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Farm to Fork: Back to Basics

The 36th edition of Express Food & Hospitality Expo held recently in Goa, organised a panel discussion on the topic ‘Farm to Fork: Back to Basics’ seeking views of F&B managers from leading hotels in Goa to understand the application of the concept in the Goa market

A concept which started in the West, the ‘Farm-to-table’ food movement, where restaurants and hotels buy produce directly from local farmers to ensure freshness, is slowly making headway in this country too. A panel discussion on the same at the recently concluded Express Food & Hospitality Expo in Goa saw participation by Sadan Gaunker – F&B manager, The Zuri White Sands, Goa Resort & Casino; Amit Kumar Mathuri – operations manager, The Fern Kesarval Hotel and Spa; Amit Malhotra, F&B director, The Leela Goa and Chef Deep from The Fern Kesarval Hotel and Spa.
Speaking about the origin of the concept, Gaunker explained, “The’Farm to Fork’ as a concept started in California where most of the restaurants tied up with the farmers there to get the produce right on the table hence discarding all the mediators in between, and that has slowly expanded globally.” Malhotra added, “The concept is very rich and has to evolve in India. Also the luxury market, which we are into, it will definitely elevate the dining experience that we provide to the guests.”
“Since The Fern Hotels & Resorts is a chain of enviromentally senstive hotel, it closely looks into all the concept and using natural compost for farming is mostly inhouse within our hotel,” said Mathuri. Adding to this, Chef Deep said that the hotel has a ‘Spice Garden’ which has almost all the spices as desired by the guests. Particularly speaking about the Goa market, the panelists opined that the concept is still farfetched as they depend majorly on the Belgaum market for good-quality produce, especially vegetables.

Keeping it experiential
At The Zuri hotel, Gaunker added that being a property spread on 34 acres of land, one acre of the property is dedicated to its organic farm to which they also organise guest tours to select their own herbs. “Be it basil or avacados, we have the produce what the guest needs in their most organic form as we do not use any pesticides or other harmful chemicals to grow the produce,” he informed. Adding on the expereiential element, Malhotra said that their chefs use the mangoes from the mango trees within the property to prepare fresh mango pickle. Also the horticulturist plants seasonal herbs and plants, which helps us promote the seasonal produce as well.
Mathuri added, “The Fern Kesarval Hotel and Spa has a section dedicated to healthy foods in the breakfast buffet. It includes a spread of detox water, lettuce, sprouts and various types of juices, and being located in the industrial area, a lot of corporates visit and prefer eating food from this spread.”
Commenting on promoting the local produce of Goa in their hotels, Malhotra said that they do support the local markets by serving fresh catch of sea food from local vendors. To further increase dependency on the Goa market for produce including quality vegetables and fruits, he suggested that the government needs to encourage the farm-to-fork concept in the state to help local farmers and fishermen sustain in the competitive market, which is otherwise dominated by too many middlemen. Many other states in India are seeing these startups which help people buy directly from the farmers. Agreeing to this, Gaunker felt that the removal of the additional channel is required because the price that the farmer gets is less though the retailer sells it for a far higher price.

Cost barrier in organic produce
Yes, cost does play an important role with organic produce being priced higher, however, the most important thing is the availability of the item. Only if they are easily available in the market, it will be inexpensive and hence the costs of the dishes too will be low despite the produce being organic, feels Malhotra. Chef Deep agreed with Malhotra saying, “Organic produce does come at a higher cost, but one needs to find ways to connect directly with the farmers to save on costs.” Gaunker cited an example saying, “There is a farmer in Haryana who cultivates only organic produce and has tied up with most of the restaurants there to serve them cost efficient high-quality produce.”
When asked about maintaining a loyal vendor base in the Goa market, the panelists spoke in unison that it is subject to the internal audits of each and every sample submitted by the vendors, which is a continuous process. “The most important point of concern to be looked into is the quality of transportation of food items and perishables in the Goa market. The quality, hygiene level of containers and the time taken to deliver the perishables is something that is still a challenge here,” added Gaunker.

Hydroponics in Goa
When asked about the perception and application of the emerging popularity of hydroponic/soil-less cultivation technique in the Goa market, Gaunker replied, “In Goa, considering the climatic conditions, the heat here makes a lot of difference to grow good quality hydroponic produce. The demand for hydroponics is high here, but the supply is low due to the same reason.” Malhotra said that it is a trend that has picked up from the European countries and is being adopted globally now. “What is the main concern for hydroponic cultivation is the cost of minerals and the quality of the water used for the same. We will definitely look into using the produce made using hydroponic cultivation method,” he added. Chef Deep also backed Malhotra’s views saying, it is a difficult cultivation processs to maintain, and especially due to the temperature in Goa it is very difficult.

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