Summer And Sustainability With Chef Radhika Khandelwal

From local ingredients to zero-waste techniques and her eternal love for pumpkins, there’s a lot to unpack.

Tanvi Jain

Chef Radhika Khandelwal, owner of Delhi based restaurants -- Fig & Maple and Ivy & Bean -- by Radish Hospitality Pvt Ltd umbrella has always championed the cause of sustainable ingredients and zero-waste cooking.

It was at the Chef's Manifesto -- a community of 130 chefs from 38 countries established by the United Nation's SDG2 Advocacy Hub -- where Khandelwal first advocated zero-waste food techniques and went on to  lead Delhi's first ever zero-waste campaign in the F&B industry in 2019.

From Melbourne to Delhi

For Chef Radhika, it all started when she moved to Melbourne in her teens to pursue a hair-dressing course, but ended up working part-time in a kitchen to support her education. She soon realised that cooking was  her calling and not hairstyling. On moving back to India she founded her first ever restaurant in Delhi called Ivy & Bean in 2013, and later Fig & Maple in 2016. 

"Ivy & Bean was my first restaurant in Delhi but it was the hunger to work with local and seasonal produce and the desire to spread my creative wings that led to the opening of Fig & Maple."

She credits Melbourne for being the city that gave her the opportunity  to train with renowned chefs and their teams. This prepared her for what was in store for her own experience in hospitality. "From being in a new country and learning about their food, culture and cuisines to returning to the homeland and creating a niche for oneself—it has been an incredible  journey,” she says.

Making local produce shine

Known for using seasonal, sustainable and zero-waste ingredients in her menu -- both at Ivy & Bean  and Fig & Maple -- it was Khandelwal's urge to bring local produce back on the map that led her to compile a sustainable menu for her guests and vouch for this eco-friendly method.

"It started back in 2008 when I was still in Melbourne. My chefs instilled the values of cooking with local, seasonal and fresh ingredients. So, when I opened Fig & Maple, I already knew what it was going to be."

Khandelwal’s kitchen is known for its indigenous Indian ingredients, such as, Black chakhao rice, bok phool from West Bengal, lotus stems, and other seasonal greens that she uses in her salads. A visit to her official page, pandoodle.org, takes one to a world of exotic zero-waste cuisines ranging from quarantine chilli chicken to Pumpkin Erissery, among others.

Even when dine-ins were completely shut last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has once again taken a toll on restaurants in 2021; she, for the first time started the delivery model to keep the business running and made changes as per demands. Her DIY cocktail kits were a huge hit after which she also started giving her signature apothecary bottles along with them; and that in turn gave birth to Fig & Maple Signatures -- from a range of sauces such as Raw Mango Thecha; to Apple Pie Cocktail Elixirs, and more.

The Fig Love Bowl

The popular Fig Love Bowl, that she created back in 2017, is not just the most-loved dish in the Fig and Maple menu, but also holds significance for her since it was the first time she worked with the diverse grains by Original Indian Table – a company started by a group of individuals in 2013 to bring organically produced traditional ingredients from different parts of the country straight to its customers.

"Till date, Pearl Barley, Kodo Millet, Assam’s White Sticky Rice, and Manipur’s Black Rice, continue to add their wholesome goodness to these bowls. You choose from one of the four Fig Signatures sauces, pick your hero -- poultry, meats, seafood and vegan options -- available for the bowl, while I sneak in the veggies to pack it with a delicious dose of nutrients," she adds.

While she strongly believes in maintaining a balance of flavours on the plate, the most important tip to stay sustainable while cooking and eating, according to her, is to always do a little research about the food. "It helps one identify all the edible parts of the produce. For instance, not many know that from fruit to flower, leaf and stem, almost the entire pumpkin plant is edible."

Summer salad & the pumpkin love

Khandelwal is one of the few chefs who always  takes time out for social media and to share recipes for her followers. Currently, her Instagram handle is on a summer salad spree where she as part of a promise to her followers, has decided to post 14 salad recipes that could get one through summer. Something worth checking out,  don't you think?

During the first lockdown, she like many other chefs had resorted to  posting reviews of food she would order from small, independent eateries so as to help boost their home delivery business and inform people about their hygiene practices.

In one of her earlier posts, she had also spoken highly about her love for pumpkin, something which derives from her zero-waste cooking approach, hence focusing on the root-to-shoot method of preparing dishes.

So, when asked about five of her favourite pumpkin dishes that one can prepare at home, she lists:

1. Pumpkin Coconut Spread
2. Pumpkin and Roasted Tomato Pasta  
3. Pumpkin Erissery   
4. Pumpkin and Walnut Dumplings   
5. Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Toast

Unique ingredients and diverse mix

Khandelwal, who also likes to explore the culinary scene while travelling says, "I make sure to pick something that’s deeply rooted in the place’s culture, and food traditions. An effective way of doing it is to explore local markets and speak to the people. Gaining insight about how something is prepared is always helpful."

During one of her culinary trails, she recalls coming across Lato or Sea Grapes often known as Green Caviar, which is the most unique ingredient that she has picked till date. Whereas, when it comes to mixing the most diverse ingredients, her list includes:

1. Beet & Chocolate Shake  
2. Watermelon rinds for burgers
3. Moringa leaves and Moringa dumplings

Favourite recipe -- Skinny Chipping

Ingredients

1. Skins of root vegetables like carrot, turnip and beetroot.  
2. Seasonal herbs, such as, parsley, thyme and basil
3. Oil to coat the skins  
4. Salt to taste  

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.  
2. Use a bowl to evenly coat the skins with oil, salt and herbs.  
3. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for eight to 10 minutes.  
4. Serve with your favourite dip. 

Photo: Facebook/pandoodle
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