For many years now, the farm-to-table movement has been gaining popularity across Indian cities. The concept? Bringing quality produce sourced from farms to the table. Bangalore has been one of the pioneering cities to show the way, and bringing the option of healthier, often organic food options to the city’s food lovers and health conscious.
CSAHealthBox spoke to some of the cafes and restaurants riding the farm-to-table wave, who are breaking the myth that healthy can’t be tasty. These are the places that are trying to change people’s perception of food, creating awareness about where the food on your plate is coming from, going to great lengths to ensure that we don’t lose touch with our farmers and traditional foods, and of course, providing a range of dishes that are nothing short of divine!
In conversation with the culinary change-makers of Bangalore:
On bringing sustainability and gastronomy together: We are passionate about food and used to feel guilty eating out too often. The idea was to create a guilt-free dining experience. One can experience Spa cuisine created using the freshest, wholesome, natural, organic and healthy ingredients with our knowledge of combining in the most simplistic manners. Fresh vegetables not only make the dishes more flavorful but also nourish the body, rejuvenating it from the inside.
Challenges faced:The challenges we face are mostly with distribution, delivery, pricing, payments, and consistency in quantity. Sometimes seasonal fruits and vegetables are hard to find. Coordination is also a tedious process. Payment structures with bigger players in the market are also more streamlined, which makes it a lot easier to buy from them. On the other hand, the quality takes a hit when we go that route.
On the economics of the operation: So far, we have been able to use the farm-to-fork philosophy only in a few areas, and not the entire menu due to the lack of availability of a few vegetables and fruits, and the problem of consistency in delivery. The operations add up as we have alternate vendors, since not all the farmers grow everything.
On educating customers about eating local: Food definitely tastes supremely different while using fresh ingredients. Our customers often compliment us on the vegetables being lush green, crunchy and more flavorful. Salads, for instance, must taste fresh, which can’t be achieved with frozen, canned or cold stored produce. Santé procures fresh, and wherever possible, organic ingredients, greens and micro-greens from the best of the farms and local businesses around. We also use unrefined, non-white produce to get earthy flavors, which are so authentic to our roots.
Our team informs customers about the use of micro-greens, their benefits and how we use nothing refined or processed in our kitchen. It’s definitely important to educate customers, who are becoming more and more conscious and aware about what they eat. We also have guests walk in asking us about calories, diet options, and the ingredients we use.
The vision ahead:Our vision is to spread more awareness about how and why we should eat from the earth, and how natural and unprocessed food can prevent health issues like PCOS, Diabetes etc. Spa cuisine is rejuvenating food, and that is possible only when the ingredients are fresh and full of nutrition.
A must-try dish:The Verde pizza, our salads, the Red Thai curried vegetables with Kerala brown rice, and our smoothies.
On bringing sustainability and gastronomy together:We wanted to provide healthy eating options to society, bring food incorporating fresh produce to the masses and be a role model business. Our resto-cafe runs with the spirit of ‘Health on a plate’.
Challenges faced:The biggest challenge is the procurement of the raw ingredients due to fluctuating prices. The consistency and quality of the supply of ingredients also has a big impact on the dishes.
On the economics of the operation: The logistics of growing our own produce presents operational challenges. We rely on a few farm vendors for our shortcomings, so that we maintain the quality and consistency of our dishes.
On educating customers about eating local: Our menu focuses on local produce which is also seasonal. We interact with the guests through daily specials that include seasonal fruits and vegetables.
The vision ahead:To revamp our menu periodically based on the availability of local produce to support the local farmers.
On interacting with the farmers directly:It is not feasible to meet all the farmers but we keep in touch with many of them during pricing negotiations and while exploring mutually beneficial working relationships. We have also organised farmers’ markets at our resto-cafe to bring the farmers directly in touch with our customers in order to help them get rid of the middlemen. We will be organising more such events in the future.
A must-try dish:All our salads have farm-fresh vegetables and, thus, are a highlight of our menu.
On the Mimansa journey:My formative years were largely spent shuttling between America and India. My stint at boarding school opened my eyes to many new perspectives and philosophies, and it prompted me to pursue a higher education in Neuropsychology, and eventually a Masters in Child Psychology.
When I returned to India and began practising, I realised the importance of good clean food for everyday wellbeing. Working with children in their early years, I just couldn’t comprehend why – more often than not – parents packed unhealthy food for breakfast and snacks. I found this odd, having grown up in a home that always focused on fresh food and clean eating. I began working with parents on alternative foods that were nutritious while also catering to children’s cravings. We discussed how food plays an important role in one’s mental and emotional state as well as other bodily functions. It was easy for them to see how small changes in their children’s diets helped them in the long run. I didn’t realise it then, but this is probably when the first seeds of Mimansa were sown.
