Pune Gets New Fermentary And A 15-Seater Dining Experience
Image Credit: Rohit Sawant, Bit By Social

Pune’s food scene has been rapidly evolving and the mix is getting even more eclectic by the day. In 2019, Ground Up became a reference point for foodies with its fermentation program and ‘making things from scratch’ philosophy. Located in Viman Nagar, the restaurant which initially worked in the walk-in format and then became a reservations only place, post covid, had a successful run. When it shut in 2023, it left diners wanting more.

The version that has been relaunched, will in many ways showcase what Chef Gayatri has learnt on a culinary research trip during her time away along with her diverse experiences collected over years of cooking and travelling across the globe, to understand the nuances of her craft.

Photo Credit: Rohit Sawant, Bit By Social

After she shut the restaurant, Gayatri travelled to Japan. Among her many cherished experiences from this trip was one where she lived with a family that made Koji (a fermentation made from rice or soybean) “There was a way in which the day went. I woke up when the Koji master did and then we would exercise together for 45 minutes.

 Then we would have breakfast together and get to work. The meditative vibe and energy it brought into Koji was something I brought back with me. The way a Japanese person ferments is something I have never seen before. It's like you are entering their temple,” says Desai.

Photo Credit: Rohit Sawant, Bit By Social

Coming Back To Where She Began

The fermentary, test kitchen and rooftop dining space are located in Desai’s family home that sits in a quiet lane with ample green cover, in Shivajinagar. The 15 seater dining space at Ground Up which will serve a tasting menu that is not disclosed prior, and changes often, takes inspiration from the Izakaya culture in Japan. “Izakayas are not just for alcohol, they also have some incredible food. Many of them had just two people running it. When I looked at these people, I saw the immense hard work but I also saw that they were happy doing what they were doing,” says Desai.

“I wanted to create a space where you spend enough time creating dishes, you are happy with what you have made, you don’t worry abot wastage, are talking to the customer sitting right across them and serving them a good meal,” she explains.

Photo Credit: Rohit Sawant Bit By Social

From the time she started the first Ground Up, the community of farmers that Desai works with has grown. She spends a lot of time learning about their produce. Along with creating a farm to table experience, with the fermentary she also hopes to collaborate with more chefs. 

“It's important that there's an exchange of knowledge. At the first restaurant we worked with seasonal produce, highlighting ingredients and technique. Fermentation and smoking always made its way into our dishes. We were using all the ferments and even the larder ourselves. I want 2.2 to be about sharing and about engaging more with like-minded chefs and cooks. Now, while we will still be using our ferments, it is also about spreading out and inspiring other chefs and cooks with what we are making.”

The Miso Room

Some prominent chefs and restaurants from Mumbai have already claimed stake on special versions of miso that Desai is creating for them. Ground Up has a B2B model in place which sells misos made using native grains such as jowar, krishna kamod rice and ghevada.

Photo Credit: Rohit Sawant Bit By Social

There are shelves where jars of miso- the young ones and the ones that have been aged, sit togethers. There are also vinegars and soy sauce that lie undisturbed in barrels. The smoked eggplant miso is outstanding.

“We want to go crazy mixing and matching things. Like if a Miso tastes like cheese, you pair it with something that brings the cheesy notes out even more.  Usually a Miso will not make you feel cheesy, it will just make you feel umami. But if a Miso makes you feel fruity and cheesy and maybe meaty, then you know that you can play with it in multiple ways,” she adds, the excitement in her voice unmissable.

What To Expect

“While this place was being constructed, I made 40 batches of miso with multiple combinations, different kojis and grains. Each one of them has a different flavour profile. All those notes of the Misos, along with what's in season right now from the farmers we work with, will find a place in our menu,” says Desai.

“I know  that I am not somebody who creates traditional food. Even though I am looking at the traditions of Miso, the way I use Miso will be very different from how a Japanese person does it. I will draw from it but I want to use it differently.”

The experimental kitchen also boasts of Desai’s made from scratch - artisanal tofu. “I have been making Tofu for almost like 8 years now and I recently cracked it because I found the right soybean for it. Tofu is like cheese making, you get it right once and then you won't get it right the next time. It can be really frustrating, especially when you want to put it on a restaurant menu.”

Photo Credit: Rohit Sawant Bit By Social
There are also house made sodas such as toasted brown rice koji, smoked mango and turmeric, mint and bread. Smoked ham and infused pork experiments can also be looked forward to, in the menu.

Early Days

Desai had an advertising job in Mumbai, which she quit to go to a chef-run culinary school in Vancouver. “I sent the chef a video that I had made with me learning how to cook Indian food in a village close by. I spent 10 days with the family, staying with them, sleeping with them, cooking with them and I shot the whole thing.”

She ended up working with a small restaurant run by a single woman, while in college, which helped her pay her rent and gave her confidence the right kind of boost. Apart from research trips to Nagaland and Manipur where she stayed with local families and learnt the process of harvesting bamboo shoot, fermenting it and cooking it in different ways, Desai also travelled to Mexico and Peru where she gathered culinary experience.

She also managed a 3-day stint at Central in Lima, which was declared the World’s Best Restaurant in 2023. “I had emailed Chef Virgilio Martínez for a year and got no response. I stood outside his restaurant, which has high barricades. After an hour, his partner, chef Pía León, happened to open the door for a minute and I explained myself to her. Somehow they agreed to let me work for two days at Central and one day at Mil, their other restaurant in Cusco which works with indigenous ingredients.”

The reservations for June are open now.

Address: Ground Up, Rage Path, Model Colony, Shivajinagar, Pune.

To Book A Table: Head To Their Instagram Handle https://www.instagram.com/groundup