In a world that depends on the commercial food industry, the idea of going to a farm and plucking fresh produce to use in your cooking seems like a throwback to a bygone era. Still, after years of importing ingredients from across the world, chefs now strive to stay local. As a result, they are no longer excited by a stale passion fruit garnish or tuna nicoise ingredients flown in from across the globe.
The ‘Farm-to-table’ food movement, the current craze in the West, where restaurants buy produce directly from local farmers to ensure freshness, is slowly making headway in this country too. Many posh eateries in the city are now sourcing vegetables, fruits, dairy produce and fowl from local farms in Badshahpur, Gurgaon, Chattarpur and Brijwasan near Delhi instead of relying on packaged ingredients.
“It’s the growing and sourcing of ingredients that makes all the difference to a dish. It’s sad that even though India has the largest fertile farm land in the world, people are not utilising the potential of their own local farms,” says Sabyasachi Gorai (more popularly known as chef Saby), executive chef of Olive at the Qutub.
According to a World Bank report published in 2010, the total irrigated land in India was 35.12% of its agricultural land. The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s statistics rank India second worldwide in farm input, and has also pegged India as the largest producer of many fruit and vegetables. In 2011, Indian agriculture witnessed an all-time high record production of 85.9 million tonnes of wheat. Its poor infrastructure, however, means India accounts for the highest post-harvest food losses in the world.
Chef Alice Helme from the Green House on the Ridge, says, “The bounty in Indian farms is so fetching, I wouldn’t mind turning vegetarian. Helme, who sources about 80% of her ingredients within a radius of 20 miles from her eatery in Mehrauli, stresses that the movement is important to build a relationship with those who provide us with food. “The idea can’t be a mainstay until farmers are educated. Organic farms have to be certified,” says restaurateur Bhuvnesh Khanna of Two 2 Tango. Chef Saby blames the disorganised supply chain for the slow progress of the ‘Farm-to-table’ movement in India.
“Since there is no assurance of continued supply, we try to make the most of ingredients that are available in abundance in local farms. So if it was blackberry tarts last season, this season it’s crème brûlée made with organic jaggery,” he says.Chef Willi Hauter of Imperial has found a simpler way. He tends a vegetable garden in the hotel backyard. "There is no greater joy than running to my garden to pluck fresh parsley as I stir my dish!" he says.