When a cuisine-agnostic restaurant has access to indigenous produce that also puts farmers in focus, the resulting outcome of this brilliant amalgamation is what the essence of the Farmer’s Feast came to be. From a delicious assortment of seasonal local greens paired with a pumpkin seed sambal to the medicinal Mahadi rice porridge, chef Niyati Rao takes the diner on a journey back to the origins.
When was the last time you walked into a supermarket and were curious to know where your food really came from? How often do you witness farmers having a voice that echoes the blood, sweat and tears it takes to create fresh, delicious ingredients that make your tastebuds sing? At the heart of the Farmer’s Feast – an Ekaa x Goya culinary experience meant to highlight the voice of three farmers – Pranoy Thipaiah (of Kerehaklu), Gaytri Bhatia (of Vrindavan Farms) and Achintya Anand (of Krishi Cress), representing three diverse landscapes across the country. “We take our produce from so many different farmers that this was a great opportunity to explore. This was actually the opposite of what Ekaa does. Being cuisine-agnostic, our focus has always been on working with fresh ingredients,” chef Niyati Rao explains.
“Pranoy and Gayatri – two of the farmers said that they wanted people to realise that we can grow beautiful, bio-diverse produce without being at loggerheads with nature, that nourishes your body and feels great on the tastebuds – which is a win all-round for the diners and farmers,” says Anisha, co-founder of Goya Journal, whose brainchild this community table experience, stemmed from a conversation she had about a year ago, with Pranoy. True to this, guests present at the lunch were served a seven-course meal representing three landscapes – the thick tropical forests of the Western ghats, the deciduous landscapes of Maharashtra, and produce that arrived from the Northern sub-tropical climes. Guests were served a delicious first course of a 14-day cured and aged duck breast with niger seed oil, cucumber relish and dressed mixed greens, paired with a Brahmi cocktail created by Ekaa’s mixologist, Jishnu AJ.
Image Credits: Ekaa
“When we take the work that we do offline, the most we can do is connect parts of the food system and often times, the farmer understands the land, the produce, the work that goes in and we felt like that was the most delicate part of the food chain,” Anisha adds, while talking about the core purpose of putting together the experience. The richness of buttery duck tartare was a strong prelude to what followed. “As a chef you can think of ideas but the fact that you’re unaware of the results until you actually execute it, we feel like we can play with ingredients better and what we conceptualised is what was on our plates,” chef Niyati shares, when asked about what the creatively challenging aspect of this experience had been. The cocktail, made with artisanal Godawan Single Malt, had woody and dry notes from the brahmi and red wine reduction, with aromas of cinnamon and pear. With a delicate balance of flavours from the first course, the diners were served beautiful seasonal, indigenous greens with an assortment of gotukola, red amaranth, morning glory and ambadi leaves with a nubbly pumpkin seed sambal that could be picked at while the third course was awaited.
Image Credits: Nachiket Pimprikar
Aptly titled ‘Open Fire,’ the next course consisted of tender chicken wings marinated in fresh turmeric, mango ginger and kombucha, and finished with a sweet-spicy glaze of mango hot sauce. Similar treatment was provided to creamy wedges of avocado, which had a desirable smoky flavour; both, the chicken and avocado were served with a confit garlic and chilli aioli. Along with this, the Pitter Patter – a cocktail made with jackfruit and pandan leaves, which had an aftertaste of toasted rice was refreshing and surprising in the way where it blended the fruit and almost grassy vanilla flavour of the pandan.
Giving the usual bread and butter course an Ekaa spin, Niyati and her team of chefs brought out freshly baked seed bread, laminated with turmeric that diners could enjoy with a coarsely ground bel chutney and a pastel pink sauerkraut butter with tiny smidges of sauerkraut gel. For chef Niyati, who is a believer in food needing to be simple, comforting yet nourishing, these courses proved to establish her food philosophy in a solid manner. “There has to be a sense of familiarity but also take the guests by surprise. It has to look appealing with the right balance of rustic and fine-dine. Looks are easy to manage, taste is something you need to work on for years,” she mentions in a post-lunch chat with Slurrp.
A vegetarian course of delicate handmade noodles submerged in a tangy coconut broth and finished off with a pepper-palm sugar relish and apricot chutney was unlike anything one could have imagined being served together on a plate. What was most fascinating was that each course, including the noodle bowl, really felt comforting but novel, familiar but unprecedented – a goal Niyati was determined to achieve through her style of cooking. She talks about how as chefs, cooking is not the only primary agenda but educating people about the breakdown of food systems around the world is equally necessary. “We don’t completely deserve the credit because the ingredients have always been there, we’re just bringing it into the limelight,” she adds.
Image Credits: Nachiket Pimprikar
Towards the climactic progression of the meal, guests were served a delicious plate of red Mahadi rice lightly fermented with toddy and topped off with mackerel, rice crispies, salted chillies, fried karvanda and finished off with a prawn-head flavoured bisque for just the right kind of umami to compliment the mellow fermented tones and delicate fishiness of the mackerel. Paired with the Mango Ginger cocktail that was scented with champa sourced from the Dadar flower market and topped off with a turmeric leaf soda, Jishnu’s childhood experience of watching his grandmother pickle mango ginger was what he wanted the diners to experience. Niyati says that, “Our approach first involves thinking of combinations that would taste amazing, we don’t divide ingredients by regions or boundaries. Because we look at ingredients in such a different way, we don’t want to work with a blueprint of how something should be. As chefs we need to challenge ourselves to create something new, which hopefully thousand years from now, it will be considered normal.”
For dessert, citrus took centrestage in the form of a preserved lime gelato served with a pomelo salad, preserved lime gel and house-made puff pastry streusel. What the preceding courses aimed to achieve, the dessert course really tied together with its lightly sweet, bitter and fresh tartness. Niyati believes that with a little interest in understanding the seasonality of local ingredients that have been around since the beginning of time, and understanding why food traditions came about, we have a great chance to display our culinary heritage if things are done right. “People in the olden days didn’t just pickle ingredients to make pickles, they pickled to preserve food. The way India’s changing today, people are really appreciating local produce. We should all accept that change beautifully. I think it’s the evolutionary part where you really have to think long term because not everything is always available,” she quips. “To put a face to the grower and see how these ingredients reached their plate, the way people shop, eat and treat the earth will change,” Anisha signs off.