In December 2014, Sadie Frost, the ex-wife of Hollywood actor Jude Law, was walking around the four-acre Farm Kitchen at the CGH Earth resort at Mararikulam, 41 km from Kochi. R Harikrishnan, the Food and Beverages Manager, told her that all the vegetables were grown without using chemical fertilisers and pesticides. “This is so nice,” she said. “Natural vegetables are the way to move forward. There is a growing organic movement in Britain now. I am sure there is one in India, too.”
At the farm, all types of vegetables are grown. They include tomatoes, cabbages, beans, yams, drumsticks, bitter gourds as well as fruits like papayas, bananas and melons.
“Since we are near the beach, the soil is sandy,” says the silver-haired Chellapan, who looks after the farm, along with a team of eight helpers. “To cultivate something is very difficult. But we are managing using fertilisers like bio-gas slurry, compost and cow dung. We have placed coconut husks around the base of the plants because it prevents the water from draining away. It also maintains the moisture level.”
On a sunny March morning, two British couples—Roger Hoyle and his wife Rosalind, and Nicholas Alliston and Elise —came to the farm to have a dekko. There was a kitchen and a dining table with raised chairs.
Chef Thomas C Jose approached them and asked whether they would like to participate in a cooking session. “Why not?” asked Nicholas. So Thomas handed Nicholas a knife and the group wander about looking at the various vegetables. Finally, they zoomed in on a pair of succulent cabbages. Nicholas cut them and brought it to Jose, who washed them. He then handed out cutting boards and knives.
The group sliced the cabbage into small pieces. Then Jose placed it in a brass vessel on a cooking range. He put in curry leaves, grated coconut, mustard seeds, ginger, garlic, onion, and coconut oil. He turned up the heat of the burner and asked Rosalind and Elise to stir the cabbage with a ladle. Twenty minutes later, the dish was ready. They took turns to taste it.
“It’s delicious,” said Elise. “And so lovely to see so many different vegetables that we cannot grow in our country. They taste better, because they are local and organic.”
Said Nicholas, “Somehow, the food tastes better in India than in England. This could be because imported vegetables have to be transported over long distances and then stored.”
Standing nearby and listening to their conversation was P Subrahmanian, the general manager of CGH Earth. “We want to give our guests a hands-on experience,” he said. “The aim is from farm to plate.”
According to the Farm Kitchen’s Cook Book, the meal usually begins with papaya or pumpkin soup, followed by dishes like Vendakka Thakkali Mappas (a coriander-flavoured preparation of okra and tomato in coconut milk), Cheera Thoran (dry vegetarian preparation of spinach and coconut), stuffed brinjal and Vazhuthananga Ularthiyathu (a dry preparation of aubergine in crushed masala). It ends with a ginger, peppermint or a hibiscus drink.
Even the water is natural. It is called sappon wood (a pink herbal drinking water). “Sappon is an east Indian red wood,” says Subrahmanian. “The bark, boiled with water is of medicinal value.”
Most of their guests are from Europe. “Most of the time they buy their vegetables from supermarket chains,” says Michael Dominic, the Director of CGH Earth. “So we wanted to show them the natural process, which they might not be able to see in their countries.”
And the process is popular. Many guests come to the Farm Kitchen from 6 pm onwards, just as the sunlight begins its long fade into darkness. The guests pick their vegetables, take part in the cooking, sit around the dining table, sip wine or beer and get to know each other. “Many of them are strangers before the cooking,” says Dominic. “But by the end of the dinner, they become close friends, despite belonging to different cultures, languages and countries.”
● Tomatoes, cabbages, beans, yams, drumsticks, bitter gourds and fruits like papayas, bananas and melons are grown at the farm
● A meal usually begins with papaya or pumpkin soup, followed by dishes like Vendakka Thakkali Mappas and Cheera Thoran
● Even the water is natural and is called sappon wood (a pink herbal drinking water made with the bark of an Indian red wood tree
● The Farm Kitchen opens at 6 pm every day where guests choose the vegetables they want to cook