I quit my practice, and began my first foray into the hospitality industry and tested waters with a brief stint at Mamapaati – the catering division of Azure Hospitality. A year into this new career, I took a small hiatus from work to embark on a journey from Manali to Ladakh on a cycle. It was here that I realised that everyday urban folk do not have many spaces to relax, slow down, consume clean food, and engage with their own thoughts. There simply is no rest for the mind and body in our city scapes. I returned home energized to enable just this. Thus, Mimansa was born in June 2018.
On bringing sustainability and gastronomy together: The biggest realisation of my journey till date is that very often, we are caught in the bustle of getting where we’re going, with little to no time to appreciate the now. Mimansa is a means to do that. It is intended to enable a more conscious lifestyle – whatever that may be – by providing a space to discuss and discern our individual places within a larger community. We do this by curating various experiences that perhaps help us pause and ponder before we take the next step.
Challenges faced:We face both ethical and ecological challenges right through the supply chain. From finding suitable farmers that understand the process of growing vegetables without chemicals to following an environmental-friendly process through delivery without using plastics. There’s no doubt we have only very few people that understand what we are striving to create, and those that do, are sometimes located far from city limits, making it even more difficult to source our requirements, and eventually increasing costs. Given the distance the produce travels, we have to ensure it’s up to standard once received at the kitchen.
The second is the ecological concern; in today’s world, we have forgotten the concept of seasonal produce since everything is available all year round. We strive to serve only what the weather permits, and hence, certain ingredients aren’t sometimes available. Making such dishes unavailable for customers is a huge risk as we live in a world of instant gratification and innumerable choices. But we’re confident that customers that believe in our philosophy of clean eating understand that we’re only doing everything to stick with our values.
On the economics of the operation:It’s not an easy decision; chemical-free produce is more expensive as compared to the regular in the market, and this is an accomplished fact today. We want to be sure where our produce comes from, which is what Mimansa’s philosophy is all about. Sourcing in bulk doesn’t give us any transparency, and defeats our purpose. We’re however confident that we’ll constantly keep working on how to make clean eating more accessible.
On educating customers about eating local: At Mimansa, interaction with customers is of supreme importance in order to educate them of our key values. Informing them about the farms we work with, how the produce reaches the kitchen, or even taking them to our terrace garden, where we grow our own lettuce, arugula, dill leaves, cherry tomatoes and herbs, helps us connect with our customers better. For instance, making dishes not available due to seasonal requirements, makes our customers pause and think consciously too.
We also strongly believe in keeping our recipes no-fuss and simple, so that one can really taste the original flavours of the produce as nature offers it. It’s amazing to learn what customers feel about our food, as it comes as a surprise to them how great simple flavours can taste.
The vision ahead:Mimansa has got a long way to go. We’ve started in the right direction at the right time, and we’re taking it slow as we educate people along the way. We only hope the local farmers that are actually going the natural route of growing produce get all the support they need, so more people start following their footsteps and we finally have a marketplace that believes that organic lifestyle is sustainable.
On interacting with the farmers directly:Our team visits these farms, understands their practices and is hopeful that soon enough, the Mimansa family would be able to become a part of these visits too. I personally enjoy farm visits to enjoy some lone time to connect with mother nature and unwind.
A must-try dish:We truly love each one of our recipes, as they are so close to our hearts. A lot has gone into getting each one right, we recommend you try them all!
On bringing sustainability and gastronomy together: Buffalo Back Collective’s cafe Hungry Buffalo was started last week by Sapna Marar, Swaroopa N.B, and Madhur Mirji, with the help of Kishore Ramachandran. The idea was to create an alternate traditional cooking space at the Buffalo Back store run by Vishalakshi Padmanabhan, using locally sourced ingredients that the store was procuring and selling from their existing network of farmers all across India.
We’re all passionate about food, and love the idea of eating local and healthy food. At Bhoomi College, we learnt about how food, especially seasonal food, is an integral part of the sustainable chain. So we did a few pop-ups to gauge the reviews of people, and based on the feedback we got, found us the confidence to take this up as a natural extension for Buffalo Back. Our menu is focused on what’s native to the region. We’re all about fresh food, so our procuring and cooking is also done on the same day; there’s no pre-prepped food served.
