Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch
Re-imagined Goan food
Much before ‘vocal for local’ became a fashionable mantra, Avinash Martins dreamed of creating a network for farmers across India, to empower them and give back to them what they richly deserve.
For a long time, this dream just remained a dream. Sure, the 40-year-old, Goa-born chef used local produce for his restaurant, Cavatina, which he runs with his wife, Tiz. But then came the pandemic and to his surprise, Avinash’s dream began to come true.
“With the first lockdown and erratic supplies of fresh vegetables and fruits, I stepped out and met the farmers and began buying from them for consumption, and also to help them sell their produce. Gradually, my relationship with them grew and soon they became a community I worked with,” says Avinash. “I make it a point to support only those who adhere to sustainable practices. From one community of farmers and local fishermen, artisans, toddy tappers and coconut-pluckers, I got connected to others in the state and today there are almost 300 of them in my network.”
Cavatina offers “re-imagined Goan dishes” from the Saraswat and Portuguese communities. The chef uses local ingredients only and presents them in a contemporary manner. In the 10 years since the restaurant has been in existence, it’s become ‘the’ address for great food. Regulars, including cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar, return frequently and new diners are eager for a table. Thomas Zacharias, the former executive chef of The Bombay Canteen and an advocate for regional cuisines, says: “Chef Avinash Martins is a household name in Goa's upscale restaurant scene, thanks to his modern Goan restaurant, Cavatina.”
But it was not always that way. When Avinash and Tiz first opened the restaurant in 2012, the idea was to serve world cuisine.
“It was only some years later that I made a shift to ‘re-imagined’ Goan cuisine, because I wanted to celebrate what grew in my backyard and locally,” says Avinash. “My vendor programme changed and my dependency on imported stuff stopped and fortunately, this helped during the pandemic.”
“I COULD NEVER GET THE SMELL OF MY LAND, MY SURROUNDINGS, THE PEOPLE, OUT OF MY SYSTEM AND KNEW I HAD TO GET BACK TO GOA TO SETTLE" —AVINASH MARTINS, CHEF
The prodigal son
Avinash refers to himself as “a prodigal son”. He had left Goa at an early age to pursue his dreams, only to return home to do what he loves most.
“I am a family-oriented person and the eldest of four siblings. That apart, I could never get the smell of my land, my surroundings, the people, out of my system and knew I had to get back to Goa to settle,” he says.
“My exposure to cooking was tremendous, thanks to my grandmother, who was a great cook. The aromas of spices being pounded and ground wafted through the air as we returned home after playing football.this made me gravitate towards cooking,” he reminisces.
At 16, his passion for the kitchen made him change career tracks; he abruptly gave up on being a sea cadet and decided to study hotel management in Ooty, instead. His supportive parents acquiesced with his career choice and Avinash remains grateful that he was allowed to pursue his dream.
But this dream meant hard work. Avinash’s quest for learning and zeal to excel pushed him
“THE FIRST THREE YEARS, CAVATINA STRUGGLED TO MAKE ITS PLACE. I HAD TO RUN A BURGER JOINT AT MARGAO AND TAKE CATERING ORDERS TO KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING” —AVINASH MARTINS, CHEF