This Sunday brunch at The Park, Chennai, was unusual and unique—not because it was at a luxury hotel but because the meal featured a variety of greens like moringa leaves, arakeerai and vallakeerai; and there was an organic market (sourced from Nalla Keerai) where guests could buy fresh greens and produce like cold-pressed oils, honey and so on. So is going organic the new mantra in the luxury hospitality industry?
Executive Chef Ashutosh Nerlekar, The Park, Chennai, states, “This is our step of using the right ingredients and doing our part, how much ever little, for a sustainable environment. The flavour profile of the food also remains intact when it is grown and nourished naturally. This is also one way to preserve some indigenous varieties of fruits and vegetables in India.”
Across the country, more and more luxury hotels are becoming conscious of a ‘greener’ and healthier lifestyle and want to do away with produce that’s cultivated with pesticides and chemicals. As a result, they are actively partnering with organic farmers to provide their guests’ more nourishing and salubrious meals. If in Delhi, it’s the Pullman and Novotel Aerocity, in Bangalore, it’s the Ritz-Carlton and Grand Mercure. The Novotel Hotels & Resorts, Goa; Fairmont Jaipur; ITC Kakatiya, Hyderabad and ITC Grand Chola and The Park in Chennai too are going down the organic route aggressively.
Anupam Banerjee, Executive Chef, The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore, explains, “Luxury hotels are and should be value based and quality focused. The reason this collaboration is happening is because organic farmers are ethically producing quality products which are reassuring to chefs.”
And Paul Noronha, Executive Chef, ITC Kakatiya seconds this. “Organic agriculture is holistic production management system that can promote as well as enhance the agro-ecosystem health. This produce is often viewed as healthier, more ethical, and tastier than food grown with pesticides, and this farming teats farm as a living entity maintains the life of the soil, keep it enriched with humus and good health because it engages organic wastes,” he says.
Indians love their food and coupled with the rising consciousness of wellness and fitness among the younger generation, they are looking to eat healthy not just at home but even outside. But they—and even chefs at luxury eateries - are also looking inwards and starting to go back to regional cuisines and their grandmother’s kitchens to ferret out age-old recipes, ingredients and even methods of cooking.
But eating organic also means shelling out a little more from your pocket. Ashutosh Nerlekar says, “Currently, the cost might be a hindrance as the produce tends to be little expensive. It is about 40% more expensive than regular produce.”
The dishes fashioned from organic produce in these luxury kitchens are meticulously thought out so as to ensure they retain their flavour and nutrition. On the menu at The Fairmont Jaipur, sits the organic Quinoa salad with smoked salmon, goat’s cheese and roasted beetroot along with the Burrata with confit tushita tomatoes, basil olive pesto served with raw mango relish Ciabatta croute. Meanwhile, The Novotel Hotels & Resorts, Goa, serves up a delectable Wok tossed Tempe and Asian Satay with Tofu while ITC Kakatiya is proud of their Pearl Millet and Coconut Milk Custard among others.
The range of produce and products available sourced directly from organic farmers is quite extensive. Many luxury hotels focus on sourcing produce native to the area thereby providing local farmers a means of livelihood as well. Reiterates Mayank Kulshrestha, Executive Chef at ITC Maratha, “Sourcing organic and local in-season food produce not only facilitates a strong bonding with local farmers but also helps to reduce carbon footprint.”
Breakfast cereals, organic teas, turmeric, greens, pulses, honey, pink salt, ragi, wheat, flax seeds, vegetables, fruits, milk, cold pressed oils, nuts, micro-herbs and edible flowers are now de rigueur on any list of must-have organic products. But certain ingredients are key to the region where the luxury hotel is based. The ITC Grand Chola, for instance, sources produce like tender drumstick stems, mustard and coriander flowers, mantharai leaves, curry leaves, edible flowers which are grown organically around the Chennai area for their restaurants Avartana and Royal Vega.
So is organic food the future in India? The answer is a resounding yes. “We are on the approach of a new green revolution that encourages advances in biological understanding rather than chemical usage. The organic miracle has reached markets all over the world,” says Gopal Jha, Executive Chef, Grand Mercure, Bangalore.
While luxury eateries are being inspired by home cooks, regional cuisines and organic ingredients, guests feasting on this food just seem to can’t get enough. And the feedback that Ashutosh Nerlekar gets from his guests seems proof enough. “We took the initiative in not only presenting the cooked dish to the guests but also showed them the produce. The guests were amazed to see that the naturally grown produce packs so much of flavour.” With chefs serving up nature on a plate, it’s no wonder that organic is in and guests love going green.