On educating customers about eating local: Our intent is to revive the local food movement, and introduce people to the fact that fresh food can be tasty, which we plan to do over time. From May onwards, we will have a story wall with different weekly themes to present to people alongside short talks for our customers. Our first theme will be on how our cooking habits have changed – from mud pot cooking, which retains flavours and freshness to using pressure cookers, which dilutes the taste. We don’t want to be preachy but to promote better eating habits in interesting ways.
The vision ahead:We want to make people understand and appreciate the need to eat clean and fresh, not just organic. With every bite, one should taste the flavours bursting in their mouth! That is our hope.
We are also focused on reviving native traditional heirloom grains, which have lost their way to the table over many years. Black rice is extremely nutritious, for instance, but if you serve it as a rice, people don’t like the look of it. So we are working on different ways to serve these grains to make it more appealing.
On interacting with the farmers directly: Vishalakshi knows these farmers personally, and has been working with them across different states of India to source only 100% organic produce which is seasonal. So there’s a lot of direct interaction with these farmers, who make this local food movement possible.
A must-try dish: Our black rice bowls, Buddha (Biksha) bowl – which is a one-pot meal with Rajamudi rice, dal, sautéed greens, salad, and mango chutney. We also recommend our Akki roti wraps which are stuffed with seasonal vegetables like raw banana and avarekai. In our beverages, a must-try is our beet kvass, which is high in iron and great for blood purification. We also have some refreshing seasonal coolers like kokum juice, tamarind juice and ajwain leaf tamboli.
On bringing sustainability and gastronomy together: When we started Go Native, the idea was to connect the consumer with the producer, and create transparency about where we’re getting our produce from. A part of Go Native is the restaurant, while the other part is retail. The larger idea is to promote conscious consumerism and for people to think about how they’re responsible for everything they buy because they spend their money on what they believe in. We have a seasonal vegetarian menu that changes every three months. We do a number of tastings because the changing menu makes it a lot more interesting and there’s always something new on the menu to try out.
On procuring the farm-to-table ingredients: All our ingredients are locally sourced. We’re using traditional ingredients to make contemporary dishes, or traditional dishes with a twist. We’re not heavily focused on the health aspect and talking about calorie count etc. We want people to know that as long as your food is fresh and made from good produce, nothing is bad for you. You have enough options for vegans and gluten-free diets. Our guarantee is that the produce is good. We source our vegetables from an organic certified farm outside Bangalore called Back2Basics. As we’re expanding, we’re also trying to support a small-scale organic farmer, for whom we are guaranteeing buying. For grains, pulses and spices, we’re working with Native Circle, of which Go Native is a part.
On the economics of the operation: It makes sense now because we have restaurants in Jayanagar and HSR. When you’re trying to go organic, scale does matter. But that’s the case with anything. It’s more about making a conscious choice and deciding which way your life is going and what you’re putting in your body. That’s what the focus is, and those are the people who we will resonate with.
There’s also the difference between farm-to-table and organic, because the produce may not be organic but farm-fresh. At every stage, you can only educate yourself and try to take the best decision. 100% of what you’re eating cannot be organic, 100% of what you’re wearing may cannot be handloom. But you just try as much as possible based on where you see yourself and how you’re placed financially. The point is to question what does work for you. With Go Native, the idea was just the present the option that this is. one way to. do it. If you want to make organic 30-40% of your life and support local farmers, you can do it.
On educating customers about eating local:We do talk about our philosophy on the menu, and the staff is also educated and aware about this. Everything is sourced from within a 500 km radius and we keep reworking the menu to. keep it fresh and seasonal because it’s good for. you. If you’re made more aware and feel interested enough to go read up about it further, that’s a success for us.
A must-try dish: We just changed our menu to include a lot of mango dishes! So we’d say try those for sure. We slo have a lot of cooling items like ice apple, and drinks. Our thali is also very popular.
On bringing sustainability and gastronomy together: The idea of The Green Path is to celebrate the fullness of life by honouring and preserving the natural ecology of Mother Earth as well as mankind – as part of one universe. The Green Path endeavours to create easily replicable models of sustainable living through organic farming and good food movement in order to inspire more people to adopt an Eco-conscious lifestyle.
Currently the Green Path is a bouquet of several eco-initiatives including organic farm, store, restaurant, eco-stays and an events space to give people a platform to come together.
