Textual content and Images by Mallika Chandra.
Chef Sanjana Patel, Inventive Director and Govt Chef on the Mumbai-based La Folie, on an exploratory sourcing journey in Karnataka.
Earlier this April, Chef Sanjana Patel added me to a WhatsApp group named “Mysore journey”. “Hey everybody. Tremendous excited to take you guys to Mysore for the harvest — nothing higher than having pals over.” Associates. I smiled to myself. It had been every week since I completed working along with her Mumbai-based patisserie and craft chocolate model, La Folie, and it was throughout that dialog that she had invited me to accompany her on an exploratory sourcing journey to Karnataka. “No work!” she had mentioned; she simply wished me to expertise a cacao harvest. We had certainly eased right into a newfound friendship from being consultant-client.
Just a few days later, I’m sitting within the backseat of a rental automotive, between Sanjana and her husband and enterprise companion Parthesh Patel. Within the entrance are meals photographer Assad Dadan and our driver, Jai. Coming off an early flight to Bengaluru, we at the moment are driving to a village known as Hura, forward of Mysuru. We’re slightly chatty after a much-needed filter kaapi. I ask the couple how they met. “Truly, I’ve identified Parthesh since earlier than I really fell in love with chocolate. That was after I went to boarding faculty in Ooty and spent all my pocket cash at a neighborhood candy store known as Mohan Businesses. These almond bars!” I’m shocked at how little I find out about her origin story, but additionally at how unexpectedly relaxed she is. My first impression of Sanjana had been that she was too severe for somebody who makes chocolate for a residing. However at this time, she is revealing a brand new persona. As if studying my ideas, she laughs, “You’re going to see a really completely different aspect of me on this journey. I’m much more enjoyable after I’m visiting cacao farms.” She continues after a pause, “I solely want I may do it extra typically. Whether or not La Folie exists or not, that is one thing I’ll hold doing.”
Thirty-seven-year-old Sanjana is the Inventive Director and Govt Chef at La Folie. After coaching in Paris and dealing with world heavyweights, she introduced her publicity again dwelling and launched the model in 2014. First got here a millennial-pink dessert bar within the Kala Ghoda artwork district, adopted by an experimental cafe, La Folie Lab, in Bandra (now closed), serving recent breads, viennoiserie and lightweight fare along with her signature desserts. At a time when shoppers weren’t but demanding it, she was sourcing high quality pure components and placing them on show. Nevertheless, sustaining high quality typically meant importing components, which wasn’t environmentally sustainable. “If I used to be speaking about making recipes à la maison [at home], then why was I not specializing in methods by which we may change into extra hyperlocal?”
A leg damage in 2017 allowed her to pivot. “Most individuals recognised La Folie for desserts, however for me particularly, it was at all times about being chocolate-forward. And so I revisited the idea of constructing my very own craft chocolate. I believe that for any entrepreneur who’s been focussed on one thing for means too lengthy, you type of lose monitor and have to dial again just a little bit.” Her pursuit to supply a “completely different sensorial journey and style” to the Indian client finally “needed to be tied to the very supply [of chocolate]”: cacao. However what set her aside was utilizing that craft chocolate not simply in bars but additionally throughout different La Folie merchandise. At the moment, Sanjana sources natural single-origin cacao from fair-trade cooperatives in India and overseas. Following a tailored bean-to-bar course of, the chocolate is hand made in small batches at her manufacturing facility in Mahalaxmi, Mumbai.
We cease at a freeway snack store to stretch our legs, and I press her on. Her analysis began in Tamil Nadu, close to the Pollachi space the place her father had as soon as owned land. He related her to a couple cacao growers, however they had been supplying solely to industrial chocolate makers and didn’t perceive the gradual fermentation processes that guarantee even fermentation versus heap fermentation that’s favoured by industrial chocolate makers, who add flavour through dairy and sugar. “It was very onerous for me, as a lady, to clarify or arrange any system as a result of they had been very resistant. Again then I don’t suppose they noticed cacao as being very useful. They didn’t even realize it was known as cacao. They known as it ‘Cadbury tree’.” This moniker is telling of the crop’s colonial historical past in India: first launched by the British in 1798 after which constructed to scale by Cadbury (now Mondelez) within the mid Sixties. It isn’t onerous to think about, then, that there was a disconnect — each scientific and religious — between Indian farmers and this overseas plant.
