local fare grace the table in many ways.
For culinary enthusiasts, this multi-course tasting menu is a journey through Himalayan catches, warming soups and foraged ingredients, and employs local techniques and is truly experimental with Himalayan flavours, down to even the dessert. Currently, one of the ingredients that is being celebrated is the pine - from a pine nut ice cream drizzled with pine oil and fermented pine syrup – the team takes inspiration from their literally backyard, since they are nestled amid a pine forest. From employing Pine Needles to make salt to the aforementioned Pine infused desserts and treats, there is no dearth of local and seasonal influence on the NAAR menu.
NAAR is not just a restaurant; it's a testament to Chef Prateek Sadhu's dream and dedication. From his serendipitous encounter in Ladakh to transforming a cow shed into a culinary laboratory, every step has been a leap of faith. The journey to NAAR is not an ordinary one; it requires planning, a plane ride, and a drive through winding roads. But what awaits at the end is a meal with a view, a menu with purpose, and food firmly rooted in the mountains.
As Chef Prateek Sadhu poignantly mentions in his interview with Conde Nast India Traveller,
- CNT India, Chef Prateek Sadhu
For many like Chef Sadhu and to those who understand the efforts that go into creating a venture like NAAR, it is not simply a restaurant; it's an ode to the mountains, an exploration of flavours, and an invitation to join in on an unforgettable gastronomic journey through the heart of the Himalayas and the indigenous ingredients and techniques that are otherwise fast disappearing.
If you're a food enthusiast eager to embark on a culinary adventure that is truly off the beaten path, NAAR is a venture that is worth the plane ride, the train ride, the drive, and/or even a trek if required.
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