International Chef’s Day….create a story on the plate!!!

October, 2020

Dear Friends

The recently concluded Navaratri festival was one of healthy and sustainable food for me. The first day started with one of my good friends dropping in, to handover a few saplings of a rare variety of delicious jack fruit from his farm. He said so many saplings have sprung up from the trees on his land that he felt it his responsibility to distribute them to people who care to nurture them. I gladly accepted and made sure I re-distributed to 3 others who had the required place to grow them (jack fruit roots go deep and impact the building foundation, so a large farm or a big garden is ideal). I almost felt they were like children that needed to be housed under proper care and love. In return I shared with my friend a few papayas, coconuts and beetle-leaves grown at home. Over the next few days, we received tasty home grown chikoos/sapotas and home-made coconut oil from another friend in Mysore while we all sat down to a healthy, home-cooked meal for the festival. With yet another healthy-food-conscious friend we shared home grown pumpkin and papayas. I tell you the joy of receiving and giving homegrown produce is so different and precious as compared to carrying some sweets, namkeens & chocolates. Well, it matters to people who appreciate and care for simple things in life.

Having moved to healthy-living as a choice over the last few years, I got into a conversation with Anand in Mysore who shifted careers from a software engineer to a farm producer. He grows coconut trees and extracts wooden-pressed oils, cold pressed oils (in his traditional chakki) and trades in unpolished rice, unprocessed salt, organic jaggery etc. While I picked up quite a few stuff for self and a few friends, he shared so many interesting things about what is organic, what is natural, what is chemical-free, why people are made to believe that a higher price tag means a better quality (while it need not be so), how a 200 rupee oil is sold in a fancy store in a city at 800 rupees, how the supply chain works etc. He passionately spoke about coconut in its tender form, fruit form and dried form and how oil extracted at different stages (with and without roasting) impacts the nutrient value and the price. Just like so many other sustainability-champions he emphasised on allowing natural growth, curing & ripening time and extracting without short-changing the process. Anand shared a lot and I realised he is a fountain-head of traditional knowledge with genuine concern for Mother Earth and Sustainable Future.

This reminds me about 20th October which is celebrated as International Chef’s Day. Coincidentally the theme for 2020 is “Healthy & Sustainable Food for the Future”. It was interesting to watch a panel discussion on this theme hosted by the Institute of Hotel Management, Bangalore (incidentally my son was the student-moderator) that had India’s top corporate chefs and entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts, experiences and trends in healthy food and what chefs are doing about this. The insightful takeaways were – Healthy food is no more a buzzword, it is REAL. Hotels are offering responsible luxury and India Proud Food. Customers are dictating what they want. Chefs must be able to ‘create a story on the plate’ while being conscious of the Food miles, Fuel burn, Produce origin, Fair pricing for the farmers, Honest farming etc. One of them said we must be aware of what’s going into our body if we want to know what we are going to be in future. They talked about how chefs are rooting for local produce rather than imported ones which was the norm years ago, how the breakfast menu has shifted from processed cereals, bacon and sausages to fruits, veggie blends and freshly made local Indian cuisines. There was a piece of good advice – get children to read food labels and figure out the ingredients, their nutritional value, shelf life etc. before they make a choice to reach out to processed foods. Another well-known chef declared ‘Poori bhaji with (mota atta) whole wheat flour is any day healthier than egg white omelette and brown bread !’ The unanimous vote was for locally produced ingredients, with shorter shelf life (which meant fresh), artisanal food (no additives, preservatives, artificial colours), ethical food (with no hormones), understanding the farmer, eliminating middle-men and celebrating Indian Food. The message was loud and clear – For health & sustainable food go BACK TO THE ROOTS. WINDS OF CHANGE are surely blowing that way. Thankfully !

PC: Malidate Van

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