Food

Farm Fresh: Adding zest and zing to cuisines

Sabyasachi Gorai 29 Jan 2014

Northeast is a storehouse of nature’s abundance. I discovered this by chance when my quest for new ingredients for my restaurant led me there.

When I started Ai, a Japanese restaurant in New Delhi, one of my staff told me about his family’s organic vegetable farm in Meghalaya. As a chef, I am always on the lookout for new ingredients which can add value to my recipes. So, I decided to find out if this organic farm in Meghalaya would offer me something new.

In 2008, I landed in Shillong and drove to Nongpoh, a small village, about 50 kms from Shillong, tucked between Shillong and Guwahati. Visiting the Northeast didn’t come as a culture shock to me because I already knew about the region through my friends, some of whom are from Assam. So, when I reached this village, I was delighted to discover a lush green farm which grew vegetables and fruits. Organic manure was used as fertilisers. The result was fresh, tasteful and juicy produce – exactly what I wanted for my cuisine. I decided to exploit this opportunity and use these vegetables and fruits for my new restaurant. After working out the economics of it, I realised that I would spend much less as compared to what I spent on importing from Japan.

Soon, I set up a supply chain from the organic farm and got my monthly stock of ingredients. The stock included passion fruit, pineapple, coriander, chillies, bamboo leaves, rice, wild mushroom among other items. The passion fruit turned out to be a boon as I used it to make cheese cake and soufflé. It was a big hit with our regular customers. The delicate flavour of the fruit added a new tang to the dessert, giving it a distinct flavour. The wild mushrooms were used as fillings along with cheese for quiche and puffs. The black rice came handy for sushi while the bamboo leaves were used creatively in decoration.

The flavour of the ingredients that I got from the Northeast was similar to that of what I got from Japan. This has a lot to do with an almost similar topography and climate of the region. But I had not expected such a huge variety and so it turned out to be an eye opener for me. I completely stopped importing vegetables and fruits from Japan, I only got seafood from there.

Unfortunately, I had to shut down the restaurant in 2012 and as a result also stop my association with the Northeast. But I am keen to revive my ties and get the fabulous ingredients from there for my kitchen, hopefully soon.

Sabyasachi Gorai is an award winning and one of the most talented Indian chefs

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