Food

Chennai chefs join hands with farmers for organic brunch

R Jeganathan of Nalla Keerai with Chef Malar Mannan of The Park hotel.

R Jeganathan of Nalla Keerai with Chef Malar Mannan of The Park hotel.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Chefs at The Park join hands with local farmers from Nalla Keerai to create an organic brunch, complete with a little pop up vegetable market

Siru keerai, manathakali keerai and Richard Marx. Gongura thokku, murukku and red beet cannelloni. Thakkali martinis and pomegranate mojitos. As the band begins to play Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’, Executive Chef Ashutosh Nerlekar scoops out a generous spoonful of gelato made with locally grown, powerfully fragrant spearmint and creamy organic milk. It’s perfect.

When the chefs of The Park met the team behind Nalla Keerai a few months ago, they were only exploring local farms to understand ingredients. However, after multiple meals at the Nalla Keerai offices comprising fresh greens and organic rice, the chefs were so enamoured with the produce that they started exploring a long-term partnership. Which is how the city’s first official organic farmer’s brunch was launched.

Walking through the expansive spread, Chef Nerlekar explains how they began with sourcing vegetables from Nalla Keerai, and then decided to use into organic rice, cold-pressed oils and lentils as well. He fills a bowl with payasam made using aromatic Javaphul rice from Assam. “It’s all about the scent,” he says, holding up the bowl and inhaling deeply. “You can keep recipes simple when you use great ingredients like this.” The dessert counter also boasts rasmalai made with A2 milk from indigenous cows. “It’s richer than the regular milk we were using,” he says, “We used to get about 575 grams of paneer from six litres of regular milk. With the organic, we get about 900 grams.”

Pitching for the traditional

Sipping on panagam laced with peppermint, cardamom, ginger and lime, Chef Nerlekar goes on to demonstrate how traditional produce can be used in a range of recipes. Sri Lankan watalappan made with palm jaggery for instance. Or pan seared sesame crusted pumpkin with wilted vallarai keerai and even podi idlis, made with a mix of millets and dal. “One cup bajra to one urad. That’s all.” Dense, but delicious.

Podi idlies made with bajra.

Podi idlies made with bajra.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 

In the lobby, an incongruous vegetable market has sprung up to encourage hotel guests and diners to experiment with fresh, seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients.

The abbreviated, five star pop up is thoughtfully stocked with a variety of vegetables, millets and pulses. There’s even a little cart offering murukku, ladoos and slickly packaged cold-pressed oils.

Nalla Keerai’s marketing head, Srinivasan V, stands beside a shelf stacked with a bewildering range of local greens from their farms.

“We are one step ahead of organic,” he says with a grin. “Organic is misused and abused in India. What we assure and authenticate is that right from seed to kitchen, our products are 100 % natural. Zero chemicals, zero pesticides, zero GMO.” He continues, “We want the nutrition value of each individual ingredient is kept as it is.”

Saravanan S, CEO, discusses how the company has grown since R Jeganathan, one of the founders, leased some farmland and began to grow greens, which he then sold in parks and apartment complexes in 2011. Now they network with farmers across Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Chhattisgarh. Srinivasan does the math: “In Tamil Nadu alone, we have about 3,000 farmers, covering 1.65 lakh acres, working with us now.”

This enables them to supply fruits and vegetables to big institutions, such as The Park. And by finding enough takers, it assures a steady income for the farmers they partner with.

“We give them a guaranteed price and assured buyers, because we can plan production better when we are networked and organised,” says Srinivasan, adding that most importantly, it’s an incentive for more farmers to go organic.

“Detoxification of the land is not possible,” he says solemnly, “But at least we can prevent further deterioration.”

The organic farmer’s brunch is on at The Park every Sunday. For reservations, call 42676000.

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2020 4:41:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/park-partners-with-farmers-to-create-an-organic-brunch/article22464595.ece

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