How 5-star hotel chefs are curating immunity boosting menus

Steena Joy
·8-min read

Nutritious, immunity-boosting foods and superfoods have been around for some time now. However, in the Covid-19 environment, a lot more people are increasingly getting conscious about what they consume and are exploring alternatives that are organic, home-grown, and locally-sourced. This has made it more challenging for hotels to bring guests back to their restaurants, so hotel chefs have the task cut out for them - curating menus with immunity boosters.

Some iconic hotel brands have been serving wellness cuisines even before Covid-19. Shyam Longani, Executive Chef, Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Goa, says, “We have always had a variety of dishes on our menus that assist healthy living as a lifestyle and we have taken a mindful decision to integrate plenty of immunity boosters.”

“We encourage our guests to experience our Wellness Cuisine, which is loaded with immunity boosters in the form of spice infused waters, whole plant foods, healthy fats, fermented foods, probiotics, organic grains and cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the kitchen gardens and to sample the best of healthy local cuisine.”

Beetroot with Avocado at Taj Exotica Resort & Spa Goa
Beetroot with Avocado at Taj Exotica Resort & Spa Goa

There is a kitchen garden at the resort, where vegetables and herbs like basil, mint, coriander leaves, mesclun leaves and micro herbs are grown organically.

Chef Longani adds, “We also use coconuts in all forms which come from the thousand trees in our hotel gardens. Moreover, our hotel is located near the fisherman’s village of Benaulim and the local folks here are our extended family, supplying us with the freshest catch from the coasts of Goa. This not only ensures the freshest of produce but also makes a positive social impact on the lives of the local community. We support the ‘Go Vocal for Local’ initiative and truly believe that when our guests #TravelForIndia, they can rediscover all that our country has to offer while putting a smile on the many faces they meet along their way.”

Regional inspiration

Located in the Yoga capital of India, another Taj hotel - Taj Rishikesh Resort & Spa Uttarakhand - has reimagined the benefits of authentic local cuisine from the mountain region of Garhwal and Kumaon. The hotel’s chefs have incorporated more of fresh and locally sourced ingredients such as plant-based protein and a variety of millets available in the region in the menus. Satya Prakash Sharma, Executive Chef, Taj Rishikesh Resort & Spa, Uttarakhand says, “Characteristically our menu is primarily grain and cereal based, made up of simple ingredients, cooked with minimal spicing, simple tempering and optimal cooking methods. We have taken the liberty to recreate cuisines by not using them as expected. From using local mountain potatoes and beet to create Kanji – an age-old yet effective fermented drink, to citrus based power drinks, our menu is innovative yet authentic.”

Other great examples are local Jhangora – barnyard millet, which is high in calcium, iron minerals and Vitamin B complex, found in this region of Garhwal.

The hotel uses it to recreate a porridge combined with sunflower seeds, black raisins and soya milk. Gahat Dal, a horse-gram lentil famous for its medicinal benefits is served as a soup instead of dal almost daily.

Garhwali Warm Ratatouille at Taj Rishikesh Resort & Spa Uttarakhand
Garhwali Warm Ratatouille at Taj Rishikesh Resort & Spa Uttarakhand

Chef Sharma points out, “Our breads are gluten free and are made of a special flour known as Mandwa Atta, which is a finger millet flour high in dietary fibre and helps in reducing unwanted craving. We have tried to reinvent authentic local cuisine to suit the global palate. Our interpretation of Kaudiyala Kaddu & Laal Bhaat with pumpkin sourced from the closest village and Himalayan red rice is an ode to that.” The hotel has also purposefully managed to avoid packaged spices as far as possible and uses only whole spices and naturally grown flavouring agents such as turmeric.

The hotel tries to source a significant amount of the ingredients locally. Some of the key sources include those who have returned from the cities as a result of reverse migration and now are reinventing their livelihood in the local villages.

Kaddu Ki Sabzi & Laal Bhaat at Taj Rishikesh
Kaddu Ki Sabzi & Laal Bhaat at Taj Rishikesh Resort & Spa Uttarakhand

“From the local markets at Devprayag, where the produce is free from pesticides and are organic, to sourcing spices, which grow in the wild or in fallow land of the region and are collected by the Indo-Mongoloid Bhotia tribe of Garhwal, we collaborate with the indigenous community. The tribes have traditionally been collecting their spices from the higher Alpine reaches and dry temperate forests in areas with 500 m to 1,500 m altitude and also grow the condiments in their cropland and kitchen gardens,” reveals Chef Sharma.

