Monday, April 06, 2015

From the farm to the plate

The Farm Kitchen at the CGH Earth resort at Mararikulam, Kerala, has an unique concept. Guests harvest the vegetables, all grown naturally, help in the cooking, and then have the meal with friends

First Photo: (From left): Nicholas Alliston, Rosalind Hoyle, Chef Thomas C. Jose, Elise and Roger Hoyle. Photos by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

In December, 2014, Sadie Frost, the ex-wife of Hollywood star, Jude Law, was walking around the four-acre Farm Kitchen, at the CGH Earth resort at Mararikulam, 41 kms from Kochi. R. Harikrishnan, the Food and Beverages Manager, told her that all the vegetables were grown without using chemical fertilisers and pesticides. “This is so nice,” she said. “Natural vegetables are the way to move forward. There is a growing organic movement in Britain now. I am sure there is one in India, too.”

At the farm, all types of vegetables are grown. They include tomatoes, cabbages, beans, yams, drumsticks, bitter gourds, as well as fruits like papayas, bananas and melons.

Since we are near the beach the soil is sandy,” says the silver-haired Chellapan, who looks after the farm, along with a team of eight helpers. “To cultivate something is very difficult. But we are managing, using fertilisers like bio-gas slurry, compost and cow dung. We have placed coconut husks around the base of the plants, because it prevents the water from draining away. It also maintains the moisture level.”

On a sunny March morning, two British couples, Roger Hoyle and his wife, Rosalind, and Nicholas Alliston and Elise have come to the farm to have a look around. At the centre there is a kitchen and a dining table, with raised chairs.

Chef Thomas C Jose approaches them and asks whether they would like to take part in a cooking session. “Why not,” says Nicholas. So Thomas hands Nicholas a knife and the group wander about looking at the various vegetables. Finally, they zoom in on a pair of succulent cabbages. Nicholas cuts them and brings it to Jose, who washes them immediately. He then hands out cutting boards and knives.

The group then sliced the cabbage into small pieces. Then Jose places the cabbage in a brass vessel on a cooking range. He puts in curry leaves, grated coconut, mustard seeds, ginger, garlic, onion, and coconut oil. He increases the heat and asks Rosalind and Elise to stir the cabbage with a ladle. Twenty minutes later, the dish is ready. They take turns to taste it.

It's delicious,” says Elise. “And so lovely to see so many different vegetables that we cannot grow in our country. They taste better, because they are local and organic.”

Says Nicholas: “Somehow, the food tastes better in India than England. This could be because imported vegetables have to be transported over long distances and then stored.”

Standing nearby and listening to their conversation is P. Subrahmanian, the general manager of CGH Earth. “We want to give our guests a hands-on experience,” he says. “The aim is from farm to plate.”

According to the Farm Kitchen's Cook Book, the meal usually begins with papaya or pumpkin soup, followed by dishes like Vendakka Thakkali Mappas (a coriander-flavoured preparation of okra and tomato in coconut milk), Cheera Thoran (dry vegetarian preparation of spinach and coconut), Stuffed Brinjal and Vazhuthananga Ularthiyathu (a dry preparation of aubergine in crushed masala). It ends with a ginger, peppermint or a hibiscus drink.

Even the water is natural: It is called sappon wood (a pink herbal drinking water). “Sappon is an East Indian red wood,” says Subrahmanian. “The bark, boiled along with water, is of medicinal value.”

Most of their guests are from Europe. “For them, most of the time, they buy their vegetables from supermarket chains,” says Michael Dominic, the Director of CGH Earth. “So we wanted to show them the natural process, which they might not be able to see in their countries.”

And the process is popular. Many guests come to the Farm Kitchen. The usual time is from 6 p.m. onward, just as the sunlight begins its long fade into darkness. The guests pick their vegetables, take part in the cooking, sit around the dining table, sip wine or beer and get to know each other. “Many of them are strangers before the cooking,” says Dominic. “But by the end of the dinner, they become close friends, despite belonging to different cultures, languages and countries.”

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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