“I always follow my heart,” says Chef Avinash Martins. His narrative menus make him India’s foremost contemporary storyteller and preserver of Goan culture. The culinary heart is powering the food and farming traditions of his homeland, marrying age-old techniques with innovative flavors in the energy and experiences he serves at his restaurants, Cavatina, and Table in the Hills (TITH) in South Goa.
Avinash comes of a family of master mariners, and grew up midst lip smacking meals both on and off the ship. “Food was always the centrepoint, with breakfast and lunches on board filled with cured sausages and Spanish ham, tinned sardines and tuna, different kinds of cheese…My family was disappointed when I decided not to pursue the family tradition of travelling across the seas, and instead take to food, my core love, as a profession,” he says, having been trained by The Oberoi Hotels before returning to his home in Goa. His constant experiments with native ingredients to reinterpret flavours and create modern dishes stemming from age-old, comfort foods make him Goa’s de facto culinary ambassador.
Cavatina, his flagship restaurant, and Table in the Hills located on his family farm – both in Goa – are netting hearty acclaim owing to his natural ability to bring together all his passions: slow food, cleaning eating and sea-to-table. All while Avinash is leading a creative cohort of toddy tappers, farmers, and storytellers to reaffirm the heritage of the coastal stretch he belongs to. “I believe in Goan food, and in the goodness, it brings along,” he says. “For example, the toddy trappers are in dwindling numbers now, with the profession demanding climbing atop coconut trees over 300 times a day to retrieve the fresh sap of the fruit. I have enrolled a group of toddy tappers as my suppliers and make use of the indigenous juice to bring in a sourish taste to everything from rice cakes to phanas, pancakes, vinegar and feni. Our food is linked to the toddy. I make my bread and cakes too using the toddy. When guests eat, the flavours take them back to their childhood. For me, that is the mark of a successful dish – how well is lives up to the nostalgia of the past.”
Shilpi Madan for Upper Crust