WITH THE urban populace starved of open-air experiences, swish food festivals across India are the newest attractions. While melas in local parks, with a smattering of food stalls, have long been a part of Indian ethos, popular restaurant and hotel chefs, along with a new breed of home chefs preparing an array of delicacies at interesting outdoor venues, is certainly a novel concept. Palate Fest, The Grub Fest, Bombay Local, Taste of Mumbai, Flavours from Home, Bengaluru Food Festival, Pune Farmers’ Market—the list of open-air food festivals with pop-up food stalls, food tastings, and chefs conducting live demos and interactive workshops is growing robustly. And it’s a trend that’s now visible across India.
A paradise for food lovers, these festivals are frequented by young couples, students, foodies and affluent families. Street food is served alongside premium fine-dining restaurant pop-ups. Even five-star and Michelin-star chefs gather at these venues to whip up delectable fare, allowing gourmands to relish cuisines, which may be geographically inaccessible or unaffordable. These fests also give visitors a chance to interact with their cooking heroes such as chefs Sanjeev Kapoor, Ranveer Brar, Vikas Khanna and Ajay Chopra, who are extremely popular owing to TV shows like MasterChef.
However, contrary to what one might think, it’s not just about the food. It may be the main crowd-puller, but food alone can’t keep visitors engaged for hours. For the success of such food fairs, it’s important to create a carnival-like atmosphere, giving people a chance to indulge in some bonhomie and fun—for instance, music and entertainment options in the form of live bands, stand-up comics, etc, are a must.
Small Fry Co, one of the front-runners in curating culinary experiences, recently hosted the Bombay Local food festival at Khar Gymkhana Grounds in Mumbai. The festival, a convergence of India’s top home-grown talents in food, music and entertainment, showcased over 40 locally-sourced and freshly-produced F&B products, along with 12 live food stations by local restaurants, home chefs and caterers, each showcasing a unique cuisine. One of the biggest highlights was a bazaar with the vibe of a Goa-style night market. “Bombay Local started as a pop-up event and has grown quickly to become a food festival. With the fast growing F&B scene in Mumbai, we saw a need to put together a food festival for an audience that is expecting something much more than just eating out, and also to encourage home-grown labels and entrepreneurs in the culinary arts. Bombay Local is that one place where you can experiment with, and experience, food,” explains Insia Lacewalla, founder and partner, Small Fry Co.
Another mela, Flavours from Home, aims to encourage and support home talent and regional Indian cuisines. A ‘home chefs food festival’, it was recently organised at Westin Woods, Westin Mumbai Garden City hotel, Mumbai. Twenty home chefs, mainly housewives, participated in the fest and enticed visitors with home-made dishes from varied cuisines like Sindhi, Gujarati, Parsi, Goan, Maharashtrian, Bengali and Tamilian. “Flavours from Home was a first-of-its-kind affair, where guests got the chance to savour delicious home-made wonders from all over India. The lush green Westin Woods is a perfect setting for a fun lively day of entertainment, mouth-watering delights and cooking demos, and gives women chefs a great opportunity to showcase their talent,” says Anuraag Bhatnagar, general manager, The Westin Mumbai Garden City, area general manager, India.
Karen Anand, well-known food entrepreneur and curator, also brought together several global cuisines under one roof at the first ever Taste of Mumbai food festival at Marine Drive, Mumbai, in March 2013. Although it didn’t garner the numbers it was expected to, Anand is happy with the growing popularity of another food festival called Pune Farmers’ Market (PFM), a whole foods and lifestyle initiative by her. It is an open-air market and is open to everyone from chefs, restaurateurs, passionate amateur cooks and people who just happen to love eating and drinking. “We have a one-day ‘mall’ format for PFM, which usually doesn’t have any alcohol (except local wine and beer sometimes). The new weekend format of PFM is like a food festival with restaurants, wineries, bars and our usual array of exhibitors,” says Anand. The most recent weekend PFM at Pune witnessed over 50 exhibitors coming together to offer a gourmet shopping experience to visitors along with 20 of Pune’s top restaurants. Although PFM as a concept began from Pune, Anand has also taken it to cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi, among others.
Going further south, Bengaluru, too, has been home to the three-day Bengaluru Food Festival at Jayamahal Palace Hotel. The festival is designed to engage foodies and create a platform for the city’s best food producers.
With Mumbai, Bengaluru and Pune taking such giant leaps in the open-air food festival space, can New Delhi be far behind? Clearly no, as has been proved by the success of such events hosted here. One of the most successful has been Palate Fest, an international-level food festival, which takes place at Nehru Park in collaboration with the New Delhi Municipal Council. Aditi Kapoor and Ruchi Sibal, founders and directors of Palate Fest, have successfully organised the event for two years now. “Having travelled abroad and seen how food festivals have inspired communities to come together, the time was right to create such a unique property in India. We came up with Palate Fest, an epicurean adventure that has become a gathering designed to celebrate great food and community,” says Sibal. Palate Fest is an annual culinary event that encompasses pop-up stalls, workshops, food tastings and also includes a variety of food and drinks that Indian producers, manufacturers, retailers, importers and restaurants offer at the venue.
“Open-air food festivals have become a trend and although these have just started, there is a lot of potential for them to grow,” says Paresh Chhabria, founder and partner, Small Fry Co. “We all love food and have loads of memories centred around it. When you are served something that brings back those good memories, you get addicted. People need new experiences everyday and formats like these break the routine.”
Having travelled abroad and seen how food festivals have inspired communities to come together, the time was right to create such a unique property in India. We came up with Palate Fest, an epicurean adventure that celebrates great food and community.
Ruchi Sibal, Co-founder and director, Palate Fest
Open-air food festivals have become a trend and although these have just started, there is a lot of potential for them to grow. People need new experiences everyday and formats like these break the routine.
Paresh Chhabria, Founder and partner, Small Fry Co, which hosts the Bombay Local food festival
Mini Ribeiro is a freelancer.