Luxe

How green is my plate

Payel Majumdar | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on March 16, 2016
Local flavour The farms surrounding the JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove and Spa produce crops for three restaurants at the hotel, reducing their carbon footprint and promoting local crops

Local flavour The farms surrounding the JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove and Spa produce crops for three restaurants at the hotel, reducing their carbon footprint and promoting local crops

Farm fresh: Restaurants serve meals at farms to enhance the Locavore experience   -  JW Marriott Walnut Grove and Spa, Mussoorie

Keep it fresh: Restaurants can align menus to suit seasonal produce

Keep it fresh: Restaurants can align menus to suit seasonal produce   -  The Pavilion, ITC Maurya

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The newest trend in responsible eating brings home-grown seasonal produce to fine dining

Service is just about to begin at Café Pluck, Pullman Hotel in Delhi’s Aerocity, a regular fine dining restaurant, with shiny floors, plates of finely-decorated courses of food ready for the lunch buffet, and luxurious lamps that add warmth. Through the large French windows that hide the bustle of the city, you can stare into a green oasis and easily forget about the busy metropolis you’re in. Aside from all the customary chic accruements that come with a fine dining café such as this, there is something equally earthy about Café Pluck’s food – and its plating is a subtle reminder of this fact. Your caramelised pear will have some chocolate soil underneath it and edible flowers and herbs are used liberally as garnish by the chef.

Keeping it local

Café Pluck is one of the few restaurants in this country that participates in the Locavore philosophy, and grows some of the produce within the hotel premises itself. Pluck has its own garden, and grows herbs and local vegetables that are then transformed by its chef, Ajay Anand, before it finds itself on their signature crockery. Apart from its own kitchen garden, Pluck has farms in nearby Uttarakhand, from where produce is brought to the restaurant .

Chef Ajay Anand, the person who has conceptualised Pluck’s association with the Locavore movement and personally manages its kitchen garden in Delhi, says, “Before coming to this property, I had worked abroad in France for many years where I became familiar with the concept of farm-to-fork. It cuts out the middleman, and ensures the quality of produce. People appreciate the freshness of the food served to them, and take an interest in local produce that they might not be familiar with all the time.” Anand points out that the Locavore movement isn’t restricted to presentation or procurement, but is a holistic policy of his restaurant, “Nothing goes to waste in this restaurant. Leftover food is put in this specific bin where I utilise it to make compost heap. I had heard and interacted with locavores during my stay in France, and I wanted to bring this concept back in India. Pullman provided me the space and resources to do so.”

The Locavore or farm-to-fork movement is an international food movement which emphasises the use of local produce in one’s diet, sometimes, food that is grown within 100 metres of where it is served. Restaurants that go Locavore make sure their produce is procured from trusted, organic sources, (or directly from the producer) to cut down on nutrition damage due to storage, or alternatively, grow their own produce.

Corporate Chef Manjit Gill of ITC Hotels feels that the premise of locavores insisting that the produce be sourced within a 100 km radius can sometimes be limiting, even though it ensures minimising of carbon footprint. “I believe the emphasis must be on fresh, seasonal produce, especially seasonal produce from within the region,” says Gill. “In India, eating seasonal and local is part of our cultural ethos. We enjoy diversity in our cuisine and this diversity only comes from eating seasonal. At ITC Hotels across the country, they buy local and seasonal produce and align menus according to the six Indian seasons.”

Gill feels that this endeavour supports the local economy, creates sustainable livelihoods and encourages farmers to produce in a more natural environment. “For example, the luxury vegetarian cuisine restaurant; Royal Vega at the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai showcases a seasonal menu ‘Ritu Khasa’ which changes every two months, in accordance with the six seasons. Apas Promenade at the ITC Grand Bharat, Gurgaon sources produce such as finger millet and mustard from the farms in the vicinity of the retreat.”

Under their ‘Choose Wisely’ initiative, guests are informed about species of fish that are overfished, fast depleting and sustainable, to support sustainable fishing. The different ITC properties across the country grow diverse local produce: from micro greens at ITC Grand Chola to gandharaj lemon at ITC Sonar ìn Kolkata.

Executive sous chef Vaibhav Bhargava, of Pan Asian ITC Sheraton, has been part of the Locavore movement since its early days. “The Locavore movement is tied up with the resurgence of farmers markets, seasonal dieting, and sustainable agriculture. It helps in supporting local farms, farming communities, community gardens and backyard food producers, who have now become key members of the Locavore community,” he explains. Chef Bhargava also thinks it is beneficial for restaurants to invest in locally sourced food products. “People want to know where their food comes from, and they want to be invested in that process at a grass roots level, whether they realise this consciously or not. Everybody wants to eat healthy and safe food these days and organically grown food has drastically changed the scenario in the food industry.”

For some, like Chef Akira Back, it is the challenge of procuring ingredients from different parts of the world while trying to not compromise on their freshness and general quality that leads them to growing/procuring ingredients on their own. Chef Akira Back runs his eponymous restaurant in JW Marriott hotel, Aerocity, New Delhi.

“The biggest challenge in setting up the restaurant in India was in understanding vendors and getting our supply chain management right. We could not find anyone growing the kind of organic, micro greens we used. So we brought our own seeds and planted them with our supplier. Akira Back has an herb garden right outside and use the herbs we grow here in the food we cook. Overall, we have managed to bring the exact quality of ingredients, especially in the micro greens and herbs, from the Vegas restaurant to the Delhi one,” Back says.

Chef Sunil Kumar at JW Marriott Walnut Grove and Spa, Mussoorie, nestled amidst the dramatic backdrop of the Himalayas, finds it the perfect place to emphasise on cost-effective local produce. “Mussoorie, being a hill town, has scarce produce, and we have to depend upon what we can acquire from the plains. This hotel has been built only a year-and-a- half ago, and in that time we have acquired farms around this area where we grow crops for our three restaurants to reduce this dependency.”

Seasonal restaurants are the flavour of the season, and they frequently organise lunches and dinners at the farm or organic garden, for their guests to be able to understand their whole experience. Using local produce needn’t mean simplistic, home-style fare. It simply means thinking about the environment, actively supporting sustainable agriculture, and the pure joy of a chef who can reach out, pluck their own herbs to dress a salad, and serve it fresh.

Published on March 16, 2016
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