Chefs from across the country are teaming up under a single banner, to help each other serve local and source sustainable
On August 28, 2018, a bunch of young chefs got together to do something unique: they learnt how to use the entire banana plant in their kitchens. The idea was to utilise all parts — leaves, stem, flower, and fruit — and the chefs were shown how to prepare (clean, cut, chop) and cook these into beautiful recipes.A few weeks earlier, the same group had gotten together to learn about the benefits and uses of millets. The session was focused around the importance of bringing back these ancient grains, and their impact on nutrition and sustainability. New recipes were discussed; older ones were modified to accommodate the grains. In another session, the group learnt about Bee Keeping in an apiary, even as live bees buzzed about them.
Meet Young Chefs’ Association for Sustainable India: a group of chefs, culinary professionals, restaurateurs, and farmers, dedicated to improving culinary standards in India.
“Young Chefs’ Association is a group of F&B professionals dedicated to improving culinary standards in India through continual professional development and international exposure to sustainable food practices and responsible sourcing,” says Sourish Bhattacharyya, the founder of YCA. Sustainability, in recent years, has been at the heart of food manifestos across the globe. But the conversation was somewhat lacking. YCA, with its 600 active members and 45 participating restaurants, is set to change that. The hub of their activity is currently Delhi NCR. Mumbai will be joining in the action this month, followed by Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Goa.
Says Sourish, “Our motive is simple. We want the new generation of chefs to minimise waste, promote local grains, reduce carbon footprint, and, in the long run, help farmers grow more local and seasonal crops.”
First things first
One way to achieve the five-point mission of the association was introducing a monthly list of ingredients that the chefs could work with. “Ingredient of the month aims at getting a mix of local, seasonal, and easily available produce to the chefs,” chef Ravitej Nath tells us. Ravitej is a veteran chef who has spent over 20 years at the Oberoi group of hotels before starting his own venture, and taking on the reins of YCA as president.
The first set of ingredients, Jamun and Amaranth, was launched on July 15, and chefs across restaurants worked together to create recipes that not only brought out the natural benefits of the product, but were also contemporary. The preparations — ranging from risottos, dumplings, and kebabs to mousse, shakes, halwa and even haleem — were received with open arms.
“The challenge is to create something which is new, interesting, and appeals to the guests,” says chef Nishant Chaubey, an ex sous chef from Dusit Devrana, and culinary consultant with places like Indus Bangkok and Satvik, Delhi, “You have to think out of the box,” he says, while describing his own recipes: banana skin chutney and banana charcoal made with second set of ingredients.
Beyond the kitchen
The scope of Young Chefs’ Association, however, is not limited to restaurant kitchens. Stakeholders from all parts of the F&B ecosystem are working together to fulfil its key goals. One such goal is eradication of huger. “Fight Against Hunger is the second of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations for the year 2030 and it is one of our primary objectives,” informs Sourish. The association cooked a special meal on independence day to feed 600 children from the local slums.
“As chefs, we create so many things in the restaurants, but cooking a simple meal for the kids was such a gratifying experience,” chef Anahita Dhondy, an active member of the association, and chef manager at Sodabottleopenerwala NCR and Bengaluru, recalls. Chef Dhondy, incidentally also represented the association in Stockholm at the launch of Chef’s Manifesto at the Stockholm Food Forum and later at London. In Stockholm, Dhondy championed one of the key ingredients of the association, amaranth, by creating salads, canapés and puddings out of it.
The opening activity was rolled out barely six weeks ago, but efforts have already started yielding results. “When young chefs get together, magic happens,” believes Sourish.
Chef Ravitej feels that the movement has only just begun. “Young chefs are trendsetters as far as culinary practices are concerned. They can play a huge role in positively influencing and educating people; we just have to channelise their energies,” he signs off.