Liquid nitrogen is not normally what you expect to see when you go out for an Indian meal.
But at Tresind Modern Indian restaurant at Radisson Royal Hotel in Dubai, the complimentary starter is the deconstruction of Indian street food pani puri, in which a bubble of coriander and mint water with tamarind gel is shaped into miniature semolina balls using liquid nitrogen.
This avant-garde cuisine is an example of molecular gastronomy, which means using scientific principles in cooking to come up with new creations.
The term was coined in 1988 by the late Oxford physicist Nicholas Kurti, and was popularised in the United Kingdom by Heston Blumenthal, whose TV series features exploding chocolate gateau.
Tresind is the UAE’s first Indian molecular gastronomy restaurant.
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“In Dubai, you talk about Zuma, Toku, and Okku restaurants – they’re all innovative, and they’re all Japanese”, says Sakshi Nath, 40, who runs Tresind along with her husband, Bhupender Nath, 43.
“I always wanted to open an Indian-Okku restaurant.
“If the Japanese can be so innovative, why not the Indians?”
According to Mrs Nath, all the items on her menu are signature dishes, as they are all special in some way. But some are more inspired by molecular gastronomy than others.
One notable creation is the Modernist Chaat Trolley, which for Dh70 gives diners a live demonstration of three types of chaat by one of their chefs, bringing liquid nitrogen to the dining table to convert the batter into delicate solid spheres of dhokla.
“We use big terms like molecular gastronomy and liquid nitrogen, but the idea is not just to have something to talk about but to bring the flavours together. It has to be tasty.
“I cannot expect my guests to come back otherwise,” says Mrs Nath.
It has been a roundabout route to fine dining for Mrs Nath.
She started her career in fashion design.
After she married Bhupender in 1996, the couple moved to Lagos to start a frozen fish company, and Mrs Nath also opened a fashion boutique in the city.
The pair then moved with their two sons to Dubai in 2008, setting up the UAE’s first freshwater fish farm in Ras Al Khaimah two years later.
Although their fish businesses earned them a steady income, the Naths had always dreamt about opening their own restaurant. “Dubai seemed like the right place for the modern Indian restaurant we had in mind”, says Mrs Nath.
The couple tried initially to bring in a franchisee for their restaurant (the cutting edge Mumbai-based Masala Library) but they parted ways before the restaurant was launched.
“Initially, we planned the interior design of the restaurant according to the franchisee name and had to follow their guidelines, hiring a local construction company and designer to do the work.
“We think the design company has now closed down, because we really had a tough time getting the work done from them.
“We still have a snag list of things not yet finished that we’re working on, such as a problem in the light system.”
Now no longer beholden to a franchise, the Naths had the opportunity to create their own brand and menu for their new restaurant.
“In the 20 years since we left India, wherever we went in the world, we didn’t like to go out and eat Indian food because it’s very fattening. “Instead we’d have Chinese, Japanese or Thai,” says Mrs Nath.
“So it was very important to us that our restaurant would serve healthy Indian food.”
The entrepreneurs did not want to limit the clientele to the Indian community, so she decided not to give the restaurant a typically Indian name.
“My kids’ second language was French when we were in Nigeria. ‘Tres’ means ‘very’ in French and ‘Ind’ is short for India, so it basically means ‘very Indian’.
Every Indian state has its own cuisine, and Tresind tries to bring all different states’ food together under one roof.”
As well as creating the brand, Mrs Nath oversaw the marketing of the restaurant.
For years, Mr Nath had been heavily involved in running their frozen fish company, but the food business was something very new and different for Mrs Nath.
“Setting up a restaurant takes a lot of time, but my husband was also busy looking after our business in Africa.
“It was very challenging for me, because my two sons were not used to me being away from them for so long.
“I’d always been at home when they came back from school.
“Now, I sometimes leave home at 10.30am and am not back until 7pm.”
After seven months spent preparing, Tresind had a soft launch in October and a grand opening a month later.
Shortly after opening, the couple brought on board a new and innovative executive chef, Himanshu Saini, who left Rohini Dey’s Latin-Indian fusion restaurant Vermilion in New York to come work for the couple.
Along with cooking up modern Indian dishes using new techniques, the chef has been giving some traditional Indian dishes an Arabic twist.
“We have channa pindi hummus, a chickpea dish from northern India made into hummus and served with zaatar. And chicken shawarma kulcha, which is tandoor-cooked bread with a stuffing of shawarma chicken.”
These efforts to appeal to a more international crowd have not borne fruit yet.
“People come to the restaurant more because of word of mouth, and the kind of circle we have means most customers are Indian.
But we want to cater for the whole international community. Hopefully we’ll achieve that soon,” says Mrs Nath.
So what do customers make of their modern spin on classic Indian flavours? “The feedback has been fantastic,” adds Mrs Nath. “I met a lady who was at Tresind for lunch and came back again for dinner.
“When I see that kind of response, it gives me a sense of satisfaction to know that it’s all been worth it.”
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