A balance of taste and health

Carving new trends in this space, Marriott’s key portfolio hotels in Pune, The Ritz-Carlton, Pune, JW Marriott Pune, Marriott Suites Pune and Courtyard by Marriott Pune Hinjewadi feature a fresh menu focus on ingredients that offer a balance of taste and health on a platter. For instance, the dining experience curated by Executive Chef Mayur Tiwari and his team at The Ritz-Carlton, Pune showcases the diversity of the region.

“We promote indigenous produce from local farmers of Maharashtra growing fruits, herbs, vegetables, edible flowers and microgreens using traditional techniques and sustainable means that reap produce that is par excellence. There has been a conscious move towards Ayurvedic principles, age-old wisdom and slow cooking styles. These new menus are not a deviation from the culinary ethos of our restaurants, but an extension of it. Our culinary teams keep cooking styles simple and letting the goodness of the ingredients shine. Immunity-boosting vitamins and minerals are found naturally in foods, and styles such as sous vide and steaming helps retain them. Our menus are a reflection of our dining ethos, with special attention paid towards picking dishes with ingredients that are known to have immunity-boosting properties,” shares Chef Tiwari.

Aam Ka Panna at JW Marriott Pune
Aam Ka Panna at JW Marriott Pune

The chef believes that going green takes some seriously innovative thinking and is crucial to the long-term future of dining.

“The restaurants and bars at The Ritz-Carlton, Pune believe in rising to the occasion, instituting ethical farm-to-table sourcing practices, finding innovative new uses for waste, and improving energy consumption across the board. Food has always been a conduit for connection, but for us it’s also a way to mobilise communities towards a common goal. To achieve this we have built a web of hyperlocal suppliers around the city, providing our restaurants and bars with produce that showcases the natural bounty of the region,” he informs.

Mediterranean Avocado Toast at The Ritz Carlton Pune
Mediterranean Avocado Toast at The Ritz Carlton Pune

Back to basics

The Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, has gone back to the basics and reached for everyday ingredients that can be easily found in kitchens and incorporated these into its Wellness Specials menu that was launched early in April.

Executive Chef Anupam Gulati, says,Nutrient-rich and wholesome, we’ve curated this menu keeping in mind the much-needed bolster that everyone is seeking for their immunity system. Inspired by rustic, traditional forms of cooking - concocting dishes from what is available in the geography and landscape around us, on the menu are dishes that pair superfoods - fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, and seafood that are naturally rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients (that help prevent diseases). From gluten- and lactose-free Asian bowls to immunity topping soups and beverages that pack in a punch without compromising on the taste, guests can enjoy an array of heartwarming dishes that are alive with flavours.”

Spiced Pumpkin Soup at Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai
Spiced Pumpkin Soup at Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai

In addition to this, the chef also curates special immunity-boosting shots as welcome amenities for guests checking into the hotel. He adds, “With the warm response that our immunity boosters received, we went one step ahead and also introduced a retail line of dips, sauces, preserves, and spreads; some infused with the goodness of superfoods like turmeric, Himalayan Salt, basil, and more. Free of preservatives and loaded with the goodness of nutrients, these immunity-boosting jars are gluten-free, lactose-free, and serve as great additions to one’s pantry at home.”

The hotel’s all-day dining menu offers a selection of signature local delights called ‘Streets of Mumbai’ made using locally-sourced ingredients.

Chef Gulati points out, “While curating our menus, a lot of thought and time is invested into understanding local and regional produce and as to how we can let these shine as the heroes of our food philosophy. We believe in connecting communities through food and each menu is in some way a representation of the destination’s cultural and culinary facets.”

Ingredient sourcing at the Sheraton Grand Chennai Resort and Spa is either locally grown produce or organic vegetables from the chef’s garden.

Executive Chef Mukesh Sharma says, “For our guests, we have done some changes in the menu to increase the level of immunity - a mix of fresh and unprocessed foods rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, protein and antioxidants. Especially in our breakfast menu, we offer gooseberry juice, ABC juice (apple, beetroot & carrot) and a few local specialty hot drinks such as kashayam (kada) and chola kanji and ragi kanji.”

18 hours braised free range poultry broth (pickled quail egg, fresh turmeric, avocado toast at JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru
18 hours braised free range poultry broth (pickled quail egg, fresh turmeric, avocado toast at JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru

Mohammed Eliyaz, Chef de Cuisine, JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru believes that there is a need to understand immunising ingredients and have a proper knowledge of their benefits while including them in hotel menus.

“As a chef, it is important for us to understand the seasons, produce, availability, nutritional value and most specifically the quality of the ingredients. Our ingredients are sourced mostly from standalone farmers where all the certified protocols are been taken care of,” he states.