A complete natural  

Foodpreneur Vanika Choudhary makes you savour the nature-nurture philosophy through the organic offerings at her latest restaurant, Noon
 

Published: 03rd April 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd April 2022 08:12 PM   |  A+A-

An assortment of food and drinks at Noon

The earth-toned design sets the rhythm for the ingredient-driven dishes composing the thought-driven concept menu by founder and chef (of the city’s most popular organic bistro, Sequel), Vanika Choudhary. Noon (Kashmiri for salt) arrives with an elegant food atlas, much like its soft-spoken owner, understanding and honouring foodways and the journey of indigenous ingredients from the forests to the table. In complete sync with the ecosystem around us, the offerings at Noon create sheer harmony,  and are a startling tribute to pure living.

Everything is cooked using A2 ghee here. The kitchen is bereft of non-stick pans, only cast-iron ware and clay pots rule as does coal and wood for fuel. “Cooking on coal and wood is better for digestion. For me, going back to my roots isn’t a fad,” says Choudhary decisively, having spent a large part of her early years in Jammu and Srinagar where her nani sunned kanji made of black carrots in big martabans in the courtyard during the winter months. “Using age-old techniques like sun drying, fermenting, sprouting, soaking and eating fresh, local, seasonal has always been a way of life as far as my memory goes,” she shares, having enjoyed foraging journeys near Jammu; in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh for dandelion greens, karondas and lotus stems during her childhood. “A meal at Noon isn’t just about the food. It is about serving our traditional food philosophy in fun, contemporary formats.”

Vanika Choudhary with
in-house ferments 

The delicious plates certainly bring in stunning specials. Think buckwheat tartlets with chevre, yellow beets and black garlic in a rich interplay of textures. “I feel the different textures turn bold and alive when we use indigenous ingredients. We have our own greenhouses and work with several far mer collectives pan India to source the best,” smiles Choudhary, as she shapes the clean eating boom, creating her own miso, kefir and plant-based yogurts. The black buckwheat comes from Ladakh, indigenous to the Kargil region. Avocados from Kodaikanal. Nolen gur from Bengal.

Black rasbhari or cape gooseberries, indigenous to the forests of Mahabaleshwar. Karun ragi (completely different from the commercial ragi) from Tamil Nadu where it is grown by tribals. The black garlic is cured for 90 days at Noon for that piquant tang, much like the shallots swim in kanji for that perky flavour. The rice dish comes inspired by Choudhary’s memories of the gucchi pulao, with the grains from Chattisgarh mating in a clay pot with shiitake, served with millet miso and kimchi. Expect the unexpected at Noon, with fermenting, sprouting and soaking processes suffusing the making of the dishes, and kokum fermented into kefir formats.

It is flavorsome knit of the different components that create a delicious whole. Like those gigantic prawns stroked with kefir and kokum, gondhoraj lemon—a fragrant, pickle-famed Bengali cousin of the kaffir lime—and slow handroasted over charcoal. “We use the sil batta a lot in the kitchen. I remember how my grandmother used to pound anardana and green chillies for 45 minutes for the right consistency, and then mix it in with the yogurt to simply elevate the flavour index,” she says. “Charring and smoking are techniques that bring in a diverse palate profile. In the making of the coconut yogurt ice cream, the leftover coconut husk is used to smoke the hara chana for the flavours to come alive in another preparation,” explains Vanika. Here is someone who is a regular at Michelin-starred restaurants, including Noma and Gaa, and who isn’t simply tinkering around with organic ingredients in a quest for a Michelin-starred menu. Instead, leading the clean eating lifestyle as a keen, sublime student of our traditional foodways.

The handcrafted wooden chandelier from Channapatna lords over the main dining space strapped with a unique bar that shuns aerated drinks. There are conceptually sound sterling sips instead. The showstopper is the saffron kehwa that celebrates a saffron reduction, with the crimson spice forming the hero of the entire pour. This is a glamorous, glorious glug with the gin and tonic respectively infused separately with the saffron threads to celebrate the subtle flavour of the spice. There is no space for sugar at Noon, even at the bar, with fresh fruit juices and raw honey from Jammu forests (complete with bits of bee hive floating) making its way to the mixology crucible here. Liquers are prepared in house as well. 

“My biggest learning is to keep learning,” sums up Choudhary. “I believe eating well should never come at the expense of our planet. We need to nourish our food systems that create abundance.

Saffron Kehwa (by Noon) 

Ingredients
For the drink
Gin: 1 bottle (can use lesser quantity too)
Tonic: 1 bottle (about 60 ml for 1 drink)for the kehwa reduction
✥Saffron: 15 strands (approx.)
✥Cardamom: 7-10
✥Cloves: 2
✥Cinnamon stick: 1
✥Vanilla pods: 1/2
✥Honey: 30ml
✥Water: 500ml

Preparation for the Kehwa reduction
✥Take cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks in a sauce pan and muddle nicely. Add the vanilla pod (slit into half and scrapped), saffron, honey and water. Let it simmer for 1-2 hours. It should become slightly thick in consistency. Let it cool overnight.
✥Take the bottle of the gin and drop in 5-6 saffron strands and keep it in the freezer overnight (you can use lesser quantity of the gin too)
✥Do the same for the tonic too but don’t put it in the freezer. Try putting in a protective enclosure to the bottle of tonic otherwise it’ll turn flat. 

For the cocktail
✥Pour over ice
✥60 ml saffron infused gin
✥45 ml kehwa tea reduction
✥45-60 ml of saffron infused tonic



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