I've perfected Karwari family heirloom recipes: Fresh Catch's chef Ankita Fernandes
Traditional piquant flavours of Karwari cuisine come alive in Chef Ankita Fernandes’ seafood preparations
My childhood memory goes far back to our big house on the river in the coastal city of Karwar, with kaane (lady fish) jumping across the boat in the mornings,” says Chef Ankita Fernandes, tracing her culinary journey. “My father prepared the catch, serving up six big pieces in a single vessel to almost 30 of us at the big family table at the gregarious meal time. We were in Karwar three to four times a year.” For the Mumbai-based creative heart, taking the legacy of her dad’s iconic seafood eatery 'Fresh Catch' in Mahim, to the lanes of Bandra, has been a natural progression this year.
What earns Chef Ankita Fernandes’ eatery 'Fresh Catch', a place amongst the seafood greats is its honest knit to traditional Karwar recipes and boat-to-plate fare. She has been powering her success with seafood through her restaurant. Her native village in Karwar, along the borders of Goa and Karnataka, flavours her culinary learnings, with her grandmother and father as her biggest food influences. “At 13, grinding fresh masalas using the mortar and pestle, preparing ginger garlic paste on Monday, and enjoying a cooking fiesta in the kitchen are my fondest memories,” smiles Ankita. The fragrance of the pounded nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon proved to be her calling as Ankita shelved a career in medicine to pursue her passion for cooking.
The spice adventure continues. “I have perfected the Karwari family heirloom recipes, inspired by vindaloo, and xaccuti of Goa and Mangalore’s hot and spicy ambo tik. There are natural innovations, like preparing crispy fried chicken with poha, instead of cornflakes, prawn gassi, sukha kalamari…that have been favourites with people down the years. Not just celebrities who frequent 'Fresh Catch' for their evergreen classic favourites but even droves of NRIs who ensure they dine with us when they visit to relive the familiar tastes and explosion of flavours,” says Ankita. The recipes stand unchanged. After all, why mess with success? The truth is that the restaurant defines seafood at its best for many of us. “My menu changes daily, and the best dishes make use of local seafood,” shares Ankita gesturing towards the hand-scrawled specials on the blackboard.
The vegetarian kingfish is a tribute to the baigan. Crisp and glamorised to masquerade as a fish fillet on the leaf. Baby prawns come complete with earthy flavours in a coconut-milk gravy, with swirling Malabar spinach (mayalu). “I make extensive use of sun-dried triphala, nutmeg, and even the sourish bimbli berry—that is a natural souring agent and a more fulfilling alternative to tamarind—that are sliced, salted and sunned by the women folk in the backyards back in Karwar, and then used for bringing tartness to the dishes,” she reveals.
While the berries are slivered to draw out the moisture, even the embryonic appe midi mangoes—plucked young for pickling from the fruit orchards in her hometown Honnavar, near Karwar—bring in their bounty to the tastebuds. “These are tiny, oblong fruits, savoured for their piquant taste,” she says, adding, “The traditional recipes involve marinating them for three months in dry masala, without any preservatives.”Ankita treasures the pelican as her chosen mascot. Her explanation: “It has an eye for fresh fish, scooping up the best quickly. Just as I remember, outside our house in Karwar.”