New Delhi: Chefs can play an important role in the fight against climate change by helping to reduce carbon emissions and sourcing local foods, even when working in luxury hotels.
Manjit S. Gill, executive chef for the eco-award-winning ITC group of Hotels, is a champion for a sustainable, greener approach to dining. He oversees the food for all 11 of the company's Luxury Collection hotels, many of which have multiple restaurants within them.
Showcasing traditional ingredients
"Each ITC hotel maintains a connection to its region through food and architecture," he says. "In the case of our local foods, we are working alongside Slow Food to showcase forgotten grains and traditional ingredients that can be sourced nearby. In Delhi, for instance, our breakfast offering includes finger millet and charoli nut pancakes with aloe vera and black currant relish, as well as a complex porridge made from seven ancient grains. You can't be competitive today if you're not practicing sustainability."
ITC is the world's largest green luxury company and has achieved platinum-level status with the US Green Building Council, LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The hotels recycle their water and solid waste while producing 70 per cent of their energy from wind, sun and other renewables.
Mr Gill, a lifelong vegetarian, recently participated in Indigenous Terra Madre, held in Shillong, in Meghalaya. The event brought together representatives from food-making communities around the globe to share knowledge and strengthen connections. He was there with other Indian members of Slow Food's Chefs' Alliance, a network of international chefs committed to biodiversity and local food sourcing.
"Food can feed our minds, bodies and souls, but only if it's ethically sourced," he says. "We also believe that food can't be nutritious if it's not tasty, and that it should be a balance of the six tastes: sweet, salt, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent. You must have some of each at every meal. That's why it's important to know how to use spices, working with whole spices and only grinding them as they are needed to retain maximum flavor."
Luxury and sustainability
Mr Gill has plenty of opportunity to expand these ideas in his busy schedule. In Delhi, where the group has several high-end hotels, Mr Gill works closely with the executive chefs of each hotel, as well as with ITC's state-of-the art training facility.
Not only does the Hospitality Management Institute have full amenities - from teaching kitchens to lecture halls and IT rooms - but trainees get to fine-tune their skills at the five-star Grand Bharat Hotel that opened in 2014 near Delhi. It is already considered one of the world's top luxury hotels.
"The Grand Bharat was a dream project. It was designed from the ground up, with lots of space, so we were able to include a large farm for growing herbs and vegetables for our own use, as well as construct windmills and solar power stations to supply its energy," Mr Gill said. Other projects support women in the hotel business, local farmers and animal husbandry practices.
Chef focuses on modern fusion, traditional cuisine
The food within the hotel restaurants varies in style. The Grand Bharat's four restaurants showcase modern fusion dishes as well as traditional Indian cuisine, like the succulent Mewati barbecue specialities. At the Hotel Maurya, in the heart of New Delhi, Bukhara restaurant has won numerous awards - including a place in Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list - for traditional food cooked in tandoor ovens.
Bukhara, which has been open for 35 years, also offers a complex lentil dal that is simmered for 18 hours and some of the city's greatest naan breads.
Chef Gill is particularly excited about the Royal Vega restaurant in ITC's recently opened Grand Chola hotel in Chennai. "As a committed vegetarian, I've finally had the opportunity to create a high-end vegetarian restaurant, something I had always dreamed of doing," he said. "Many Indians from all walks of life are vegetarian, yet ambitious vegetarian restaurants are few and far between. So this project is providing me with great happiness....