A ward winning chefs, foodies, home cooks are dipping into the local bounty and coming up with ways to spotlight Indian cuisine with the reverence it rightfully deserves. Chef Prateek Sadhu of Masque returned from a foraging sojourn in Kashmir with the forgotten, humble seabuckthorn. Chef Vicky Ratnani uncovered the precious versions of bhoot jholakia and unknown Naga spices during a trip to the North East. Chef Amninder Sandhu has been championing the no-gas cooking, elevating Indian food to the level of manna, with her tandoor renditions, while making use of mango wood. The mood is certainly upbeat on the desi khana, with the movement gaining rapid momentum.
Garima Arora of Gaa fame (in Bangkok) pulled out the first ace last year in November when she became the first Indian female chef to clinch the Michelin star. A devotee of Indian cuisine, Garima is now powering the Food Forward India movement—a non-profit initiative that flagged off its first chapter, in Mumbai, to reintroduce Indian cuisine to the world with renewed panache. With interactive engagement between chefs, restaurateurs, writers, historians and scientists, it is a collective effort. Prod her as to why it took her so long to propose this idea, and she retorts, “This subject has been gestating in my mind for so long, but the reason it’s happening now is because of the momentum Gaa has gained over the last year. Finally, I have the platform to speak about what is close to my heart and actually do something concrete.” She is looking to leverage her personal equity and expertise into creating the desired momentum. “With Food Forward India, we hope to create a starting point for future cooks in their career. Most importantly, it is to bring back a sense of curiosity and a more intelligent outlook on Indian food. I hope together we can come up with ways to preserve it thoughtfully and shape it consciously.”
Indian kitchens are the most challenging of all, believes Amninder who powers the gourmet gospels at Arth, India's only gas-free, fine dine restaurant, where every preparation takes place on wood or charcoal. “If I had my way I would make sure that the chef manning the tandoor is as highly paid as say a sushi chef. Everyone is trying to ape the West. If Noma goes Nordic, why can't India go Indian? Indian food is a sleeping giant.”Amninder has her own reference points rooted in her childhood memories.
“I serve my mother’s legendary mutton curry in a small pressure cooker on the table. Whatever ingredients she did not have, she simply grew them in our kitchen garden in Jorhat, Assam,” she confesses. Her aim is to champion Indian food through her belief in ethnic cuisines, revive traditional methods of cooking and celebrate local ingredients.
Sameer Seth, partner at The Bombay Canteen (TBC), has reinvented Indian preparations in edgy, small plates with a fruitful collaboration with the Naandi foundation, a social sector organisation, to partner with the Adivasi farmers in Araku, Andhra Pradesh. The famous Independence Day Daawat (for which diners pay what they think the meal is worth) at TBC in its fifth edition this year raised funds for the farmers, making use of their produce and helping set up sustainable fruit orchards in Chedu Put near Araku. “When we set up TBC in 2015, we realised how little we know of Indian food as our culinary history stands undocumented. Delving deeper helps us to develop contexts, change our menus with respect to the seasons (as we experienced during our childhood) and facilitates an interplay of knowledge. The core thought behind our constant efforts is to self-propagate the richness of Indian cuisine. For instance, our monsoon menu, in collaboration with Triple O Farms, brought in ingredients from the fields of tribal farmers growing crops within a 200 km radius from Mumbai, bringing in the best of the Sahyadri produce.”
The unanimous effort brews to put Indian food at the top where it belongs. Says Amninder, “Indian food is the most nourishing, fulfilling of all, and we need to pride ourselves in that. Look at the Japanese, they have made the entire world take to their cuisine, the way it is.” An all-encompassing truth elbowing aside shallow perspectives that the desi cuisine is oily and heavy on the digestive tract. “Together, we can brainstorm Indian food into the future,” sums up Garima succinctly.