Cacao is often intercropped with coconut bushes within the southern elements of India.
Decided, Sanjana strategised to make use of her time without work to study extra about processing and understanding what wasn’t being performed in India as she continued to attempt to work with the farmers. Nonetheless on crutches, she travelled to Central and South America with husband in tow, finally tying up with Unusual Cacao, a bunch that sourced straight from smallholder natural farmers in Belize and Guatemala (they supply from many extra origins at this time and are an authorized B Corp) after which processed the cacao. This positioned Sanjana the place cacao was first found by the traditional Mayans — its true origins. She additionally bought beans from Ecuador, Peru and the Dominican Republic to diversify her model’s palate. That journey cemented an affinity in the direction of the cooperative mannequin that she believed may benefit numerous farmers on one finish and oversee high quality management for chocolatiers, like herself, on the opposite.
Issues lastly fell into place when she related with GoGround Beans and Spices, a cacao fermentary arrange by an Italian basis within the Idukki Hills, Kerala. Idukki is the title of the district, however I discover that Sanjana at all times refers back to the native village and taluka title: Udumbannoor in Thodupuzha — she is explicit like that. “They’d already created a post-harvesting fermentation and drying course of. The founders Ellen [Taerwe] and Luca [Beltrami] knew rather a lot about cacao. They knew high quality and had been straight buying and selling with the native farmers…even coaching them tips on how to harvest, for instance.”
Like with espresso, the flavour of bean-to-bar speciality cacao is developed through the fermentation processes of the beans.
We at the moment are driving previous lush coconut and banana plantations, and I ask her why she doesn’t discuss this journey extra typically. Sanjana makes a pained expression and confesses that it isn’t straightforward for her to open up. “I can do that with you in particular person, one-on-one, however the second I’ve to speak about myself on-line, and promote it, I get anxious. Even placing up one Instagram story to doc this journey at this time is overwhelming for me, however I do know in some unspecified time in the future I’ve to do it.” Inventive founders like Sanjana are pressured into lending their manufacturers an “genuine” persona and actively differentiating their merchandise utilizing creative jargon to outlive within the loud panorama of social media advertising and marketing. “You recognize, technically, even a Nestlé or a Cadbury is making bean-to-bar chocolate. Bean-to-bar is only a course of. What you create with the chocolate is a craft. Craft chocolate is clear chocolate; there may be nothing else to it. So I hold specializing in that. And that has to begin on the stage of the farmer.”
After a fast lunch in Mysuru, we attain our farmstay that’s conveniently positioned close to the cacao property we plan to go to. Sanjana really feels at dwelling on this a part of the nation. I ponder, out loud, if she needs she had her father’s farm to develop cacao herself, “At the moment, I see it as a bane to personal the land as a result of I’ll get caught at solely farming. Whereas it’s nice to have the ability to say it’s grown in-house, the chef in me needs to, greater than anything, do one thing with the working cacao farmers in our nation.” She provides that GoGround’s willingness to experiment with fermentation most aligned along with her personal experimental nature as a chef. “That’s why many chocolate manufacturers have received awards with GoGround’s beans. Consistency is required, however consistency doesn’t must be literal. On the finish of the day, you’re working with a crop, soil and meals. There are variables, however that permits me to broaden a flavour profile and discover additional via roasting, conching or pairing with completely different components.” Sanjana explains how flavour varies throughout Indian cacao origins — Kerala is closest to the equator and therefore produces acidic, sharp and tart flavour notes, whereas beans from Tamil Nadu are creamier and nutty. Karnataka’s are on the spicier finish, they usually have milder aromatic and floral notes, extra tropical like soursop and litchi. For her, this journey could begin on the farm however at all times ends at flavour.
