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Prateek Sadhu – the chef with a nose for foraging

The globally renowned chef is living his dream through Naar in the Himalayas.
Prateek Sadhu, chef and owner of Naar

A day away from completing four months since opening Naar, Chef Prateek Sadhu is connecting with me over a Zoom call. He’s sitting on logs of firewood stacked in rows, which will later be used to cook every plate of food served.

If you haven’t heard of Chef Sadhu or Naar, you probably sit miles away from the food industry and its happenings. Once the chef and co-owner of Masque in Mumbai – a restaurant that continues to be run by Aditi Dugar and has recurringly been on the radar of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants – Chef Sadhu decided to move on in 2022 and pursue a dream.

It’s odd to call ‘opening a restaurant in Himachal’ a dream for two reasons.

The first, Chef Sadhu never wanted to be a part of this world. Growing up in Kashmir, he dreamt of being an Indian Air Force pilot. He says he accidentally became a chef, eventually graduating from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Later, he worked at some of the world’s finest kitchens, including Alinea, The French Laundry, Bourbon Steak, Le Bernardin, and Michelin-starred restaurants across Europe including a stint under Rene Redzepi at Noma.

And second, how often would you go to a restaurant that serves a tasting menu in Kasauli? “As a business, it’s a very stupid decision”, admits Chef Sadhu. Naar is a restaurant concept that’s never been done in India before. With several food writers calling it India’s first attempt at destination dining, perhaps Chef Sadhu is sitting on gold. It’s something only time can tell.

A home in the hills

interiors of Prateek Sadhu's restaurant Naar

Photo: Pankaj Anand/Naar

The more Chef Sadhu speaks about Naar, the less convinced I am to ask him about the challenges he’s taken up to build his destination restaurant. There’s a perpetual smile on his face, a hopeful tone in his voice, and an excitement around it that so far remains unmatched. He doesn’t come across as someone who gets deterred by challenges. “It’s every chef’s dream”, he says explaining how everyone who works at Naar has left the city life to be there. The whole team – including Chef Sadhu and his wife – lives a few minutes away from the restaurant altogether, like a small family.

The restaurant too is designed to give you a feel of home. The way Chef Sadhu describes it, “For me, it’s my home. You feel like you are at my home.” While I still haven’t visited Naar, ample articles tell me that upon entry you are greeted in a small room and course-by-course you also make your way inwards.

Meanwhile, in Naar’s kitchen, the focus is to celebrate the Himachal belt. Sitting a driving distance away from Chandigarh, the restaurant will be serving six tasting menus throughout the year and each menu will showcase the six seasons that Himachal experiences. Everything you eat at the restaurant is “in our backyard”, says Chef Sadhu. He adds that about 80 per cent of his menu is cooked with ingredients that are foraged and a lot of others are grown in the restaurant’s backyard. So at Naar, you are eating right at the source, complete with a gorgeous view.

Forest to fork

a dish at Naar and Prateek Sadhu foraging

Photo: Pankaj Anand/Naar

Chef Sadhu – as is common with most chefs – is most excited about the ingredients he cooks with. He has now been foraging for about 12 years and says that he earlier would go with a local from the region to forage. Now, he’s managed to understand and learn to carry on on his own. But for him, “the most exciting part is that I am still discovering and finding ingredients I have no idea about.” He goes on to educate me that the beauty of foraging is that you always only find what’s seasonal. As the food culture of the mountains is mainly based on forestry, Chef Sadhu cooks with wild berries, hisalu, and kafal cherries, and is now working on a glaze that’s made with silkworms.

You get the sense that Chef Sadhu truly enjoys the crisp mountain air and everything around him. In between his stories about foraging, he turns the camera to show me the exteriors of his restaurant, the restaurant dog Imli lazying around, and the large, gorgeous mountains that extend before him. “You’re feeling envious?’ he asks, jokingly. As I nod, I curiously ask him if India is ready for Naar.

The student becomes the master

In many interviews, Chef Sadhu has extensively spoken about how the global narrative around Indian food is changing. He tells me that the major shift in food journalism has helped. For decades, Indian food was limited to what was selling. Whether you cooked Indian food or wrote about it, there was little discovery and almost no awe for the cuisine. “The onus is on all chefs and journalists to do that,” he says, and adds that when you are, “discovering Indian food, you are always a student.”

As for the audience’s readiness for experiences like Naar, the 350 emails that Chef Sadhu received when he announced that bookings were open speak volumes. He says that despite Naar being a concept you had heard of abroad but never seen in India, those emails gave him a boost of confidence. “We have just started but we are on the right path. It’s a long way to go,” he concludes.