Last week, at the Ritz Carlton’s five- course dinner for the Chaine des Rotisseurs, there was much appreciation for tomatoes. Not just any tomatoes, but a delightful concoction by Chef Anupam Banerjee entitled Textures of Heirloom Tomatoes.
This would have been difficult a few years ago, when veggies existed but certainly did not rule. Things have changed, and a brigade of knowledgeable chefs are busy
putting vegetables in the spotlight on their menus. No surprises then, to also read that 2015’s big food
trend will be the return to vegetable-dominated cuisine, where vegetables share equal value and mind space with protein on diners’ plates.
Chatting with Naveen MV, MD of First Agro, one of the duo responsible in no small part for this resurgence in Bangalore, one understands why. “Today’s world is of growing urbanisation, where people are ready to pay top dollar for quality food stuff,” he says. “At the same time, families are realising that good food should be safe food.”
The charge of the veg brigade is being led by enlightened chefs who are ready to go that extra mile to add flavour and goodness to their cooking. Like Ritz Carlton’s Anupam Banerjee, The Oberoi’s Amit Wadhwan, Hilton’s Anirban Dasgupta, ITC’s Manisha Bhasin are re-discovering lost heirloom vegetables grown minus pesticides. Companies like First Agro prefer the ‘zero pesticide’ tag to ‘organic,’ an oft-abused term, they say. Says First Agro’s production head Nameet M, “We lose vegetables to hybridisation, in an effort to grow more, bigger and better. But no hybrid gives you the flavours of an original heirloom tomato, for instance.”
Italian food lovers will be thrilled that the San Marzano tomato, the original variety behind Italy’s sauces, is now being grown in India.
As for peppers, 70 varieties are now grown right at Bangalore’s doorstep, and are slowly finding their way to your plate. “What was imported for `850 per kilo is now being grown
right here for just `90,” says Nameet. So ditch iceberg for red or green romaine lettuce, or Asian varieties like mizuna, tatsoi or komatsuna, some of the 130 varieties possible right here.
While some chefs are working to ensure the best veggies land on your plate, beware of quick, cheap fixes. “Ninety per cent of the food we eat is full of pesticides,” warns Naveen. Veggie boot camps for chefs are catching the imagination and chefs’ kitchen gardens are becoming the norm. Chefs are encouraged to till the soil, touch and smell before they buy, and along with a growing band of consumers are ready to opt for what’s safe and pesticide free. “There must be alignment with chefs, retailers and the public, or it won’t work,” says Nameet.
So as the Chaine diners started on their next course: yuzu marinated palm heart, Kalamata olives and beets — along with the amazing textures, flavours and presentation on their plates, they enjoyed a healthier bite of life.