The flavour varies throughout Indian cacao origins primarily based on the terroir and intercropped species. For Sanjana Patel, this journey could begin on the farm however it at all times ends on the flavour.
Left to proper: Soursop fruit; Cacao flowers; The within of the cacao beans revealing fermented cocoa mass.
Dadan, who has accompanied Sanjana on earlier sourcing journeys to GoGround, joins our dialog. Collectively, they recall ploughing via barely drivable grime roads within the Malabar forest to take a look at cacao bushes. They surprise how troublesome it should have been for Taerwe and Beltrami to boost their two sons there. I query whether or not two white Europeans actually deserve such reward, given the ability dynamics on this context, however neither Dadan nor Sanjana shares my misgivings. “I spoke to lots of farmers there, they usually genuinely had excellent issues to say about GoGround. They aren’t encroaching on the land itself, which I like. They’re paying fair-trade costs on to the farmer, whether or not it’s 5 kilograms of beans or 10 kilograms. Every part about this commerce relies on belief. They had been there serving to these farmers when the floods got here in 2018. Even now, they’re not going via an excellent season, however they’re making an attempt their greatest to maintain their farmers and consumers joyful, which I recognize.” It offers me perception into what Sanjana is basically looking for on a sourcing journey like this.
Why search for one other supply then, I enquire. “Frankly talking, there’s a dearth of cacao on this nation…. On the identical time, I hear near 80 per cent of the beans in Karnataka are going to waste,” Sanjana factors out. The issue is multifold — local weather change is affecting cacao yields and farmers are slicing their bushes or contracting out to industrial gamers. She reveals that she has been approaching farmers in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh all through the pandemic. Probably the most promising lead has been Chempotty Property, a 22-acre plot of land that’s been working as licensed natural fruit and cacao farm for 20 years. The house owners — a company skilled and a retired trainer — comply with “religious farming” in reverence to nature and solely use Jeevamrut as a pure fertiliser. Moreover, the truth that they started rising cacao solely six years in the past and are simply beginning to provide to native consumers provided an thrilling alternative to ascertain post-harvesting processes from an early stage.
Our arrival at Chempotty Property; A glass of cacao juice.
We arrive at Chempotty Property in good spirits. Thankachan Chempotty meets us on the gate. We comply with him alongside an avenue of tall coconut bushes, and I observe Sanjana strolling forward and noting the species layered within the understory — a mixture of timber, fruit and medicinal bushes. Underneath these, she factors out the multicoloured cacao pods we search. “It seems just like the genetics of cacao right here is various,” she says quietly to me. “See that? Two completely different soils. Immediately, it tells me that there’s going to be some inconsistency within the beans.” Within the coronary heart of the farm, Jessy Chempotty welcomes us with an infectious smile and a glass of recent cacao juice. It tastes like litchi, and I immediately go in for seconds. Jessy calls it her each day glass of “joyful hormones”. A lesser-known by-product, the juice flows out of the cacao pod when lower open, and this treasured elixir is tough to bottle as a result of it begins fermenting so shortly. The very best place to take pleasure in it? A cacao farm!
Exterior the Chempottys’ cottage, Dadan and Parthesh calm down on hammocks whereas Sanjana and I cool down within the verandah reverse our hosts. We have a look at some freshly picked cacao pods, and she or he factors out the combo of types right here as effectively. Chempotty admits that lots of their saplings got by CAMPCO (Central Arecanut and Cocoa Advertising and Processing Co-operative Restricted) and Cadbury. It’s a widespread incidence in commodity-driven agriculture for big organisations to arrange nurseries and distribute beneficial varieties to farmers within the space, and cacao has been no exception. A serious draw back, nevertheless, is the lack of wild or heirloom varieties and indigenous data in addition to the introduction of hybrids that often make the farmer depending on industrial strategies and inputs. Moreover, industrial consumers compromise on the standard of the beans as a result of they compensate for flavour with dairy and sugar. For Sanjana, this portends inconsistent yields and requires extra rigorous fermentation protocols. After a batch of processed beans, she suggests they do a lower take a look at. When each husband and spouse peer inquiringly at her, she takes cost, remodeling the verandah right into a classroom.
