A revolution knocks on the door – and it comes with a fork and knife. The world of food is more exciting than ever before. New restaurants are coming up offering novel cuisines or digging out old ones. Chefs are looking at unusual ingredients and dramatic ways of presenting food. Meanwhile, some wizened old experts continue to wield magic with their skewers and ladles in remote parts of the city. There is a world waiting to be discovered or re-embraced– new cooking styles, world food, sub-regional cuisine and tiny holes in the wall which produce the most delightful dishes. Here’s a guided tour.
I first heard about this from a cousin who runs a restaurant in San Francisco. Here in India, we run helter-skelter to get the most exotic of ingredients in a bid to tickle our taste buds. And there in California, he told me, chefs were trying to grow vegetables and grains to add freshness to their dishes.
The concept, called Farm-to-Fork, was started in California by a woman called Alice Waters way back in the Seventies. It took a while for the movement to become popular, but it is quite a trend in the West. And in India, it is now taking off.
It translates into what the name suggests – taking food directly from farms to a restaurant kitchen, and from there to your fork. Grown locally, the ingredients are fresh and thus tasty. And since they are mostly produced organically, they are healthy.
Chefs across the country have been trying this out. Some make an early morning trip to farms on the outskirts of a city to buy fresh produce. Some travel to neighbouring states to get the vegetables or even cereals they wish to cook that day. A few days ago, when I went to Pullman New Delhi, I found that the chefs there had a garden in the hotel itself where they grow various kinds of veggies and herbs – from different types of lettuce, rocket leaves and spinach to tomatoes, mint, celery, parsley, coriander and chillies.
It’s a trend of the future, and I can see that it has its strong votaries. One chef friend told me that he used to send a team of young chefs to farms outside Pune in what they called a vegetable excursion to recognise and then purchase the freshest of broccoli, pak choi, red lettuce, red cabbage, baby carrots and so on.
To have your vegetable garden, of course, is a luxury. Pullman’s Culinary Director Ajay Anand says that it works two ways: One, of course, it ensures that your salad is as fresh as possible. Second, it helps diners choose their own vegetables and make them feel that they are a part of the kitchen.
“Our guests love it when they go around the garden and choose their own ingredients for their salads or other dishes,” Chef Anand says.
I had a delicious salad of greens and citrus fruits (recipe below). And since I like salmon, the chef added to it a tandoori roasted salmon steak with all the flavours that you find in Amritsari fish (notably ajwain or carom and mustard oil). The fish had been marinated with salt, lemon juice, red chilli powder and mustard oil. Then, after an hour, it was given its second marinade – a mix of hung yoghurt, ginger garlic paste, salt, carom seeds, kasoori methi, garam masala, red chilli powder and mustard oil. After three hours, it was skewered in a charcoal tandoor.
The farm to fork movement will have a long-term impact on what we eat. Increasingly, thanks to high tech cold storage facilities, we are losing touch with seasonal vegetables. So we eat peas and carrots in summer, and bottle gourd and bitter gourd in winter – which our grandmothers would never have thought of. But a farm or a garden ensures that you get to eat the vegetables of that particular season. And while I must say cold storages do their bit, nothing can beat the taste of fresh veggies. Just ask our mothers and grandmothers.
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