Foraging at Chef Avinash Martins artisanal chef’s extravaganza, at C’est L’Avi, Table in the Hills.
Chef Avinash Martin recently foraged through his ancestral plantation with Chef Ajay Chopra in South Velim. As delightful as it was sumptuous, the chefs had a bounty to pick – given the Goan Monsoon’s glorious fare a pluck away – they picked tamdi bhaji (red and green amaranth), ridge and bottle gourd, pumpkin flowers, radish, chillies, coconut, coriander and then proceeded to his grandmother’s traditional woodfire kitchen for a cook off – to salivate while C’est L’Avi – Table in the hills, a chef artisanal exploration of flavour, rustled up some seriously decadent soul food. Something about picking your own food, and cooking it is life affirming, right?
While Chef Martin’s Cavatina in Benaulim is already on the Goa food map, his plantation c’est L’Avi -Table in the Hills (named, aptly after Avi-nash) beckons the exploring foodie to a chef’s table curated for six to 12. It is an elegy to Goa’s rich, diverse culinary, artisanal and cultural heritage.
What Martin does with the flavours he grew up on, is reimagine each with the most delicate epicurean nuances. If foraging rejigs the appetite, the setting amidst the hills, a valley below, the bending River Sal and the crustacean filled Betul Beach estuary is a musing into a bespoke taste trail.
Monsoon aficionados can join in the feasting, even do an occasional cashew spout picking, a live herbed feni infusion. Or pick fresh mud crabs, snails, germinating cashew, teeron, cassia tora, a profusion of greens, all intricately woven into Avinash’s generous chef’s table.
The third-generation cashew and coconut planter opened his ancestral farm to gourmets with Table in the Hills which was welcome during Covid. Now, in the Monsoon, it’s a treat for the tastebuds. The torrential rains help open up a cauldron of the season’s best seafood – mud crabs, kongay or escargot, greens, fruits and vegetables here.
As you sip on a delicately flavoured feni (yes, it can be delicate if fiercely distilled!), Chef Avinash infuses Goan flavours with modern interpretations. “It is a Goa reimagined meal with traditional recipes on a table near the mountains, river and sea,” smiles this torchbearer of Goa’s culinary heritage. It’s a memorable experience, that investor and food explorer Anirban Blah waxes eloquent about in his blog.
“People in the world of food love using expressions like ‘farm to table meal’ or words like ‘experience.’ But these words are cliched, insufficient to explain what a meal at Table in the Hills is like. What Avinash is trying (successfully) to accomplish here isn’t any meal in India but something like Faviken (In Sweden, was among the world’s best restaurants) when it existed. It is food that is stunningly creative and flavourful, that threads the needle between imagination, familiarity and flavour to create something new and bold rooted in nostalgia and memory,” says Anirban Blah.
Yes, the philosophy guiding this table in the hills is Martins own childhood memories and travels. Taking the richness of the land, showcasing its artisanal fare – from tribals, carpenters, the nearly extinct toddy tappers, stone carvers, basket weavers, fisherman and agriculturists with his profound knowledge of Goan cuisine is a must-do in the Monsoon. Yet, only for the gourmet seeker. A table cut from a long log awaits delicacies cooked with spring water on fallen cashew and mango log fires, also used for smoking. The traditional kitchen also offers a feni experience, as garafaons are opened of matured feni for tasting.
Sustenance is key in Martin’s book, as this table in the hills is witness to the area’s artisanal prowess. And celebrates it uncompromisingly.
“Whatever I bring to the table is a part of the fruits of labour – toddy from betul, that is used for our fermented bread and pancakes. During the Monsoon as people don’t venture into the sea (due to breeding season), we get what is available in the river or khazan lands, ponds – mud crabs, snails, rock fish,” explains the chef who highlights Saraswat cuisine, aboriginal food from the Dhangars and Velips too.
The meal is a confluence of Goa’s culinary history waving a gourmand’s wand – a jackfruit taco to wallop or taking a Greek spanakopita in an 100% Goan avatar – tamdi bhaji instead of spinach, cashew butter wrapped in a filo pastry, baked. As local as they come, surely!
The crab xac xac bisque – where the traditional seafood broth is curried into a famed crab xac xac masala to put spoon to lip, a creamy flavoured slurp.
Memories of sipping coconut water inspired the tender coconut carpaccio with a saffron leche de tegrey, and in season, the sea urchin, a favourite ingredient, is dressed with coconut milk. Each flavour at this fine dining chef’s extravaganza celebrates the essence of Goa.
“Kongay or escargot grows in fields during the rain. I do a chilli garlic butter baked dish served with garlic pao,” explains the chef. What about soul food seekers who long for the xitt kodi (fish curry) or choriz pao? He pipes, “Our base is authentically Goan, but presented with flair – for instance, the ambotik with a mango salsa with Recheado prawns.”
Monsoon fishing is also on agenda, if you must. We’d be more interested in Martin’s epicurean flair.
His motto is, “To take goa to the world – to take the state’s rich culinary heritage beyond.” With a signature swirl to celebrate cuisine in an ingredient-sourcing medley. Eat with gusto.
C’est L’Avi -Table in the Hills, South Velim
Call Chef Avinash Martins
Contact on Instagram
or 8805258277 for reservations
Reservations open 48 hour in advance
Minimum 6 and maximum 12 people
Price Rs 5000 per person
Menu is curated from the day’s foraging best, with attention of preferences, allergies, etc.
How to reach C’est L’avi -Table in the Hills
Cross Cuncolim, and head to the Bali Junction, take a right to the Fatorda Temple, from there C’est L’avi is about five minutes uphill drive.
For foraging, feni making or fishing, enquire on availability, weather permitting.