Inside A Pune Restaurant Embracing A Slow & Deliberate Approach To Gastronomical Art

Ground Up is an intimate dining experience, that's been set up with thoughtfully crafted cuisine on top and an extensive fermentary below.
Ground Up is an intimate dining experience, that's been set up with thoughtfully crafted cuisine on top and an extensive fermentary below.Ground-Up

In one of the reels on my evening scrolls, a chef caught my eye who was explaining to the host of the podcast why street foods hit different compared to the same food from a bigger restaurant. He argued that it was because street food vendors served just a few dishes in small batches prepared from fresh ingredients as they sold out every day and had to start from scratch the next day, unlike restaurants that prepared ready to cook gravies in large quantities while focusing on a much larger menu. I think the same goes for why we love homemade food. It's cooked with homegrown condiments with a care and attention to detail that big operations lack.

The same respect for the craft and eye for details is shared by Ground Up by Chef Gayatri Desai in Pune. Ground Up is an intimate dining experience, that's been set up with thoughtfully crafted cuisine on top and an extensive fermentary below.

Chef Desai's fermentary is a true alchemical lab where ingredients undergo transformative processes. It is here where an array of fermented creations come to life, from classic miso and gochujang to house-made sodas and unique vinegars. Chef Desai travels extensively and explores the culinary practices of various regions. She brings a wealth of knowledge and inspiration back to her kitchen. Her travels take her everywhere - from documenting wild foods in the foothills of Kalsubai with her favorite farmer to a three-month expedition in Japan that delves into the depths of fermentation techniques. These experiences are infused into every dish at Ground Up, with each bite telling a story of dedication and exploration.

The Fermentation Station at Ground Up is a hub of constant experimentation and creativity. Here, Chef Desai and her team play with various ingredients, allowing them to ferment and develop unique flavours over time. The results are often surprising and delightful, take for example the naturally fermented plum soda or the beet kvass designed for a savory application. The thrill of discovery is palpable, especially when they unveil a new creation like their house-made miso, crafted with koji inoculated in a makeshift oven. This miso, made from Manipuri soybeans and Kala Ghevda, quietly matured for nine months, promises a depth of flavour that can only come from such meticulous care and patience.

What truly sets Ground Up apart is its unwavering commitment to the highest quality ingredients, sourced directly from local farmers. Chef Desai's philosophy extends beyond mere lip service: she actively supports farmers, ensuring that the freshest, most seasonal produce graces her kitchen. The intimate setting, coupled with a reservation-only policy, ensures a personalized dining experience where each guest can savour the nuances of a five-course tasting menu that showcases the harmonious interplay of seasonal produce and the restaurant's unique fermented creations.

Ground Up's approach to food production is as thoughtful as their culinary creations. Operating on a pre-order basis, the restaurant aligns with a philosophy of conscious food production, minimizing waste and ensuring the freshest possible ingredients. This method requires overnight or even preparations that last multiple days such as marination, fermentation, or slow reduction, highlighting the time and effort invested in each dish. The dedication to this process underlines the restaurant's commitment to quality and sustainability and offers a dining experience that respects both the ingredients and the environment.

The journey of flavours at Ground Up is both a sensory delight and an intellectual challenge. Each dish is crafted to engage and surprise the palate, much like a piece of art that invites contemplation and appreciation. For instance, the menu might feature pork belly cured in house-made rice wine vinegar, paired with black garlic and kodo cakes, and served with a fermented tamarind and smoked ginger dipping sauce. Such combinations speak to Chef Desai's skill in balancing complex flavors and textures while creating dishes that are as thought-provoking as they are delicious.

The chef also exhibits a dynamism of a true scientist, experimenting with seasonal produce and ingredients as well as changing menus to highlight these ingredients. One example is their Bits and Pieces tasting menu, where fermented and cured ingredients take center stage - think combinations like crab with passion fruit and crab stock sauce, accented by lime kosho and tofu skin chicharron. The chicken bone broth, enriched with fermented Chinese greens and house-made noodles, offers a comforting yet sophisticated experience. The lamb sausage in caul fat, served with khapli wheat pita and beetroot kvass reduction, is a perfect example of how traditional ingredients are given a modern twist here. Each course and evey menu crafted by the chef speaks to her ingenuity and dedication to creating unique gastronomic experiences.

In an age of instant gratification and convenience, Ground Up's dedication to slow, deliberate food preparation stands out for being both refreshing and meaningful. Chef Desai's passion for her craft, her deep connections with local farmers, and her relentless pursuit of culinary excellence make it a true gem across Pune's culinary landscape.

Follow Ground Up here.