What can restaurants do to save the planet? Plenty, it appears, as a bunch of luxury hotels and high-end restaurants show the way.
From inhouse organic gardens, strict farm-to-fork policies and consumer awareness and education initiatives to menus built around local, seasonal produce and reducing food loss and wastage, some leading eateries have stepped up their commitment to sustainability, in the process changing the way well-heeled urban Indians dine out.
The Taj Safaris of the Indian Hotels Company Ltd. – located in or close to wildlife parks – work to keep their carbon footprint low by purchasing all produce locally and, as much as possible, within a 50 km radius of their lodges. The Taj Safaris grow vegetables using only natural manure and emphasis is given to locally grown and procured ingredients. Daily menus are curated depending on the fresh availability of produce and there is a stress on seasonal variety to ensure that the nutritional value of the food is intact.
“Sustainability is a prerequisite for our operations. We encourage awareness among guests about the source of the food they are consuming. Our sustainable culinary initiatives are driven inhouse, in collaboration with local communities, which allows us to give back to society by enabling their livelihood,” said Nagendra Hada, area director at Taj Safaris.
At restaurants of ITC Hotels, a simple traffic light-style indicator system encourages diners to make a sustainable choice while ordering. All domestic endangered species are off the menu and the chefs are encouraged to include sustainable alternatives of marine produce.
The initiative is a co-creation of ITC Hotels, WWF India and the Central Marine Fisheries Institute and aims to enable better choices on fish purchases and ultimately protect global fish stocks from over-exploitation.
More than 40% of the edibles at ITC Hotels are sourced locally, positively impacting social (employment for local producers) and environmental (minimising carbon footprint) parameters. The challenge of curbing food waste is being addressed by serving smaller portions. There are ongoing efforts to expand the network of local producers and farmers, said ITC.
Experts said patrons today are consciously selecting sustainable options, with a positive impact on the environment and communities around. This includes endorsing luxury brands that have a planetpositive approach to business.
PLAYING THEIR PART
According to Alice Helme, director at CAARA, which operates three restaurants in New Delhi, the most important thing about sustainable dining and sustainable food is conscience sourcing – knowing where the raw product comes from.
“Customers feel more at ease that we have made that choice of sustainable eating for them. Our website promotes our farm and we talk about food origins through the menus and informed staff, who we train about our ethos,” Helme said. “Communicating to the patrons what we stand for is the most effective way of conveying the importance of sustainable, conscientious eating choices.”
Fabcafe by Fabindia has tied up with Organic India to get ingredients. It makes a conscious decision to buy seasonal, regional and local produce, said chef Sunil Chauhan.
“It’s more about education and also what goes into our menu. Seasonal ingredients… and menu balancing is the main part of our job,” said Jatin Mallick, chef at contemporary European restaurant, Tres, in the national capital.
“It’s our moral responsibility to upgrade the menu to the season. There’s no point using ingredients like cauliflower, which isn’t available at a certain time of year, and put pressure on the environment and resources,” he said.
At the Go Native chain of restaurants in Bengaluru, menus are changed every quarter, depending on what’s in season. The food is organic and the ingredients bought from farms in and around Karnataka. The chain even promotes lifestyle changes by offering customers organic products and apparel in their retail space.
Bengaluru-based branding professional Argha Sarkar is a regular at restaurants offering such fare and finds that they are a refreshing change from the usual run-of-themill options.
“The food’s fresher, it tastes and even looks better,” he said. Shopping artisanal and eating healthy are the two principles of restaurant AnnaMaya, located at the Andaz Delhi hotel. It has a retail food hall, which sells and uses the same ingredients that are responsibly sourced. Made in India is an important theme here and teams go through storytelling sessions to educate patrons about the betterment of the local community with the produce they use.
“More customers want a socially conscious story to back up what they’re consuming. Chefs can’t really get away by serving just about anything anymore,” said Andaz Delhi’s executive chef Vikram Ganpule.
Fine-dining, ingredient-driven Masque restaurant in Mumbai initially faced a backlash from customers who didn’t come back because they didn’t want to be told what to eat. “We cannot have, in a menu, 200 dishes a year – that is just not sustainable.
A menu should be driven by what is in season,” said Prateek Sadhu, co-owner of Masque. Masque doesn’t have a menu – that’s where the education of customers starts. The daily offerings are driven by what the restaurant is allowed to use in a month.
“I can’t have pumpkin or cabbage the entire month – the farmer doesn’t grow it that much,” Sadhu said. “We are a 70% agricultural nation but we are still dependent on imported vegetables. We need to educate our clients about these. If you really want to run a sustainable restaurant, you must have only 10-15 dishes on the menu.” Customer attitudes are changing now.
“We have been vehement about what people should eat,” said Sadhu. “We must have lost a lot of customers – but we have gained double the amount of people we lost.”