The Future of Healthy Eating: Hyper-Local And Farm-To-Table

One of the most memorable meals I have had was at the Grand Hotel Cochin, a 60-year-old property that was that was suggested by my husband's high school friend for its authentic seafood. The meal was a quintessential representation of Kerala cuisine, featuring appam, chicken stew, and other delectable dishes. However, the star of the meal was a delectable prawn fry sautéed with tender coconut kernels and freshly ground pepper, which was easily the Rajnikanth, or rather Mamooty, of the meal.

After praising the chef for the heavenly dish and inquiring about its components, he explained, "It is simple; the freshness of the ingredients is what defines this dish. We source our tender coconut and peppercorns from vendors right in our backyard, and the prawns are the fresh catch of the day from the sea."

Although the dish was uncomplicated—prawns cooked with tender coconut kernels and freshly ground peppercorns in a South Indian seasoning of curry leaves, mustard seeds, and green chillies—it had a gourmet quality that offered a distinct and novel flavour on the palate. This was all thanks to the ingredients that came from within a few hundred metres of the restaurant.

Thankfully, food and beverage establishments have now embraced the "eat fresh, eat local" philosophy, which not only benefits our digestive systems but also promotes sustainable food ecosystems. The Western world has begun to embrace hyperlocal cuisine, particularly when F&B establishments grow their own produce. In India, chefs and F&B brands are also enthusiastically adopting this approach.

Last December, celebrity chef Vicky Ratnani held a unique cooking event at the Novotel Shamshabad in Hyderabad, using vegetables and herbs sourced from the hotel's kitchen garden, called "The Patch." The former executive chef, Gaurav Chakraborty, had initially started the garden on a small area, but current executive chef Varun Movva has since expanded it to 5,000 square feet.

Chef Movva believes that a chef's confidence in the freshness and nutrient density of their ingredients, such as vegetables and herbs, is at its peak when they are sourced locally. So, during the event, we were treated to a rare demonstration of Chef Vicky making a Som Tam, a Thai papaya salad with a South Indian twist. The papaya and herbs, including lemongrass and curry leaves, were all sourced from The Patch. The chef and his guests enjoyed a lively evening on the open grounds near The Patch, savouring plenty of grilled meats and vegetables, as well as salads made from lettuce, carrots, broccoli, and zucchini sourced straight from the garden. The happy atmosphere was a testament to the freshness and quality of the ingredients used.

Farm-to-table is being adopted by many people who can afford to grow their own greens. Kavitha Mantha, based in Hyderabad, advocates for growing one's own greens and produce as part of the farm-to-table movement. As an example of this approach, the Sage Farm Café in Jubilee Hills sources its ridge gourd salad and beetroot hummus from her farm, located a few kilometres away. By growing their own ingredients, they ensure the freshest and highest quality produce is used in their dishes, providing customers with a delicious and wholesome dining experience.

Kavitha was inspired by the Community Supported Agriculture movement in Boston in the new millennium, which had sustainable farming at its core and encouraged people to sign up with a farm every year, buy a small stake in it, and be provided with seasonal produce every week. If it was a new vegetable, herb, or fruit, recipes would be shared by the farm owner. In this way, throughout the year, only seasonal and local produce would be encouraged to grow on the farm.

In recent times, the celebrated chef Thomas Zacharias, formerly of The Bombay Canteen, has been advocating the "eat local" maxim through his brand, Locavore. Locavore promotes and elevates many unknown and unsung food heroes, the food producers, to address the gap between good brands doing sustainable and good work on food systems but lacking a mainstream presence, such as in remote tribal areas in Manipur.

According to Chef Zac, as he is popularly known, "Locavore champions a local Indian food movement through storytelling, partnerships, events, and social projects." All of us have awakened to the need for good immunity-boosting nutrition after the pandemic hit, and it is an awakening in the right direction towards eating local produce as much as possible, for the perils of transportation and handling do affect the nutrients of any food material to a large extent.

Chef Zac has earned a lot of kudos for pointing out the rarest Indian vegetables, which are hard to come by, especially in cities and even in native regions. For example, clove beans, which are another ‘desi vegetable’ resemble cloves. They are found in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where they are known as "nose-stud beans." That being said, they are seldom seen, cooked, or eaten anymore, especially in urban India. In fact, Zac’s mother remembered having it 50 years ago in their ancestral home in Kollam, Kerala.

His recent projects include the Millet Revival Project, aimed at drawing up an open-access repository that lists and gathers details from various regions in India that are working in the field of producing, distributing, and making millets more accessible. It includes not only brands and restaurants but also farmer groups and environmental organisations.

More than ever, we must be mindful of what we eat and put into our bodies. And initiatives such as The Locavore are a step in the right direction. The farm-to-table movement has gained global acceptance as people continue to seek out the freshest and most wholesome food options. As more people become health-conscious and seek immunity-boosting nutrition, eating local produce as much as possible has become crucial for optimal health.