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Maldives chefs take a stand on sustainability in the kitchen

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(CNN) — With the threat of rising sea levels looming over the tourist islands of the Maldives, the country’s hospitality industry is continually looking for new ways to operate in the most sustainable way possible.

Among the areas currently in the spotlight: the kitchen. As resorts try to reduce their high energy and resource requirements in a country where much of the food is imported, some restaurants have stepped things up even further.

Leading the way is Roots, a new plant-based dining concept at Patina Maldives – an island resort in the Fari Islands that opened in 2021 – which aims to wow guests with its delicious modern vegetarian dishes.

“At Roots, we believe in plant-based nutrition. We have a special menu that comes from our own organic garden. We grow everything in our organic garden,” says Abdulla Rifzan, Junior Sous Chef at Patina Maldives.

Born in Gemanafushi in the atoll of Huvadhoo, the Maldivian chef trained in French and Japanese cuisine before joining Roots.

In the past, some of his favorite dishes were torchon de foie gras and lobster thermidor.

But working at Roots gave her a new perspective on cooking.

“It’s really important in the Maldives, for our culture, to be greener,” he explains. “The Maldives is (a low-lying country) made up of small islands, so by cooking plant-based dishes with local ingredients, it helps the environment and people.”

A sustainable dining option for customers

Roots at Patina Maldives serves plant-based cuisine prepared with ingredients sourced from the restaurant’s own organic garden.

Patina Maldives, Fari Islands

Patina isn’t the first resort here to add a vegetarian restaurant to its lineup.

Plant-based concepts have been popping up across the country since Just Veg at Atmosphere Kanifushi Maldives – billed as the first vegetarian restaurant in a Maldivian resort – opened in 2013.

But a restaurant with a garden the size of Roots is rare.

“There are many resorts in the Maldives that have offered farm-to-table and plant-based concepts for many years,” says John Bakker, executive chef of Patina and Roots.

“Roots is the next evolution of that…it takes what’s happening in the plant community globally.”

With little food produced in the Maldives, restaurants often have to rely on imports.

While Patina tries to be thoughtful during the process — choosing glass over plastic containers and sourcing from neighboring countries, for example — having your own garden dramatically reduces the carbon footprint of Roots’ menu ingredients.

Working in restaurants around the world for more than two decades, Bakker says he’s noticed a shift in eating habits over the past 10 years.

“People want to eat healthier. People are starting to feel that what they eat is their personal responsibility and how that affects that sort of bigger sustainability, bigger picture. It always becomes in people’s minds,” explains the chef.

And it is not limited to what is served on the table.

Patina has its own biodigester that turns much of the waste from across the island – including its 12 restaurants – into rich compost, which is then used in Roots’ garden.

A new concept of luxury

“Our concept of barefoot luxury works in harmony with sustainability, which provides our customers with peace of mind and a beautiful experience. They can find luxury in the small, simple things. Luxury is when you have the chance to eat organic food fresh from the garden.”

A visit to the Gili Lankanfushi Organic Garden, which includes local fruit trees and fresh green vegetables, is among the culinary experiences offered to guests.

The kitchen also sources local seafood to reduce its carbon footprint.

In addition to a waste digester, the station plans to install a biorefinery by the end of the year to turn leftover cooking oil into biodiesel.

Changing perceptions of plant-based cuisine

At Patina’s plant-based restaurant, more ambitious plans are in the works.

Bakker is planning a new dining area in the middle of the garden, which he hopes will make eating green a more appealing option for customers.

“(Plant-based cooking) is much more complex cooking than many people realize. It’s not just vegetables on a plate. We try to create complex dishes with different tastes and textures using modern techniques,” says Bakker.

Maldives chefs take a stand on sustainability in the kitchen

John Bakker, executive chef of Patina Maldives, hopes Roots can change its customers’ perception of plant-based cuisine.

Patina Maldives, Fari Islands

For Rifzan, pushing boundaries and techniques is both challenging and fascinating.

Without relying on outside suppliers, the chefs work creatively with what’s in the garden to add complexity to the menu and produce dishes like Artichoke Textures. This signature Roots dish features mashed cashews as a base, topped with a range of different artichoke textures – from crisps to mash.

“Most of the comments we get from customers are ‘wow’,” says the junior chef.

“They really don’t expect unique flavors, especially from plant-based cuisine.”

Maldives chefs take a stand on sustainability in the kitchen

Patina Maldives opened in 2021.

Patina Maldives, Fari Islands

Bakker hopes Roots will encourage more customers to eat more sustainably during and beyond their vacation.

“Most of our customers have never been to a vegan or vegan restaurant in their lives,” he says.

“In their normal daily routine, if they have choice A and choice B, they wouldn’t choose to go to the plant-based restaurants. But being here on vacation and having the choice of all 12 restaurants, they can just pick a day and go see what’s there.

“The reaction was kind of surprised and kind of thrilled. They never knew plant-based cooking could be so complex, flavorful, or textured – all of those things we’re trying to achieve with the Roots concept. extremely positive.”


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