By Chef Arun Kumar TR
When you bring together five accomplished Chefs (Manjit Singh Gill, Vikas Seth, Abhijit Saha, Arun Kumar TR and Gita Ramesh) to an Ayurvedic Resort, in God’s Own Country, and let them cook deriving inspiration and produce from the surroundings, you are bound to have some great ‘healing’ innovations on the table.
That is what exactly happened at the 'Healing Recipes' – Back to Roots, a unique initiative brought to life, curated and co-founded by Madhulika Dash, hosted at the lush green expanse of Kairali – The Ayurvedic Healing Village at Palakkad in Kerala. It is also India’s first Ayurveda-based Chef Retreat, and yours truly one of the founding chefs, took it to another level.
You see, Healing Recipes- Back to Roots was for me, in many ways, literally going “Back to the Roots” as I hail from Tharavad, a little hamlet barely half an hour away from Palakkad. So being there just flooded me with innumerable memories of fun, laughter and most importantly food. Food, which was basically vegetarian, made from produce sourced from the acres and acres of fields, gardens around the house.
In those days, Farm-to-table was the only means and today we make such a fuss about it. And put a ridiculous price tag on it! In those days it was ‘basic’, cheapest and most nutritious, in tune with nature. Interestingly “nature” was the essence of Healing Recipe, where while each chef brought his learnings to the table, also partook some of the important thoughts that made our Culture of Taste, or to quote the legendary Chef Manjit Gill, “it was revisiting an approach to food, ingredients and cooking techniques.”
The cooking capsules (an amazingly blend of botany, history and some great cooking) ranging from 60-90 minutes were the highlights of the 3-day event. It was interactive, with the audience (a large media contingent and visitors at the resort) getting involved with the cooking on stage. It was a platform where everything- concept, fad, theories and concern were addressed: Be it Local Produce, Organic farming, Sustainability, Food Wastage, Traditional methods of cooking, ancient texts outlining healthy eating habits or even the art of eating right.
What gave it that realistic approach was the farm visit, where you were taught how to grow your own produce: from building a kitchen garden to even soil-less farming, and significantly how to recognise a “good produce”.
For the Chefs, the participants and observers, it was an unique mix of not just eating good and healthy food but learning a number of hows and whys, a touch and feel of produce, leading to a complete picture on the basic concept of the Retreat : Healing Recipes.
Chef Vikas Seth, in his trademark Mexican mood, set out to make tacos with Ragi, a filling with Soya Bean and a topping of sour cashew cream with some tamarind infused pumpkin. It was a showcase on how localising global cuisine isn’t just about tweaking the sauces or changing a few ingredients, it was adapting to the natural resources.
Gita Ramesh, owner, Kairali, spoke about and demonstrated some very basic, localised healthy, Ayurveda based dishes like the Avial, an integral part of all ‘sadhyas’ in Kerala, and the right way to make the sprouts salad.
Chef Manjit Gill took the humble Drumstick and its flowers to another level, given his knowledge and expertise to make very innovative and interesting Drumstick Patties (made with the flesh of the drumstick) and a ‘mix’ using Chickpeas and Drumstick flowers.
And for myself, it was working with my first love and India’s best known superfood: the Banana plant. Falling back on my memories and food ‘roots’, I decided to create my childhood on plate by using every part of the Banana Plant, literally. So while the plantain became the ‘mock’ meat curry, simmered in coconut milk, the peel became the chutney and the flowers, the main flavorant in a pancake. And the heart of the stem, a lassi: an old childhood favourite.
Keeping the superfood trail on was the finale class by progressive cuisine guru, Chef Abhijit Saha, who took inspiration from his farm, market and village trips and created a buffet that could take you from breakfast to dinner starting with an unforgettable super smoothie with banana and papaya, wheat grass, Triphala and Spirulina; hummus peppered with amaranth and a mixed millet Tikki topped with the beetroot pachadi.
The cherry on the cake was the sit down, 4-course dinner prepared by Chef Abhijit Saha, Chef Vikas Seth and myself along with the incredible kitchen & service staff of Kairali. Based on the theme of Healing Recipes, each course was a lesson in taste, tradition and thought. Hosted by the extremely knowledgeable, enthusiastic and hands-on, co-founder Abhilash K.Ramesh, also the Director of Kairali Ayurvedic Group, it was an evening to remember – and emulate.
Photograph Credit: Neha Thakur/Healing Recipes
(In Picture) Team Healing Recipes: (left to right) Chef Vikas Seth, Chef Manjit Singh Gill, Madhulika Dash (curator-co-founder), Chef Arun Kumar T R, Chef Abhijit Saha, Abhilash Rames (Director Kairali Ayurvedic Group and Co-founder)