New Sprit, Old Soul

After more than two decades' when Fresh Catch By Francis went for a second inning, many were skeptical. But the go-to-place for Karwari and Goan has been a befitting upgrade courtesy scions, Ankita and Adith Fernandes. Excerpts.  

Anyone would tell you making a sequel is a hurclean task.Period. Be it movies, fashion, art or even a restaurant. Add to this mix “iconic”, then the pressure is beyond words. But then every now and then, there comes a bravado or two, who not only go that extra mile but also come out with flying colours and accloades. In this case, may we add, a vibrant shade of coral pink.

Meet the dynamic duo and scion to  Francis' legacy and the deserving owner of the new, upscaled Fresh Catch , Ankita and Adith Fernandes who did exactly that, and how.

On the surface, Ankita, a seasoned hotelier, and Adith, a versatile adman, are the very picture of the go-getter Mumbaikar. They speak that langugage and thanks to their respective profession are attuned to the city's changing mood. But that is till one realises that the brother sister pair are also the bearers of the legendary Francis Fernandes' legacy. A culinary trendsetter who transformed the dining fabric with his served with love, home-style cuisine. In fact, for nearly two decades, Fresh Catch, the erstwhile 30-seater informal eatery, was the school that taught many how traditional Karwari and Goan food really taste and was considered the benchmark of good, fresh food served with love.

So two years ago, when Ankita and Adith decided to revamp their legacy, it became a litmus test – not just for the brand but also for the duo, who couldn't get even a pin wrong. Months of hard work fueled by their respective understanding and dad's teaching, the Fernandes pulled off a masterpiece – a 65 seater, plush Fresh Catch with a modern day vibe but the same old soul that believed in going that extra mile for their guest.

What went into creating a sequel that bettered the old format in a loving, creative, uncompromising way? Ankit and Adith give us the inside story:

 As members of the Fresh Catch family, what are your fondest memories of the food that is also your legacy?

Being part of the Fernandes family means eating a seafood feast everyday whether it is for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Yes, breakfast too, which incidentally was the yesterday's curry served with fresh Neer Dosa or Pola’s or Sanna. Unlike chicken or mutton, the variety of dishes that can be made with seafood (e.g. prawns, shellfish, crabs, large sea water-fish, smaller fresh-water dish) is endless. At home, we are surprised daily with different preparations of fresh seafood depending on the season.

I (Ankita) remember this one time, Papa entered the kitchen to make Sippy Sukka. He was so proud of how it came out that he served himself a large heap of the clams along with steaming rice and fed me. I felt a burst of flavours of the fresh grated coconut, the ground masalas and the chewy yet soft clams all having a party in my mouth. For most people, memories are usually made on vacations , gatherings or special occasions; but for us they were made on the table with food on a daily basis. And that is the Francis Fernandes legacy that we want to continue with Fresh Catch 2.0.

Give us a peek into what went into the making of Fresh Catch 2.0?

Fresh Catch Bandra is definitely the newest member of our family. Customers have already started comparing it with our Mahim branch. However, we wouldn't say we have reinvented any part of Francis' Fresh Catch. The core is exactly the way it was like before – home-style food, affable staff, sourcing of ingredients and seafood, and even the decor. We keep telling our customers that all we have done is moved into a bigger space to accommodate more.

Having said that, it wasn't really a plug and play mode either. We faced a lot of challenges. We had to win over our existing clients and give them the confidence that Fresh Catch will remain the same.

Since we have more demand now, and a larger audience to feed, procuring fresh seafood for the day at the right price was  also a challenge. Being in a commercial area like Bandra, we had to also invest our time and energies to up our social media game.

Looking back now, we think each roadblock was a blessing in disguise as it helped us understand the business better, and implement our vision more effectively.

One of the main reasons that Fresh Catch did so well its true to root delicious food and a pocket friendly menu. How did you ensure that the new menu that was designed  had the same quality and yet was an upgrade in terms of experience and in tune with the palates of today?

Honestly, the menu was never touched. All we did was design the menu in a little modern way which made it easier for customers to understand the preparations and native ingredients. The dishes now come with a description for Fresh Catch “virgins”. Why fix what’s not broken is our motto , the dishes curated by Francis have been a hit since day 1 of 1998 and we believe that traditions can never be upgraded, it’s oxymoronic. Palates today have learnt to accept raw, earthy dishes native to a particular cuisine and people nowadays crave to keep it real and wholesome. There is a mood involved for an outing, people might want to step out for bite-size food for one instance and then wish to eat homely wholesome food in the next instant. We have learnt to roll with clients requests every time.

With indigenous varieties becoming harder to find, and expensive too, how did you ensure that the sourcing of good quality continues?  

We believe that the freshness of the seafood is the only way our dishes become superlative than the rest. The fish is the star of our delicacies. Our vendors, private sea trawlers that are deployed have been with us for over three decades now, and that key concept will always remain true to us. On days when the supply is less, we outsource the same produce on higher costs just so that our quality of the catch is maintained. We also source our raw ingredients from different parts of Goa, Karnataka which makes all the difference when added to a particular dish.

Our procurement circle has been the key to the success of Fresh Catch, and it will continue to be so in the future too.

How much of your father’s culinary legacy do you think is relevant today, and continues to be the non-negotiable etho of Fresh Catch’s new inning?

Since 1998, our father was been very particular about the seafood we use. Our grandmother who we would fondly call Mai always said, "Whatever the ingredients, the taste always depends on the Fresh Catch". We have this quote placed at the restaurant and on our menus as well. We literally spend double the price to get the perfect catch. We have trawlers, especially going for us every morning. And the seafood that customers eat is caught at the crack of dawn. That's how fresh it is. This is one of the reasons behind our success. Our customers trust us when it comes to the quality and hygiene of the food.  Apart from that, they know right since 1998 our menu has been the same, and the taste even in 2022 is exactly the same.

Our father wanted to teleport diners through the food to his hometown and the food he grew up with. And that is the dream we would like to continue with our food, especially since the traditional cuisine of North Kanara is getting rare these days.

For someone who is coming to the new Fresh Catch, what dishes should be a part of the first dining experience?

At Fresh Catch, we very rarely see people ask for the menu. It's kind of become a tradition where, whenever they come in, and look at us. We literally tell them what they should eat today based on the catch from start to end. If a customer is coming for the first time, he or she should blindly start off with our Crispy Bombil Tawa Fry followed by  Prawns Rechado to get that burst of flavors. And then to visit seafood heaven.  Crab Meat Butter Garlic with soft and fluffy neer dosas should be next.

For the main course, one can opt for a finely blended, Surmai Ambotik Curry that's tangy and spicy.  If one likes it mild, there is the coconut-based Pomfret Rossa Curry. Both curries can be paired with either soft and fluffy neer dosas or steamed rice. With the meal, one must definitely have our freshly made Sol Kodi. Definitely, something that shouldn't be missed. For desserts, one should either go for our homemade warm, classic Bebinca or a new crowd favorite  Fresh Catch Gadbad Ice Cream,which has literally everything that one craves for to end a fabulous meal.