Michelin star chef Johnson Ebenezer, along with his former sous chefs Mythrayie Iyer and Avinash Vishaal, set up an organic farm-to-table dining experience in Bengaluru called FarmLore, which lets guests immerse themselves in everything natural.
As one settles down for a meal at FarmLore, a farm-to-table dining experience in Bengaluru, a good time awaits. Not only will the food exude a sort of finesse and delectability that will be spoken of for days following the meal, but the very authenticity of the experience is something that can rarely be found in the confines of a metropolitan.
Here, time ticks slower compared to the rest of the fast-paced city, and the air has a certain calm about it. When you aren’t marvelling at the greens around you that find their way into your food, you will spend time being amazed at the ideation and thought process behind every dish.
At the fringes of this project, lies a dream by three chefs to bring a twist to modern dining by integrating a ‘back to one’s roots’ concept.
Johnson Ebenezer — a chef from Chennai whose culinary journey has been a colourful one with stints across Michelin-star restaurants — leaves no stone unturned in ensuring the guests at FarmLore love their time spent here.
At the helm of the project, Johnson was joined by Mythrayie Iyer and Avinash Vishaal, both of whom have also worked at Michelin-star restaurants during their career spans. A common ideology united the three to create something that hadn’t been done before.
Storytelling through food
The 37-acre plot is a lush farm filled with seasonal trees, and herbs and vegetables. “We grow five different varieties of mangoes,” points out Johnson, adding that they also have coconut, papaya and banana trees. “There is also vertical farming setup for growing cauliflowers, carrots, onions, garlic, etc.”
Organic gardening is the norm at FarmLore as is seasonality. “We don’t force anything to grow. We work with seasons around this part of the land,” says Johnson adding that 60 percent of the ingredients that go into the food are sourced from their organic garden.
Apart from the lush surroundings, ‘Hydrolore’, their hydroponic segment also captures the attention of their guests. Lettuce, bell peppers, tomatoes, bok choy, strawberries, English cucumbers, Chinese cabbage, and knolkhol are grown in the hydroponics setup.
The “Minimum Costing Self-Sustaining Hydroponic System” utilises wet waste from the farm along with cocopeat and soil to produce a variety of co-existing vegetables in a systematic manner.
As the team believes, there is a farmer in everyone, who just needs a little help. The hydroponics setup works along with a self-sustaining solar panel system that is powered by 12 kW panels.
Meanwhile, the produce from the farm finds its way into the delights that are served to the guests.
Everything is cooked on a woodfire, says Johnson, adding that they advise any guest who visits FarmLore to come with an open mind. “We strive to be eclectic and derive inspiration from all around, including local cultures and local dishes. But our palates revolve around South India. The menus change every week, and while the weekday lunch is a five-course meal that costs Rs 3,000 per head, the dinner is a 10-course one that goes to Rs 5,000 per person.”
Guests are treated to delicacies, both traditional and modern fusion. Kochi oysters with passion fruit, Irulli — a dish made with white onions, kamala oranges and tulsi (basil) flowers, Hasiru — made with FarmLore avocados, cured eggs, green garlic and an accompanying sabbasige (dill greens) waffle, brined duck made in cilantro oil, and Kochi prawns and blue crab with kohlrabi are a few of the standout dishes.
The journey leading up to this
Sharing the journey of how FarmLore found its place in Bengaluru’s dining scene, Johnson says it was a winding road that led here, filled with big decisions. It all started, he says, with a feeling of disconnect.
“There is a hierarchy in five-star hotels, and it is tough for creativity to flourish,” he says, adding that this was what he discovered when he returned to India in 2009 following his stint in the United States.
After 25 years of working as a chef, Johnson knew he wanted to explore the culinary world in much more depth than he’d done.
“I found an investor in Malaysia and opened a restaurant there called Nadodi. I got myself featured in the Michelin guide, and that’s when it struck me that I wanted to do something of this sort in India.”
Once Johnson made his decision, he says it was almost like everything began falling into place. His friend Kaushik, now an investor at FarmLore, was instrumental in the venture being set up. When Johnson relayed the idea to him about creating a slow dining experience of this kind in Bengaluru, Kaushik was all in.
“In December 2018, we returned to India with a plan to understand the market. In three months’ time, I had put together a core team with Mythrayie and Avinash, who had been my sous chef at Nadodi. The three of us moved to Bengaluru from Chennai, where we were based,” recounts Johnson.
While initially, the plan was to get a restaurant in the centre of the city, Johnson says it was around the same time that COVID struck and they had to rethink their plan. “Kaushik’s ancestral farm was vacant, and we agreed that opening a restaurant inside the farm would be a great idea. That’s where the name comes from.”
“With an 18-seater capacity, the place is always booked for lunch and dinner and the five-day workweek is a very busy time for us,” says Johnson.
Malaveeka Chakravarthy, one of the guests, recounts her experience here as “superb” and “imaginative”. She adds, “Each component of the dish is not only lovingly put together but also explained so we can experience each plate the way that the chefs intended it. We came away from the experience fully satisfied.”
Meanwhile, another guest Abhishek Joseph says, “In terms of food, they’ve broken stereotypes and made me appreciate the technicalities of food all the more, while also treating my tastebuds to some scrumptious dishes.”
Edited by Pranita Bhat