Why get Fresh
by Priya Bala, Editorial Advisor, PoshVine
A few months ago, I interviewed Chef Alain Passard of the Michelin starred Parisian restaurant, L’Arpege, now famous as a fine showcase for fresh, vegetarian produce. If I was nervous about chef tantrums, I needn’t have worried. Throughout the hour-long interview, Passard was soft-spoken and dreamy – as if he was thinking of his beloved gardens in Chateau du Gros Chesnay where he grows almost all of the produce that goes into his restaurant kitchen.
Now, as much farmer as he is chef, Passard spoke about how the seasonality of the vegetables determines his menu. Whether it’s in-season aubergines, zucchini or melons, they reach L’Arpege by TGV within hours of being harvested. “It’s the fleeting seasons of the fruit and vegetable and their wonderful colours that inspire me to cook these days,” Passard said. “I feel I am painting on the plate with these.”
At a dinner that same night at the Leela Palace, Passard translated to the plate his food philosophy, serving dishes such as a white harlequin of vegetables (radish, turnip, babycorn) in Himalayan honey with candied lemon, pairing it perfectly with the Chateau Margaux Pavillon Blanc 2009. The best and in-season produce needs few adornments is Passard’s belief. The French have, of course, a long tradition of shopping in farmers’ markets and eating in-season, which they still cling to with a certain vehemence.
Across the pond from Europe, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse has been at the forefront of a farm-to-fork movement that has now gained acceptance across the country. Waters has, for years, maintained that the best tasting food is organically grown and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound. As at Passard’s L’Arpege, it is the quest for such ingredients that defines the Chez Panisse menu.
Here, there is awareness, but not enough momentum yet to propel this way of cooking and eating into a movement. The Indian diner is still enamoured of imported meats, cheeses and, most unfortunately, even fruit and vegetables. But there are chefs who are walking a different path. I know Manu Chandra, from the Olive restaurants, for one has spent time and effort building a network of local suppliers who will bring him great fresh produce. Dishes on his new menu such as the watermelon gazpacho use three varieties of local tomatoes to delicious effect; he prefers local sardines and tuna to imported (and therefore, frozen) seafood.
The sensibilities that underline farm-to-fork dining have evolved after years of chefs importing ingredients from all over the world. Now, they feel, is the time to go back to basics and stay local. Why? Because it limits the human impact on the environment by cutting carbon miles and the use of pesticides and preservatives. Local and fresh simply tastes better. It should make you feel good, too. And shouldn’t food nourish the soul as well?
Restaurants that serve fresh, local produce in a way that brings out their intrinsic goodness make a difference, not only to our taste-buds, but also the environment. Of course, there will always be room for culinary wizardry, for we need occasionally to be dazzled by food. But is a tomato turned into a gel, mousse or sphere, made to look like, say, a strawberry, better than a summer tomato served in a way that let its sun-ripened sweetness shine through? You choose.
Coming soon: At Poshvine we are in the process of creating a series of superb farm-to-fork experiences for our members. Food that tastes great and feels good is what it’ll be all about.