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Chef’s Knowledge Exchange: The organic market in Bengaluru

Organic produce has been a topic trending not only among the end consumers, but also the chef’s fraternity. In the Chef’s Knowledge Exchange at the 37th edition of EF&H Expo in Bengaluru, leading chefs discussed the opportunities and challenges associated with adopting organic produce
By Akshay Nayak

The second panel discussion on the first day of 37th edition of EF&H Expo in Bengaluru marked the presence of renonwned chef’s from leading hotels in Bengaluru who gathered to speak on the organic market in Bengaluru.

Chef Abhijit Saha

The esteemed panelists were Chef Abhijit Saha, co-founder, director & chef, Avant Garde Hospitality, AGH Consulting; Chef Praveen Shetty, executive chef, Conrad Bengaluru; Chef Sandeep Kumar, executive chef, Renaissance Bengaluru Race Course Hotel; Chef Akshraj Jodha, executive chef, ITC Windsor Bengaluru; Chef Antony Ananda Kumar, executive chef, Elior India; Chef Kasiviswanathan, executive chef, Radisson Blu Atria Bengaluru and Chef Uchit Vohra, executive chef, ITC Gardenia.
Chef Saha started the panel discussion opining that organic is a very important part of work and he has been working with it for the past three and a half years. He said, “At our restaurant Fava, which we launched about two and a half years ago, we curated a menu which contains almost 75 per cent organic ingredients.” India today has become one of the most chemically poisoned food cycle countries in the world. The pressure of growing more food to feed more people has increased and as a result of that there has been usage of lot of chemical fertilisers and of course chemical pesticides, he explained.

Chef Akshraj Jodha

Chef Saha, also highlighted that the lack of information among farmers regarding the usage of presticides misleads them to believe that the larger the quantity used, the better the yield which is not the truth, and as a result, the whole food cycle gets poisoned. India is one of the oldest civilisations where organic cultivation was something that we started, we need to go back to that, he affirmed.
The panelists agreed that it is unfortunate that the spurt of organic produce has made it more elitist. So only probably 0.05 per cent of the people in the country have access to organic produce.

Government’s role

Chef Kasiviswanathan

Organic produce is still difficult to be recognised, due to lack of certification opined Chef Kasiviswanathan. The government has to bring in some rules and regulations for the same. “Most of the farmers call their produce organic but how genuine it is, is the question. The detailing right from the soil where it is being grown, who is going to certify its authenticity? So it has a long way to go. The demand of organic produce is increasing, but then we really do not know whether we are having the right product or not,” he said.
Chef Jodha agreed, “In the last 10-15 years, things have evolved drastically. Prior to that, everything was really natural. Organic as a topic was never debated upon. The crop quality has gone down severely and the soil is really polluted, and so is the air and water. So we cannot really define what is organic. It will take 15 years for the soil to get clear of the chemical pesticides, but what about the air and water. Going back to the roots is what everybody of us must consider and we need to have a sense of ethics towards what we are doing to the environment and our crop, so we eat the right food.”
With increasing use of social media, especially among the millenials, Chef Shetty observed that the information about organic produce is easily available. But the matter of concern is will they pay for it?
As Chef Saha observed, “The demand is very less as of now and so whether the consumer will pay the extra cost is the real concern. So if the demand is more, definitely the cost will go down.”
Chef Ananda Kumar informed that there are clients who have the capacity to spend for the organic produce. “What we at Elior are trying to do is bring in some of the organic farmers on board, and then show them what is the positive aspect about the produce. We are slowly introducing menus which are organic to meet the consumer’s expectations,” he said.

Chef Antony Anandkumar

Alternatively, Chef Vohra had a different view on organic food. “Why do people want organic food? For me is organic food healthy or is it good for the nature? I do not feel that in an organic or a non-organic food, there is any nutritional difference. Farmers have moved from tradtional ways of farming to the modern ways because the demand for food is increasing. Now if every farmer of the country starts growing organic food, what will a poor person eat? Can he afford to consume organic tomatoes which are 200 rupees a kilo. In non-organic farming, i.e. the modern day farming, say in a land of around one acre of land, maybe you are able to produce 500 kgs of tomatoes, whereas in organic farming, I might not even get 50 kilos. So, I believe the way ahead is in sustainable farming methods, wherein if a chemical or pesticide is being used, it shall be approved to be used. Even for our guests, do they really want to pay the extra bucks for produce which we call organic? What is more important is to educate a farmer in ways which are good for the nature as well as which also increases the yield because in our country the demand is always increasing,” he explained.

Chef Sandeep Kumar

Chef Kumar spoke about the gap between the farmer and the end user. “Being in the chef’s fraternity, it is our moral responsibility to try promoting organic produce. It is not a day-long process for sure but till the time it is, we should contribute towards the cause of supporting the consumption of organic produce and close the gap of disconnect between the farmers and the consumers. The organic produce is highly priced but we have to see whether the money is reaching the farmers or being eaten by the middlemen. The trend of farmer markets is slowly picking up in Bengaluru as well as other cities in the country to promote farmers. Last year as well we had about 5000 farmers selling their produce at the Palace Grounds, Bengaluru,” he added. He also felt that there must be certain certification to identify the difference between organic and non organic produce. Bengaluru market has the potential, as majority of the people here have the spending power.

Chef Praveen Shetty

Chef Saha added that organic produce all across the world is slightly priced higher than non-organic foods. However the difference in prices between the same in India is stark. “Sustainability has got many aspects to it, but the point is that do we really have the intent considering the larger picture. There is no government body which is really regulating it. The government should encourage and should also give incentives for organic farming to grow from one per cent to probably 10 per cent in a few years,” he noted.

Observing sustainable practices

Chef Uchit Vohra

As an initiative taken towards observing sustainable practices at their hotel, Chef Kumar said they have started best practices of sustainability in their hotels as well. “We are stopping usage of plastic bottles. There could also be a complete SWOT analysis in which every single aspect could be monitored to curb wastage. The awareness has already lit the fire,” he said.
Sustainable dining is something that chefs should be promoting, noted Chef Vohra. “We have a lot of initiatives which are single diner menus, smaller portions, etc, wherein we want to give everyone a complete experience and also reduce the waste. This way we are preventing the guests from over ordering, and also offering them the dynamism of flavours with a range of dishes. Buffet dining is something we need to look at to cut down the food wastage,” he added.
As precautionary measures to curb food wastage, Chef Kumar and his team are looking to execute a plan focussing on how to educate the guest on food wastage to pass the message to the guests to eat responsibly and reduce food wastage. It is not easy, but to educate the guests about it is necessary, he said.
Chef Jodha concluded, “The time has come for smaller portions of food which we are doing at the hotels but, if we go back to the age old times, in our culture sustainable dining was already existing. Each waste item from the plate could be used for various purposes like making manure, etc. Indians barely used dustbins back then.”

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