Farm to the plate
A look at how hotels and restaurants in Delhi are embracing the idea of serving fresh and chemical-free food
Picture this - you’re staying at a hotel bringing in your birthday and the morning walk starts with a visit to the in-house farm. You can pick vegetables of your choice for breakfast and they’ll be plucked in front of you, brought back to the kitchen, cooked and served fresh.
In just a month from now, this fascinating experience might become a reality. At Pullman New Delhi Aerocity, the recently joined Director of Culinary, Chef Neeraj Tyagi and his team are hard at work putting this idea into motion. While a small garden already grows vegetables such as lettuce, amaranth, lemon, brinjal, tomatoes and herbs, the idea is to build a facility which takes care of all basic vegetable needs. Fitting its name, the hotel’s restaurant Pluck has been priding itself on giving guests an experience of a fare cooked as fresh as possible. And chef Tyagi and his team want to take this experience a few notches high and incorporate it as part of the culinary staycation’.
At restaurants in New Zealand, the produce is clearly marked to say where it comes from. We want to re-create this experience here as people are getting more conscious and want to know where the raw materials for their dishes are procured from, he says pointing to the empty outdoor space where the farm’ will come up. He adds, With a fish pond, we’ll even have the concept of catch of the day. He plans to put up vertical gardens within the restaurant using hydroponic farming and the guests will be able to see how the vegetables they eat are grown. The farm will have vegetables like morning glory, Chinese broccoli, cherry tomatoes and more. For now, the little garden in the hotel ensures a steady supply of fresh amaranth leaves, spinach, herbs and more.
Still in its nascent stage, farm-to-table is soon becoming much more than a fancy phrase in the Indian culinary circuit. And just like that, farming’ has become a cool term with millennials choosing it as a profession. Take for instance 26-year-old Achintya Anand who trained as a chef but accidentally became a farmer.
Back in 2014, I just grew a batch of microgreens and showed it to the chef of Tres, the restaurant where I was working then. That’s how it all began with my first client being Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent, he says.
Today, his farm Krishi Cress supplies fresh, chemical-free produce to prominent restaurants, hotels and even households in the city. With two farms in Chhatarpur and a tie-up with other sets of farmers, Anand grows micro-greens and most of the vegetables under the sun. These include 18 to 20 varieties of microgreens, edible flowers and 10-15 daily vegetables and some exotic ones including rocket, kale, different colours of baby carrots, beetroots, turnip and even kombucha.
While Anand ended up becoming part of the growing movement accidentally, for Neha Bhatia and Puneet Tyagi, it was a well-thought-out decision. I had just returned to India after studying in London and was appalled to hear children saying aaloo ka ped’. I come from a smaller town and was sad to see how big city children had no clue where their food comes from. I was fearing that the day is not far when we’ll hear kids saying their vegetables come from the supermarket, says Bhatia. And that was the motivation behind setting up The Prodigal Farms, an urban experiential farm project in Noida. At their farm, the team curates a Plucked and Plated’ brunch every Sunday where discerning foodies get a four-course meal where they are fully aware of the fresh produce. Aside from the brunch, the duo is passionate about their training classes for children where they have a hands-on farming experience.
GOING BACK TO ROOTS
Amid a row of fancy cars and people walking in the most expensive designer labels, Radhika Khandelwal is taking people a little back in time. At her restaurant Fig and Maple in GK II, the beautiful terrace is home to quite a few herbs and vegetables including butterfly pea, bottle gourd, pumpkin leaf, eggplant, tomatoes, curry leaves, tinda (Indian squash) and onions. And more often than not, herbs and vegetables grown here, find a way into the plates, absolutely fresh.
The rest of the produce comes from farms such as Krishi Cress, Tijara Farms and a few more across the city and neighbouring places. It is ultimately about going back to basics and that’s what we’re striving for. It’s something like three generations they messed up and now we’re going back to it. Often when we get things like millets into our kitchens, my boys point out how the same have always been grown in their village. Similarly, amaranth leaves which were earlier considered cow fodder is now treated as a replacement for arugula leaves, says Khandelwal whose kitchen functions on the zero-waste theory. So, the potato skins become a bar snack and the lemon peels go into the artisanal cocktails. I still do random dustbin checks and make my staff aware of the amount of waste we generate, she says.
Similarly, at The LaLit Delhi’s Oko restaurant, vegetables are sourced from organic farmlands with few exceptions. While a lot of these come from local vendors and from other LaLit Farms across, at the Delhi property, there is lemongrass, sweet basil, hot basil, galangal, kaffir lime, krachai root, and turmeric. We started this initiative about a decade ago. Our Bekal property has a human body garden which grows a variety of herbs, fruits and vegetables that are good for those particular organs. It is good to see guests becoming more aware and appreciating it more in the last few years, says Keshav Suri, executive director, The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group.
The future is clearly bright with health finally becoming a priority. In general people are becoming more conscious of what they wear, eat and drink. There is an ever-growing demand for farm fresh items. People come to our farm for tours so it’s more of an experience, says Anand.
That is perhaps why a concept restaurant like Artisan Lab Cafe is doing so well in the city. Following the Friends of the Earth’ theory, which promotes the sustainable use of earth’s resources, the cafe’s menu is seasonal and largely plant based, yet features a carefully considered selection of meat, fish and dairy.
Neimat Sethi, co-founder and head chef at Artisan Lab Café, says, We use only locally sourced ingredients, organic fruits and vegetables, homegrown herbs, and all our milk is A2 grade lactose-free. Plastics have no place in our planet, and this applies at Artisan Lab Cafe too.
It has taken us a few generations to realise eating fresh and chemical free is what will save us from an impending health crisis and that’s perhaps why we’re paying a huge cost for this. Farm to table doesn’t come cheap but restaurateurs and consumers both are not hesitating from shelling out that extra buck. It also means supporting and encouraging small-time local farmers.
Isn’t it our responsibility to contribute to small scale agriculture as compared to industrial agriculture, says Khandelwal accepting that it does cost more. Adds Sethi , Farm to table is a rapidly growing culture. It focuses on fresh and delicious produce and moreover it is environmentally friendly. It empowers local farmers which then boosts the local economy.