Life is getting back to normal since Hurricane Irma hit South Florida September 10. Ghee Indian Kitchen, which opened in Dadeland only four months ago and specializes in Gujarati-inspired cuisine, found its farm-to-table philosophy put to the test in the storm's aftermath.
Chef/owner Niven Patel, who has been described by the New York Times as "a game changer for the region," found that his farm, Rancho Patel, from where he harvests produce for his menu, completely changed after the storm. Still, the soft-spoken optimist has turned a potential disaster into a culinary success.
The four avocado trees on Patel's two-acre farm were hit hard. The trees, which held about 200 pounds of avocados each, lost 95 percent of their fruit to the hurricane's winds.
"The beauty of avocados is that they slow-ripe on the trees, so you can handpick and time-release your avocado picking, normally. All the avocados fell to the ground, so we added some avocado dishes. Because avocados don't preserve once they ripen, it's hard to jar it or can it; you gotta use it. We're in the midst of avocado mania right now!" Patel chuckles.
Avocado mania has served the restaurant well. Patel has invented new dishes that focus on the fruit. The chef's avocado puri ($5) has become such a huge hit that he's considering keeping it on the menu year-round. Puri is an unleavened deep-fried bread often eaten as a snack or an accompaniment to meat or vegetables. Patel has also introduced a tuna and avocado dish for $11 that's also become a favorite.
"It's called bhel, which is like Indian street food. We smash avocados, puff-dry it, and we do our own crispy mung bean in there. It has green mango, tomato, red onion, and then we add tamarind-based chutney. We make a salad out of it and then slice tuna on top. It's a really nice, refreshing dish."
Thanks to Irma, Rancho Patel also has a hearty supply of coconuts that will be incorporated into the menu.
"Our coconut palms are huge, 100-foot-tall trees. We'd just wait for the coconut to fall down. Now I have about 80 coconuts. The beauty is that they actually store fine."
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Some produce, such as okra and eggplant, was destroyed. Still, Patel considers himself among the very lucky, unlike the farmers in Homestead who suffered great losses. "This is kind of my hobby and we're getting into it, but for them, they already had a lot of their infrastructure when it comes to the greenhouses, and all of that got lost."
Just a week before Irma hit, Patel decided to expand his farm and hired a full-time farmer to assist. That plan was delayed by the storm, but Patel is back on track. He says Irma, despite all of the damage it caused, might have done Rancho Patel a small favor when it took down 12 monster trees that were creating unwanted shade where he hoped to plant.
"Our plan this season is to grow about 4,000 to 6,000 plants. It's ambitious. My whole goal is to be real about what we are doing. Right now we produce about 10 to 15 percent of everything produce-wise for the restaurant. By December, my goal is to be 65 to 70 percent, which I think is pretty amazing, so hopefully it works out."
Ghee Indian Kitchen. 8965 SW 72nd Pl., Miami; 305-968-1850; gheemiami.com. Monday through Friday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m.