Living in a world where you can have anything you want with a few taps of your finger on a screen is great in a lot of aspects. You can get anything delivered to you within a few short minutes, whether it’s a piece of tech or an ingredient you are missing as you get ready to cook.
While this has made our lives easier by leaps and bounds, it has also hampered our perception of the availability of things at a certain point of time. For instance, nowadays if you want a fruit or vegetable that is grown only in Winter, you would realistically expect your go-to online grocery store to have that in stock, regardless of whether it’s Winter or not.
Experts and food connoisseurs have been popularising using seasonal produce only in foods over the past few years, especially with the conversation about sustainable eating gaining momentum. Chef Vicky Ratnani is one of the champions of the cause and counts this as his core food philosophy. “In today’s day and age, there are no boundaries when it comes to food. But for me, it’s always about cooking with the right ingredients at the right time,” he says, as we catch him just ahead of his two-day pop-up with Kakapo in Mehrauli.
The celebrity chef has partnered with the restaurant to create an event inspired by fresh, seasonal produce, where the menu (in his own words) is a homage to slow Indian summer days.
“If I have to describe the pop-up in three words, it would be: fantastic flavours, that’s for sure. Some really good global influences with a streak of Indian DNA, and quirky.”
The chef credits his love for using fresh seasonal ingredients in his food to one of his fondest food memories, “The feeling of being in a market, surrounded by great local produce, makes me feel so happy as it fills my head with ideas of what I can do with the ingredients. I also love how a market can also tell you so much about the people of the city. If you want to know what kind of people live in a city, you should go to the market, it would give you a fair idea.”
This is, perhaps, why his biggest advice to anyone who is interested in cooking or incorporating more seasonal ingredients into their food, is to visit their local markets. “You can only learn by going to the markets. This is where you’ll learn to appreciate the ingredients and the differences between the qualities of the produce.”
According to him, one of the biggest lessons he has learned by going to these markets is to not judge a book by its cover. “People think beautiful looking and perfectly shaped vegetables are the best. I think the ugliest-looking vegetables are the best to cook with because they are delicious and organic. You can tell that they don’t have any genetic modifications,” he says, “So don’t go by the looks of the vegetables, that’s the most important thing. It’s a big misconception.”
Eating seasonal produce is a good practice for your own health and for saving the environment. A lot of veggie nutrients get lost when they get modified to grow in bulk and in unnatural conditions which are not beneficial for your health. These unnatural conditions that are necessary to grow this out-of-season produce require huge amounts of non-renewable energy and water, which negatively impacts the environment. Ratnani says eating fresh and seasonal produce is a great way to start your sustainable eating journey.
Aside from encouraging you to become a local vegetable market patron, Ratnani also wants you to take out time and head straight to the source. “Whenever you get a chance, try visiting farms and the point of origins of the ingredients. It tells you a lot about the ingredient and automatically you develop a respect for the product and the producer because you can see the amount of hard work and pain that goes into producing that ingredient, and you’ll realise it’s not easy. The more you know about the product and its origin, it helps you become a better cook.”
So take cues from Chef Ratnani and head on over to your local vegetable market to better your health and save the environment.