Chef Avinash Martins is a man on a mission. He wants to change the perception of Goan food—from hot and spicy to subtle and nuanced—in the minds of diners from India and abroad. “It is more than just vinegar and feni. Even feni can be used in so many diverse ways,” says the 41-year-old, who helms the acclaimed restaurant, Cavatina, in south Goa. Martins, who was part of the ‘India’s Top Chefs’ list by Culinary Culture, dives deep into the forgotten recipes from across Goa and presents them in a reimagined farm-to-table format. And it is this inventive approach that he is bringing to the capital as part of a pop-up at Elan, The Lodhi, New Delhi.
To be held between 15-23 July (lunch and dinner), the pop-up will carry forth his practice of looking at Goan food from a contemporary lens. Martins will be curating an à la carte menu as well as a seven-course culinary journey comprising dishes such as the ‘Soul Coconut’, or tender coconut brunoise with a solkadhi-inspired dressing of kokum and coconut, ‘Betul Bisque’, which is a French-style bisque of prawns, mussels and clams with blue coral tuile, xec-xec masala, a ‘Duck Cabidel’, that features cabidel sauce, corn khichdi, buckwheat, beet port glaze, and a dehydrated koyla leo cannoli with veg caldin.
Before starting his restaurant nearly a decade ago, Martins had worked at some of the leading Michelin-starred restaurants across the world. However, when he decided to set up his own space, he chose south Goa as opposed to the cultural and food-and-beverage hub of north Goa. “Any investor would have gone for the latter. I wanted to go against the tide and test newer waters,” says Martins, who showcased world cuisine at Cavatina in the initial years.
After six to years of running the restaurant, he felt that the clientele—both locals and tourists—were ready to embark on a new culinary journey. Thus, he started to offer an elevated experience of Goan food heritage. In Martin’s opinion, Goan food is extremely dynamic, influenced by cooking from different parts of Europe as well as from the communities inhabiting the Konkan coast. “No one talks about the indigenous tribes and their sustainable food practices. I want to bridge the gap between the Goa that actually is and the superficial image that is shown,” he adds.
A firm believer of the locavore movement, Martins curates seasonal menus, which change regularly. During the monsoon, when the lush forests and fields of Goa come alive with greens and shoots, the Cavatina menu celebrates these foraged ingredients. “I do a seven-course tasting menu for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians, which makes use of such seasonal ingredients,” he adds. “It is extremely fulfilling to see diners respond to it so well.”
He loves to work with greens such as tambdi bhaji, or red amaranth. “If you were to come to Cavatina, I would have shown you how the flavour of tambdi bhaji from Velim is different from the one in Margao,” says Martins.
It is not just the food and drink of the sunshine state that inspire him but also the music, culture and warmth of the locals. Martins is a storyteller at heart and hopes to present narratives and vignettes of Goa in Delhi in the coming days. “The menu at the Lodhi is titled ‘Postcards from Goa’. Each course comes with a postcard, containing a story about little-known aspects of Goan life. For instance, I wanted to tell the story about Majorda, a village in south Goa, from which the pao originated. The Jesuit priests got it and from there, it travelled to Mumbai and more,” he elaborates.
The first dish in the pop-up is called ‘Poder Poder Ponk Ponk’, which is inspired by the sounds of the bakers arriving in the morning. “We don’t have to set alarms,” laughs Martins. It is given that the bakers shall arrive at 6 am without fail, irrespective of rain or storm. Some of the dishes are influenced by the sound and smells of the fish markets in villages, which are not smelly like commercial markets but carry a whiff of the sea. “You can smell the sand, the sea breeze. I play with the sense of smell, taste and touch in my food,” he says.