You don’t have to be a chef in a professional kitchen to know that the secret to great flavour lies in working with fresh ingredients. The fresher the produce, the better your food will taste. Do you remember when apples were seasonal and not available all-year-round? Did they not taste better then? Pick the local variety of apples as opposed to one that’s been flown-in from another country and you’ll notice the difference there too. Add a bit of concern for carbon footprints and the environmental cost of importing ingredients from half-way around the world and you’ll see why ‘Farm to Table’ or ‘Farm to Fork’ dining seems to be taking centre stage these days. The idea behind this concept is to source locally, often directly from farmers and work with seasonal produce that’s free of pesticides and chemicals.
In Mumbai, the folks at JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar are known to grow their own herbs and microgreens and firmly believe in the concept of Farm to Fork. “We source vegetables locally and try and use whatever is in the season. We have a tie-up with the nearby farms that supply the vegetables to us. The microgreen trays are kept in the restaurant (Romano’s) and the herbs are plucked right in front of the guest,” says Chef Vishal Atreya – Executive Chef, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar.
But over the last few years we, as diners, have grown accustomed to paying a premium for ingredients that are flown-in from abroad. Don’t believe me? Try asking your local fruit vendor for locally grown mulberries and watch him scoff and give you reasons to buy blueberries from Europe instead. “These will last longer, mulberries don’t,” is what you’re likely to hear as he thrusts the overpriced box of berries towards you. The fact that berries aren’t meant to last long and if they’ve travelled this far and still hold shape… well, it’s highly questionable. So, in a scenario like this, do diners truly value what’s home-grown? Chef Atreya feels that awareness is seeping in. “Diners are very conscious of where the food is coming from. Last year, we had taken a few guests and bloggers for a trip to a local farm, to see and experience where the food comes from,” he says.
It would be a bit myopic to think of Farm to Table dining, that owes its origins to California, as purely a Mumbai phenomenon in India. Delhi’s plush and picturesque Dusit Devrana is known to propagate this concept too. When Rajeev Samant of Sula Vineyards set up the restaurant ‘Soleil’ as part of the property in Nashik, he was very clear that he wanted the restaurant to follow the recycle and reuse ideology that’s been integral to Sula Vineyards. Samant invited Morgan Rainforth, Florence Tarbouriech, and Serge Lozano, the French trio behind La Plage in Goa to set up the restaurant with a classic combination of French food made largely with the veggies grown on their own farm. In fact, Chef Morgan, who recently passed away, was known to have worked on developing their own recipe for goat’s cheese too.
As a largely agrarian country, it’s interesting and reassuring to see a renewed interest in local produce. But the longevity of it will depend solely on awareness seeping in with consumers. The choice it seems, is rather simple – ‘pay the farmer now, or pay the doctor later.’