Chef Ashish Deva Blends Wellness Food & Local Maharashtrian Gems
Image Credit: Chef Ashish Deva, Dharana Retreat, Shillim

Imagine a retreat nestled in the green, misty hills of the Western Ghats which provides you not only with spiritual wellness opportunities but also holistic living ones through food. A place that is based on five pillars of holistic wellness: preventive medicine, spiritual wellbeing, exercise physiology, conflict resolution, nutrition and dietetics. That’s what the Dharana Retreat at Shillim does, and quite a bit of the credit goes to the adaptability and genius of Chef Ashish Deva. 

The Dharana Retreat is located a short drive away from Mumbai and Pune, and blends Ayurveda with holistic living concepts to tackle the issues customers come with. Chef Ashish Deva, as the Executive Chef at the Dharana Retreat, has created something unique called Dharana Cuisine. In conversation with Slurrp, Chef Deva explained the concept behind Dharana Cuisine and how it is based around wellness, local cuisine and slow food techniques. 

When A Chef Meets A Wellness Retreat

Coming from a rigorous professional background, Chef Deva has gained experience from around the world. “My curiosity for food and flavours started young, when I started learning about the ‘whys’ and ‘why nots’ of certain spices used in dishes. My stint with IHM Bhopal as a student further gave me the time to explore my creativity and passion for cooking,” he explains. “Through my journey across Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam, UAE, Oman, Australia, Italy and India, I have gained enormous respect for local food and cooking styles. Completing nearly three decades in the industry today, my fondness for flavours has only grown stronger.”  

This culinary attitude and philosophy of his gelled really well with the Dharana Retreat’s concepts. “As a chef, I believe in a fresh and honest approach to food. This means the dish holds an honest representation of its name in taste, appearance and value,” he says. “Housing a concept of holistic cuisine, I believe the retreat has allowed me to build on my knowledge and has challenged some of my original thoughts for good. With Dharana, I realised that wellness food does not necessarily need to be boring. The whole process of striking a balance between crafting a well-presented dish made from prescribed ingredients by consulting doctors and nutritionists is an overall intriguing experience. 

Farm-To-Table & Slow Food As A Concept  

Dharana Retreat boasts of an organic gardens, a culinary school and a Green Table that offers Ayurveda-inspired customised meals for all the guests. Chef Ashish explains these concepts. “Following a farm-to-table concept, our organic garden houses all types of seasonal produce including zucchini, kale, basil, cherry tomatoes, chillies and various herbs that are frequently incorporated in our menus. Personally, I believe every dish is carved out with creativity and deserves equal attention, hence no specific dish is a signature dish but a unique dish,” he says, further explaining that each ingredient is combined with an age-old or modern cooking technique that inspires wellness.  

“The dishes on our menu are made using braising, sous vide, stewing and slow roast techniques. These techniques fuse very well with local ingredients, as the cuisine and the spices used in the same get optimum effect when cooked slow and long. The methods have also been long used locally and across India. For example, the curries have been slow cooked, and we use slow roast for a lot of dishes since time immemorial,” he quips. ‘The Dharana Green Table is a part of the property that focuses on serving healthy food that not only instils mindful food consumption habits to take away post trip but is also easy to replicate at home. Attached to the purpose of wellness, it provides customised meals from fresh organic produce as per expert guidance for each person’s dietary requirements.” 

With such culinary inspiration all around him through the landscape and its produce, and in the kitchen itself through slow-cooking methods, Chef Deva is hoping to continue working on these lines in the future. “Envisioning my culinary future, I would certainly like to own a restaurant that religiously follows the farm-to-table concept that also dishes out the forgotten recipes in the region,” he says. With Maharashtra’s hidden gems, both in the form of culinary ingredients and cuisines, now getting highlighted across the nation and the world, the future for intuitive chefs like Ashish Deva looks bright indeed.