Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay says British restaurants should be fined if they serve fruit and vegetables which are not in season. Closer home, too, chefs today believe strongly in building menus around seasonal produce. Several chefs in India have been using seasonal ingredients long before these became trendy buzzwords.
Weighing the pros: Tanveer Kwatra
Chef Tanveer Kwatra, Executive Assistant Manager, Food and Beverage, W Goa, believes that this approach to a menu has many benefits. He explains, “Seasonal produce ensures better taste and quality. Since it is harvested at the peak of freshness, the dishes give a better end result.”
Gone are the days when seasonal ingredients meant adding one or two new dishes to the menu — a gajar halwa in winter and a mango sasav or panna in summer. Today, Kwatra does not hesitate to change menus each season, based on what nature offers him every month.
“Using purple carrots, you can prepare a tasty digestive kanji in winter. For the Eton Mess dessert on our menu, we use strawberries in winter and mangoes in summer. India is among the top producers of jackfruit, and from April until September, we have jackfruit biryani and ice cream on the menu. Again, from June until October end, there are sweet potatoes, and so we serve sweet potato and feta ravioli,” elaborates Kwatra.
Seasonal ingredients are what the discerning, well-travelled diner today seeks.
Says Kwatra, “Millennials are looking for seasonal produce with all the go-green and health aspects in mind. Diners have evolved. Today’s discerning customer knows the value of a seasonal menu and is actively looking for such dining options.”
Contrary to popular belief, chefs unanimously opine that a menu with seasonal ingredients almost always lowers the costs. Kwatra explains, “Seasonal and local produce means availability at your doorstep, so the cost is relatively lower. Hence it helps in higher top lines and flow through, in restaurants.”
Star ingredients: Thomas Zacharias
Chef-Partner of The Bombay Canteen, Thomas Zacharias, says, “ We have a rich tradition of eating seasonally all across India, which we seem to have forgotten over the years. We wanted to revive this tradition in our own way, making Indian vegetables fun, exciting and cooked deliciously.”
Citing examples, he adds, “In winter it is ponkh in the barley and jowar salad, green wheat in the canteen haleem, hara channa in the roasted hara channa salad, purple mugri in the arbi tuk, pink guava in our guava tan ta tan, purple yam and green garlic in undhiyu.”
Chef Zacharias says, “Seasonal menus bring a certain vitality to our restaurant, which keeps guests engaged and our staff on their toes.”
He adds, “For me, there is a certain romance around having to wait for a particular fruit or vegetable once the season is over, until it shows up again.”
Come summer and he goes all out to assimilate the abundant summer fruits in his dishes. Watermelon in poha crusted fish with watermelon curry, raw mango in the shrimp, and also a kairi biryani. He also experiments with jamun, creating jamun karanji.
Eat local: Tejas Sovani
Tejas Sovani, Executive Sous Chef, Amaranta, The Oberoi Gurgaon, has a yen for exploring small-town markets for key seasonal ingredients.
The recipes have been researched from hamlets a hundred kilometres south of Kochi to the salt flats of Kutch and the remote dhanis in the mountains of Himachal.
Hallmark examples at Amaranta include a Kolkata Street Bento Box, farsan medley with dabeli bao, khakra crisps, dhokla pakodas and lal maas kachodi with aloo subzi.
Says Chef Sovani, “My aim is to present Indian regional cuisine in all its simplicity with pride.”
Come winter and he has a dish called King on the menu, where he uses morels, asparagus and chatora, made with smoked sweet potato, crispy-fried okra and tangy colocasia.
Seasonality is key: Prateek Sadhu
“The ethos of Masque is based on seasonality and optimising what is being grown in and around India at a certain point in the year,” says chef Prateek Sadhu.
Chef Sadhu, does not confine himself to Maharashtra. He explains, “Fresh mangoes are here; guavas, apricots, cherries too. I’ll be heading to Kashmir soon for a season of leafy greens and spring produce. Around July-August, we’ll see more apricots and stone fruits, and berries like sea buckthorn a little after that.”
He adds carrot juice to buckthorn to retain the colour and balance the tartness. He makes an ice-lolly out of it and pairs it with a black-pepper mousse for pre-dessert.
When it tastes best: Anupam Banerjee
Executive Chef Anupam Banerjee, Ritz-Carlton Bangalore, explains, “If one follows the seasons rather than a shopping list, one can find a richer collection of fruits and vegetables, which encourages people to experience varied tastes and textures, whilst learning about which produce is in season and when.”
Pumpkin salad and soup make their way on Chef Banerjee’s menus in autumn and winter. A side of mustard leaves with chicken mains is on the menu in Riwaz restaurant, while taro and radish are used as dumpling fillings.