“I hope you don’t thoughts, however I prefer to make it very clear from the beginning that if the standard just isn’t on top of things, then I will be unable to work with you,” she says. “However, after all, that signifies that I’m right here to interrupt down the method for you and share all of the data I’ve as a result of I’m very clear, and I search for collaborators who’re receptive to that. On the finish of the day, I’m a chocolate maker, not a farmer. And you shouldn’t simply blindly take heed to me. Do the experiments and see for yourselves.” The tone is ready. “My second expectation is so that you can hold your bushes wholesome. It’s a labour of affection. We may be speaking about inconsistent flavours or style, however it does want constant effort. I additionally perceive that your expectation from us is that we’re going to finally purchase this harvest from you.” I look up on the Chempottys, and their solely response is to tug out their notebooks. They welcome her candour.
Left to proper: Lower take a look at within the verandah; Setting expectations; Exchanging data with the Chempottys.
Sanjana has clearly performed this earlier than. She asks the couple to tug out a pattern of fifty beans and demonstrates how she needs them lower lengthwise. As they get to work, she kinds the lower beans into teams primarily based on their fermentation and evaluates that are acceptable. A lower take a look at, she explains, is a instrument to visualise what is going on contained in the beans throughout fermentation and drying — it’s the place the flavour develops on the farm. “The purpose right here is to attain consistency, and that comes from organising SOPs [standard operating procedures].” Parthesh joins us along with his laptop computer and presents a number of the post-harvesting processes arrange by their companion cooperatives. “Internationally, what’s good is that there are grants given, communities constructed and platforms created for cacao farmers. It’s extra organised and structured…. I don’t suppose we now have that.” Sanjana chimes in. “There isn’t a stable authorities effort to guard the craftsmen and artisans in our nation on the subject of meals. There are stunning ideas on the market, however they’re performed privately, and I actually cherish cooks who’re getting out of the kitchen and sourcing at a grass-roots stage.” They don’t withhold any data, providing options extra appropriate to the farm’s operation scale and native climate.
Whereas Sanjana and the Chempottys stay immersed in technical discussions, Parthesh, Dadan and I are led by 4 staff into the plantation to watch the harvest. The roles are gendered. Males harvest pods utilizing an improvised sickle with a really lengthy deal with. Girls comply with swiftly, placing the fallen pods into luggage. We don’t communicate a standard language, however they kindly warning us in opposition to the fiery pink ants crawling throughout. That explains the lengthy handles! Sanjana joins us and advises that the pods be collected beneath shade and never in direct daylight. It’s good to see Chempotty nudge his staff to affix the dialog and take part within the data change. Bending over, Sanjana factors out inconsistencies; a number of the pods are already too dry whereas others are unripe. She explains that measuring the Brix, the dissolved sugar content material, will point out when a pod is prepared. Sugar means flavour. Additional, every varietal would require its personal harvest protocol. I’m shocked (a recurring feeling this journey) by her data exterior of the kitchen, clearly constructed over years spent understanding how farming practices have an effect on the beans. Her method is each creative and scientific. With regards to cacao, particular chemical reactions discover equal footing with sensorial notes or nostalgic recollections in discussions; they’re at all times the protagonists in her story.
The harvesting of cacao adopted by a soulful lunch cooked by Jessy Chempotty.
Jessy calls us for lunch within the verandah. We’re joined by Patricia Cosma, knowledgeable craft-chocolate taster and co-founder of the upcoming Indian Cacao & Craft Chocolate Competition on the Bangalore Worldwide Centre, Bengaluru. She is the widespread hyperlink. Sanjana helps Jessy end off some foraged greens on an open hearth and the remainder of us lay out banana leaves on the desk. Jessy’s home-made pickles and relishes act as the right accompaniments to our soulful meal — a easy vegetable curry, sautéed greens and pink rice.