On The Organic State store:The Organic State is a unique experiment and India’s largest organic experience destination. At the Organic State, we have begun our Good Food movement through our restaurant, Forgotten Food, where we bring to your table traditional cuisines and secret recipes you may have forgotten. We bring to you 100% organic nourishing, wholesome and real food. Our recipes are a pure reflection of our love for fresh, organic and natural ingredients.
The vision ahead: The Green Path endeavours to create easily replicable models of sustainable living through organic farming and good food movement in order to inspire more people to adopt an eco-conscious lifestyle.
A must-try dish:Our M-Crust pizza made with millet flour.
On bringing sustainability and gastronomy together:I always wanted to set up an enterprise which could make an impact on the environment directly. When my friend Dinesh introduced me to millets and told me about their benefits to human health in general and the environment in particular, I knew this was the space I needed to work in, be it processing, distribution or as a food option. I wanted to make these grains, which are almost forgotten, available to the common man.
On the procurement of millets:Our sister company Earth 360 Eco Ventures Pvt. Ltd. was started by Dinesh and myself at Kadiri in 2009, and is among the pioneers in the field of millet processing. Earth 360’s products are of high quality as a result of continuous monitoring and innovations and the grains are whole and unpolished, which ensures that the nutrition-rich bran is retained. The millets at Kaulige Foods are sourced from our factory and this ensures that the quality of inputs is good, and we provide our customers nutrition rich, wholesome food.
On educating customers about eating local: Our customer interactions happen on an everyday basis. We have learnt a lot from customer feedback and have incorporated their suggestions, be it in our process, menu etc. We have seen that many customers appreciate and understand the value of millets and have incorporated it into their diets. The local food movement is growing fast and people are now aware about having locally grown food, which helps in reducing the carbon footprint and supports local farm economies.
Challenges faced:As a provider of cooked food, we need to innovate constantly to keep the customer interested. There is still a lot of awareness that needs to be created amongst potential customers.
The vision ahead:Our vision is to bring about a millet revival in India and become the preferred millet brand in all of India. We want to make millets and millet-based products more accessible and convenient to everybody, and to help the masses make this wonder-food an integral part of their daily diet.
A must-try dish: We have innovated on several millet dishes. One must-have is our signature Bisibelebath.
Abhishek Hegde, Millet Mama (Basavanagudi)
Why millets:Millets consume very less water to grow and grow without chemicals. We are encouraging farmers to grow millets in water-distressed regions of Mandya. We assure the buying of millets from them and increase the demand in urban areas.
The vision ahead:The whole initiative of Millet Mama is to encourage and support the local food movement. We cater to many natural/organic farmers’ markets, where we procure the leftover veggies so that farmers don’t waste the vegetables nor incur transport cost for taking it back.
On the Millet Mama Cafe:The tagline for our cafe is ‘Traditional. Healthy. Homemade.’ Millets taste best with traditional foods, which is what we specialise in.
A must-try dish: Our Millet Bisibelebath!
The Earth Kitchen Journey: Earth Kitchen is our farm, our home; it’s where we live and serve people. The concept evolved when my husband and I decided to chuck our corporate careers in 2010 and moved to India from Dubai and took on the project of doing up the farm gradually.
Food for me was an untapped passion that I enjoyed with friends and family. This interest was piqued when I started growing herbs and vegetables on the farm, which I couldn’t have done in an urban home. Initially, I experimented with everything, and decided to stick to perennial crops, rather than two-month crops like cucumbers and tomatoes which I source from adjoining farms. Eventually, I started growing only want I wanted to eat as opposed to vegetables that looks fancy. I started understanding what food could be grown and slowly, things just fell into place, giving us an opportunity to look at what we wanted to do with the farm-fresh ingredients.
On bringing sustainability and gastronomy together:In 2012, we started a stand-alone bistro at our farm, with lunch only reservations and five-six elaborate dishes each for starters, main course and desserts. We set up a pavilion outside the house, where we serve food cooked at home.
I’ve travelled a lot in the Middle East, and picked up their flavours. People also tell me that I have a gift to pick flavours from just tasting. So I’m primarily driven by Middle Eastern cuisine, and focus on growing herbs for this cuisine specifically. In Mediterranean food, the ingredients have very basic flavours but the critical factor is the freshness, which made me take the farm to fork aspect seriously to make people appreciate the fresh ingredients from the farm. Over the years, we’ve been appreciated by Indians and expats alike, as well as people exploring food.
From bistro to homestay: A lot of people who visited the bistro asked us to build a homestay so that they can spend time in our farm, which has over 3000 trees across six acres! There isn’t any other kind of accommodation-cum-food place nearby, so we sat with the idea for a while since hospitality is a whole different ball game. But the Tourism Department offered a good deal, and in 2018, we designed and constructed five cottages with private sit-outs. The idea was not to have any activities for guests – just for them to come, eat local and unwind.
