Kerala-born Thomas Zacharias was busy at the Serendipity Arts Festival 2023 at the Inox Courtyard, curating the Food Lab, promoting The Locavore and, of course, trying to inculcate in young minds the idea of eating desi veggies.
Overseeing the activities at the Food Lab, Thomas had to also hover around the 'Know Your Desi Veggies' stall which showed guests innovative ways to prepare local veggies.
From giving his point of view on Beetroot Hummus on a Fryum to a Beetroot Raita to Fermented Beetroot, Chef Thomas talks about being a chef, Locavore and a lot more.
WHEN IT WAS ALL ABOUT FOOD & EXPLORING
His journey as a chef began some 15 years ago, where the first part consisted of studying European food.
That was followed by working up the ladder in a three Michelin-starred restaurant in New York, returning to India and working in a European restaurant before taking a sabbatical and travelling through Europe. That’s when realisation hit.
“That is when I realised that I had not put in the same effort in India, so I came back to India in 2014, and travelled for another two months to around 18 different parts of the country. What I saw blew my mind," he says.
"During the trip I saw ingredients, recipes, cooking techniques, traditions, stories and folklore that were not making their way into the mainstream of the narrative," he adds.
He spent the following six years at the Bombay Canteen and brought in the diversity of regional cuisine, and local seasonal produce through food and stories.
NEED FOR SOMETHING IMPACTFUL
During his time at Bombay Canteen, he says he realised there were issues around food waste, malnutrition, scarcity, how climate change is impacting food and more.
“Every community, in their own way, was trying to do whatever they could, but it was limited to just their groups. The same problem existed in other parts of India, but there was nothing done in totality," he says.
"That started playing on my mind and I wanted to do something about it. So I quit the restaurant. I wanted to do something big and impactful,” he shares.
“That’s how The Locavore came into existence. It is a food platform where we are trying to build a local Indian food movement around sustainability, through storytelling, events, collaborations, social media and much more," he continues.
"We are trying to bring about a change, and if through the Serendipity Arts Festival, I can make that one change, it will be worth it,” he smiles.
MOM & GRANDMOTHERS' WAYS ARE BEST
Thomas calls himself a foodie who loves to travel, but it was his mother and grandmother who instilled the love of food in him.
He says, “For most people, their comfort food is what they grew up eating back home. For me especially, the comfort was in the food cooked by my mother Cynthia and grandmother Ammin, who I called 'Ammamma'."
"They would cook simple, delicious yet diverse food, and I realised growing up that I ate very locally and seasonally cultivated food. There was food that was grown seasonally or the fish that came once a year and we had to wait for the next year to eat that food," he recalls.
"There was some kind of romance when we had to wait for almost nine months to eat that fruit or fish or vegetable again. That feeling is lost now – people are now eating vegetables which are available throughout the year like cauliflower, potatoes and paneer, which is now treated as a vegetable,” he adds.
He talks about a memory where he would make some interesting food with his grandmother. “I would love to make this duck curry with my grandmother with onions, potatoes, vinegar and black pepper with appams. She passed away 10 years ago, but every time I taste some simple food I’m reminded of her and her memories," he says.
"I don’t think I can ever come on par with my grandmother’s cooking but I think she will be proud of what I’m doing now,” says the chef.