HT Brunch Sunday Debate: Flowers in food—fun or fad?

Two chefs sniff out the newest trend in garnishing and navigate history for any tradition of consuming flowers for flavour
Using flowers as garnish is the new trend in restaurants
Using flowers as garnish is the new trend in restaurants
Published on Jan 01, 2022 09:44 PM IST
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BySabysachi Gorai, Radhika Khandelwal

“Just adding flowers to a dish does not enhance it”

Sabyasachi questions who decides which flowers are edible
Sabyasachi questions who decides which flowers are edible

By Sabyasachi Gorai

Using flowers as a garnish makes no sense in any cuisine. Traditionally, we’ve always used flowers in our dishes, but never as a garnish.

I don’t mind flowers on top of a dessert, like rose petals on a firni. But today people garnish chicken tikka with flowers—why? Why not dhaniya? The flavour of dhaniya lends itself to the dish. The connection between meat and flowers is beyond me. It either has to make food sense or logical sense and it does neither.

Who decides which flowers are edible? There is no authentication. So, food safety is a concern. All masters of all cuisines teach you that garnishes have to be edible.  

When in season, moringa flowers can be cooked and eaten. The bokphool is a favourite as are cucumber flowers and pea tendrils. There are about eight to 10 flowers we can eat right before or around the same time as the plant’s fruit is ready. We have roselle chutney, rhododendron flower squash. These flowers add colour, flavour and taste to foods—more value than mere prettiness.

Just adding flowers to a dish does not enhance it. A dish has to hold its own and quality comes first.

“A chilli chicken coated in a glossy sauce is already beautiful. If it’s dry and the wrong colour, even a whole bunch of flowers will not save it.

Sabyasachi Gorai, 48, is a senior, much-respected chef in the F&B industry. He is well-known for his work at Olive and is currently associated with the restaurant Byg Brewski.

“Using flowers in a dish is a sustainable way of eating”

Radhika says India has consumed edible flowers for aeons, including the marigold, banana blossom and aparajita flowers
Radhika says India has consumed edible flowers for aeons, including the marigold, banana blossom and aparajita flowers

By Radhika Khandelwal

India has consumed edible flowers for aeons, including the marigold or genda, banana blossom, the flowers of the hibiscus or pumpkin, the mogra and aparajita flowers. Flowers have always been used for their flavour. And for medical needs. But these facts are now being ignored by many chefs.

Today, flowers are being used as garnishes. Chefs are artists and if something works for them, they should go ahead and do it. They just need to understand why it is consumed. I was once served eggs benedict with a rose petal on top in San Francisco, which didn’t make any sense!

We serve an avocado bokful dish which is available only for a week given its seasonality. We also have moringa and cream cheese dumplings made with moringa leaf and flower.

A lot of people remove the flower garnish and eat the dish. I tell them it’s edible but people still have apprehensions about eating flowers. If it’s outside and visible, then people have a problem. There’s no issue if the flower is inside the dish. Kewra water is made out of pandan flowers and is present in every biryani. You just can’t see it, so you eat it. It all comes down to conditioning. Getting used to it will take time. But it’s a sustainable way of eating. Not out of the ordinary.

Radhika Khandelwal, founder and head chef of Fig & Maple, has contributed to a book about eating flowers.

From HT Brunch, January 2, 2022

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022