Cooking has techniques but no boundaries for imagination; you just see a big ocean of ingredients in front of you and you dive into it to bring out more and more interesting flavours on to the plate, says Chef Arun Vats, executive chef, Hard Rock Hotel Goa
Your insights on Vocal About Local
I would consider myself blessed to be working in India. The diversity that flows in the language, rich culture and way of life is also vividly seen in the local ingredients, food habits and taste preferences. I always believed that Goa is a foodie’s haven and a melting pot for gastronomes and I hoped that someday I was given an opportunity to explore this tropical paradise. I’m glad that destiny brought me here … It’s been 5 palatable years and this place has never left me disappointed. The state has so much to offer an ardent foodie or the swift backpacker with its veritable food and aromatic flavours. Every dish has a story to tell, the variations in preparation is simply remarkable from North Goa to South Goa, from a typical Goan Catholic home to a traditional Hindu Goan family; it is just mind-boggling how the same dish can taste so different across different regions.
Generations may come and go but what remains is the authenticity in flavour and therefore it is very important to preserve the very essence of Goan food. It feels great to see so many men, women and Goan tinto (local marketplace) groups come together to keep the local flavours alive. With digital technology now at their fingertips, Goan folk promote their local produce online, selling all kinds of homemade food from pickles and jams, dry fish, feni and wines, to home-grown fruits, vegetables and ready-to-eat meals. The online market is indeed a great boost to them and an important source of income for their families. Some of them also have tie-ups with local NGOs and distributors too. If you are on a quest for the real Goan flavours, get rid of the fork and spoon dining and make your way to the quaint little lanes or the food carts where you will complete your epicurean journey. My personal favourites include Mirabai, Noronha’s Food Truck, Anandashram, Kokni Kanteen among the like.
Curating menus at Hard Rock Hotel Goa using local ingredients
In the last 5 years, I have experimented with many local ingredients in my kitchen and also curated some exciting menus working with the local produce and the response has been overwhelming. Some eyebrow raising moments were also welcomed especially when guests tasted our specially curated dessert “JaMango”, an exceptional blend of kokum, Mankurad (local mango variety) and feni (alcoholic drink made with local cashews). I am happy with whatever I have achieved so far and I shall continue my trial and error process with the fruits of the soil.
The one local ingredient your kitchen cannot do without
It would be difficult to list down just one ingredient because every ingredient has its own zest and distinctiveness. But if I have to narrow it down, then, besides coconut, I would say Kokum because of its unique sour taste, sweet aroma and striking versatility.