Radhika Khandelwal, The Chef Who Swears By Local Produce
Image Credit: Radhika Khandelwal

Radhika, the name that is no new to the culinary world and even to food connoisseurs is known for her passion for farm to table and today as she is busy with setting up her new baby in Goa,  Fig & Maple. For her it all started when she moved to Melbourne to pursue a hair-dressing course, but ended in a kitchen only to realise that cooking was  her real calling. She moved to India  and founded her first restaurant in Delhi called Ivy & Bean in 2013, and later Fig & Maple in 2016. 

Her kitchen is a perfect example where she used Indian indigenous Indian ingredients along with seasonal greens

In a chit chat with Slurrp she clearly admits her Sabudana Risotto and Prawn Khandvi are her start dish at Fig n Maple. 

What has been your inspiration to the trade?

My fascination with flavour and pairing unexpected things together is what started me off in the kitchen, it was also the love for camaraderie, discipline and exploring new things which helped me pave my path and decide on what I wanted to do.  

I have a un satiated curiosity when it comes to flavour, it’s what keeps me going. I go down the rabbit hole when I find a new ingredient and the happiness of that remains the reason that my job never feels like work. 

What is the food ethos at Fig & Maple? 

Fig & Maple is all about championing local, seasonal ingredients and eating in harmony with nature. We’re a zero waste brand which focuses on working with farmers and other local communities to bring biodiverse ingredients to our diners. Because we take on a root-to-shoot approach, you’ll find us using every part of the produce.  In my pumpkin seed to skin risotto we use every part of the pumpkin right from the seeds, flesh to skin. Skinny Chippin’ uses root veggies and their skins while being served with a cauliflower stem dip. 

To stay true to our values, we change our menu in every three months. It ensures that we have a chance to work with seasonal ingredients. At present, my winter menu showcases green chickpeas, kokum, amba haldi, bimbli, mustard greens, cockscomb to name a few.  We firmly believe that putting flavour-first, while being environmentally conscious is the way forward for the F&B world. 

You have always made the local produce shine. Tell me what philosophy goes why incorporating them in the menu

I’ve always said that I’m not doing something new. I’m only following what our ancestors did—pickling, preserving, eating seasonally and what’s available locally is what they taught us. 

I make a conscious effort to make the most of what’s abundant and what’s growing around us because not only is it flavourful but also nourishing both for our body and for the planet. Chasing after exotic ingredients and what doesn’t grow around us or is artificially grown encourages unsustainable agricultural practices, which is something that I’m strongly against. 

Working with local produce is actually easier than one thinks. You don’t have to worry about supplies getting affected, they’re easy to source and also give you the opportunity to work with small farmers. It’s no rocket science—in The Mango Tree salad that I serve in the summers, I showcase two local varieties of mango, Chaunsa and Safeda which grow locally in the farms around Delhi. It’s impractical and also uneconomical chasing alphonsos right? 

How easy or difficult it is to understand the Indian palate and flavours?

It’s not just the Indian palate, any palate ultimately wants just one thing: delicious food. As a chef, I have the capability, the resources and skill to give them just that. It’s not hard to understand, you only need to be willing to learn. One core principle I like to follow is balance- sweet, savoury, sour, umami and spice in harmony. 

Some factors that I like to keep in mind are the occasion, the timing of the year and where my diners come from. It’s a question of striking a balance.

 If I say I’m serving brunch specials, I’ll do an eggs benedict with a bacon oothappam with curry leaf hollandaise but if someone wants to go the classic way, we also have a florentine with a seasonal green like kolmi xaak, mustard greens etc 

We try to encourage our diners to eat newer things and explore more of India’s biodiversity through delicious food! 

What is takes to sustain the competition?

Healthy competition can be encouraging and inspiring but for the rest of just takes a lot of resilience, persistence and a thick skin. 

You are known for your minimalism and creativity. What is your idea of innovation when it comes to food?

There can’t be one all-encompassing answer to this. Different things inspire me. For instance, my signature Fig & Maple Salad’s presentation is inspired array of trees lined up in the park my Delhi restaurant oversees. 

I love to showcase new or unfamiliar produce in a familiar way, for eg my Kokum ceviche with Khakhra tells the story of sustainable seafood and also reminds you that we are allowed to break rules. 

The Sabudana beef risotto is my take on a khichdi - luscious Sabudana with junglee beef, papad and black lime to act as the pickle. 

I break down dishes in my head, recreate them with my own versions of them and put them on the menu. It’s easier when you have an in-depth understanding of flavour, ingredients and cuisine. 

What’s the one signature dish no one should miss at Fig & Maple?

Goa: Sabudana Risotto and Prawn Khandvi

 It’s my take on the combination of khichuri, achar and papad, reimagined with creamy tapioca, spicy jungle mushrooms/beef, papad and pickle! 

The prawn khandvi is my rendition of the famous gujju snack but stuffed with delicious prawn in a seafood bisque made out of prawn shells- making it not only a super yummy dish but keeping it zero waste. 

Delhi: Smoked eggplant with gunpowder millet with sweet potato leaf floss. 

A recent addition to the menu, it’s made with memories! My mothers favourite bharta, at top creamy kodo millet and a floss made out of sweet potato greens. 

What according to you is the over rated ingredient in today’s time

Quinoa. We can really do better in terms of flavour and texture with our homegrown grains like millets. 

In the recent past one of your fav dining experiences and what made it special?

I was in Delhi recently and I had the chance to try the delicious food at Bhansaghar in Safdarjung. It was a delicious fare of seasonal produce from the Himalayas. They make a smashing gundruk ko jhol, laai xaak, akhuni chutney and smoked fish. The food was not complicated, seasonal and delicious.