As a result of this, we merged the bistro to become the serving platter for resident guests. It’s the culinary experience that differentiates us from other homestays, and the concept has been picked up better than we expected.
What’s grown on the farm:Right now, I’m focussing on fresh herbs and fresh greens which are not freshly available everywhere- rosemary, sage, basil, thyme, lemon, spearmint, mint family, which I use either directly or as infusions. My salad leaves like romaine lettuce, arugula, parsley and celery are literally plucked and used, or used as marinades or garnishing.
I also like to experiment with the food itself. For example, a basic ingredient for vegetarians in India is paneer. But at the farm, I upgrade it with cream to create a ricotta-like flavour for pasta. It’s a matter of innovation, while keeping the flavours simple and balanced.
On the economics of the operation: As a sector and profession, farming is hard work with not such great returns. Agriculture in general is financially not sustainable at a particular scale. So small and medium-sized farms cannot sustain with say, mono cropping. Farmers need to learn which products are viable, going beyond tomatoes, potatoes and beans. Of late, the government has been giving grants and subsidies to local farmers for setting up poly houses and green houses. But most of them grow exotic vegetables like peppers and export them to New Delhi and five star hotels, whereas the focus should be on growing and eating local.
From my limited farming experience, I’ve realised that there needs to be some kind of value added for the farm to be sustainable. For instance, in my initial years of growing cherry tomatoes, there was surplus. I had a bumper crop with no shelf life, so I decided to sun dry, bottle and sold the excess. Even with mangoes, there’s only so much that we can eat and use, so I pulp and freeze the extra fruits from our trees. This doesn’t take much effort, but it improves the running of operations greatly. In the same way, we’ve value added and gone from a bistro to a homestay, which is a natural progression that makes sense.
On educating customers about eating local: Earlier, the guests would arrive at noon, and the food service would often go on till 4 pm or so. Since I was doing everything myself, I’d interact with the guests once the service was done. Since then, we’ve always conducted farm walks for groups, and take people to see what’s being grown around the farm. I give them a small takeaway as a memory so that they can make new culinary memories at home and because it helps build an intimate rapport with each person who visits our farm.
It’s also important to educate people about what organic is because it’s a very misused term. For instance, I don’t use chemical insecticides and pesticides, but I can’t call myself 100% organic because we can’t control the trickle off from other farms. So we call ourselves farm fresh.
The vision ahead:We’ve noticed that the problem with urban consumers and food is that people are driven and swayed by fads, like quinoa, or millets. Millets are great and should be eaten, but not everybody’s body can take it. People need to understand that food isn’t just for the body and for health – from the visual appeal to its aroma, there is something that attracts us to food at a human level. We want people to reconnect with food, and see it as a more instinctive, sensory experience.
A must-try dish:Come stay with us, and find out for yourself!
Other restaurants in Bangalore that are a part of the farm-to-table movement:
Vaathsalya, which has been selling millet-based foods for the past decade, started the Vaathsalya Millet Cafe in 2017. The food we offer is synonymous with our name ‘Vaathsalya’, which means ‘love and care’. With traditionally prepared food and beverages, using millets, sprouts, and other natural ingredients, we serve health. So come savor the new taste of health.
The story of Forage started as a step toward eating right, and has since evolved into an ode to creative cooking, a deep appreciation for the things that make food delightful and the desire to share this far and wide. Influenced by Californian and Nouvelle European cuisine, chef Himanshu Dimri creates a sensory experience with an emphasis on clean farm-to-table, crafted dishes. The restaurant’s modern menu reflects his commitment to quality, using only the freshest ingredients.
HappyHealthyMe is India’s first 100% certified organic food brand and grocery store. Our locally-sourced products are carefully selected to promote health for the mind, body and soul. The cafe serves up healthy fare using ancient grains and indigenous food.
While Blue Tokai has just started on its farm-to-table journey as a restaurant, the company has since its origin believed in building long-term relationships with the farms that grow the coffee they love to roast. Apart from the roastery, a range of fresh flatbreads, salads, Buddha Bowls etc are also worth trying, for which they are trying to source ingredients directly from local farmers.
We hope this guide for your mouth watering and piqued your curiosity about what the local farm-to-table movement is all about. Visit one of these cafes/restaurants close to you and indulge yourself in a guilt-free dining experience!