After lunch, we head to a different a part of the farm to take away beans from the pods harvested earlier at this time. Once more, duties are divided — males lower open the pods whereas girls type the beans. Sanjana observes their technique for a couple of minutes after which will get proper into it. A right away reason behind concern is the black pod illness, constant throughout South India and attributable to a fungus. Diseased pods must be separated first as a result of lacking this step makes sorting troublesome at a later stage. She begins to sift via a basket of pulpy beans and tosses people who present indicators of germination, or are too dry or overripe. The employees decide up her cues pretty shortly. Perhaps it’s the physicality of this train, however Chempotty and Sanjana are capable of prototype a possible working relationship. It’s a give-and-take, the place she units requirements and he evaluates their price. The following logical step, they agree, is to ferment a small batch, for which she improvises an anaerobic setup. Guiding Chempotty and his staff, she meticulously goes over every step and the explanation behind it, together with what to anticipate and monitor over the subsequent 24–48 hours.
Observing how beans are sorted; Sharing methodologies; Doing a fermentation experiment.
At sundown, we stroll again via the coconut grove to the verandah, making good on our promise to have Jessy’s payasam. Spontaneously, Sanjana pulls out a few of her favorite craft chocolate bars. Cosma then guides us via a tasting; essentially the most sensorial and rounded expertise, we study, comes from consuming chocolate at room temperature and letting it soften on the tongue. “Immediately makes you decelerate, doesn’t it?” The dialog shifts to a extra existential observe when the Chempottys admit that committing to craft chocolate requirements has been troublesome. Sanjana empathises. “I query myself as effectively. I believe it simply comes all the way down to the worth that you simply put onto a bit of chocolate. It’s a really troublesome enterprise to be in,” she says. In retail, they take care of enormous itemizing charges for shelf house, 95 per cent of which remains to be occupied by industrial chocolate and imported manufacturers. “I believe culturally, at some stage, we now have misplaced worth for what’s home-grown. Perhaps as a result of we’ve grown up consuming that chocolate, that nostalgia is there. Or perhaps we’ve at all times heard that Belgian or Swiss chocolate is the very best. Even our wines and cheeses are top-notch. However there’s simply no worth for it as a result of it doesn’t style like a selected Fontina in Italy, for instance. After all it’s going to be completely different! It’s artisanal.”
Left to proper: Payasam; A chocolate tasting.
We’re again the subsequent morning to test on the fermentation experiment, and all is trying good to date. The final merchandise on our agenda is to style a few of Jessy’s experiments with cacao exterior of chocolate; an ongoing curiosity of hers is to keep away from wastage of the farm’s produce via inventive recipes and preservation. We style a cacao vinegar akin to balsamic, a darker cacao dip like molasses and, although it’s most likely too early for it, a glass of cacao wine. My favourites are her cacao nib jam and cacao laddoos sweetened with jaggery. We marvel on the potential of this fruit that many individuals nonetheless don’t know is the supply of chocolate, and I sense a newfound sorority between Sanjana and Jessy.
Jessy Chempotty’s experiments with cacao exterior of chocolate.
Prime (left to proper): A line-up of fermented drinks; Cacao vinegar.
Backside (left to proper): Cacao nib jam; Cacao laddoos.
I meet up with Sanjana just a few weeks later and she or he tells me, “I really acquired that batch of beans. The fermentation was good however the beans had been over-dried, so we weren’t in a position to make use of it.” Inspired by the Chempottys’ efforts in making an attempt a number of the methods mentioned, she is planning an extended go to to get a microlot fermentation performed and to contain different farmers, to make the train extra community-driven. “Mr Chempotty has been very forthcoming. For a farmer to course of cacao is one other problem. And as soon as they inform themselves that they’ve values like staying natural on the naked minimal, sustaining truthful and moral commerce and wages, and guaranteeing consistency in high quality of the fermentation, then they need to keep dedicated. The following factor they could ask is, ‘Why don’t I simply make my very own chocolate?’ And I say sure, after all they will!”
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