Grown in Surrey. Cooked in Surrey. Eaten in Surrey.
That’s the simple concept behind the second annual Farm Fresh Sundays initiative, launched by Surrey Councillor Mike Starchuk last year.
From Surrey farms, to Surrey restaurant tables, every Sunday in September.
Initiated by the City of Surrey as part of Agriculture Week, the project aims to show off the estimated 475 farms that account for nearly one-third of Surrey’s total land use.
Zucchini sticks. Heirloom tomato bocconcini salad. Roasted parsnip soup. Apple galette. Chicken curry. These are just a few of the items gracing this year’s menus. Two-thirds of the menu’s dishes must be made with locally farmed ingredients.
One of the seven restaurants taking part this year is Newton’s Maharaja Restaurant, which is tucked away behind many other stores in a busy Indian shopping mall just off of 128th Street.
During a busy lunch service recently, Councillor Starchuk sat with owner Naresh Sachdev for a tasting.
Smells of cilantro, garlic and turmeric filled the busy eatery.
Starchuk joked that Sachdev should rename the eatery “Dr. Maharaja,” because of his health-focused cooking.
“Food is like medicine,” mused Sachdev. “We use fresh products. Tomatoes, garlic, ginger.”
You won’t find canned food in his kitchen, he chuckled.
Sachdev participated in Farm Fresh Sundays last year, and said it was a no-brainer because he was already sourcing so much of his food locally.
He works hard to make his Indian food with minimal oils and fats to make it as healthy as possible. Using local produce plays a big part, he said.
“We believe in quality. We import spices from India. Much much better than you get here. So it really helps us not have a competition in the market. People trust us. They believe in whatever we’re going to make,” he explained. “Also we did an experiment myself, making a sauce without any oil. Fresh tomato, ginger, garlic, different spices. This will make you a different person, I guarantee it. Food will change your body if you put the good food in.”
Sachdev said he’s on a mission to make his community healthier. After a prosperous career, he said he feels it’s a way to give back to the community. And he’s taking it one step further than his restaurant. Sachdev is awaiting approvals to open his own greenhouse, on a seven-acre piece of farmland in Surrey near 150th Street and 48th Avenue.
“We will be able to grow our own vegetables, tomato, cucumber, eggplant. I know it’s going to cost me more,” he said of start-up costs. “But one thing I know for sure, it will help people big time. I want to help set a path for the younger generation.” He plans to use his produce in his restaurant, but also is setting up a massive kitchen to make and package his own sauce for public sale.
“Rather than making a bigger hospital, we need to educate people. You have to treat your body good,” he said. “It’s medicine. Pure medicine.”
Meanwhile, he’s also expanding his restaurant, hoping to open a second floor by the end of the year.
Starchuk said he’s inspired by Sachdev’s ideas.
“This man knows how to cook,” Starchuk laughed, while enjoying spicy prawns, lentils and chicken kabab, among other dishes at Sachdev’s restaurant. “He has the ability to make food taste just as good in a far more healthy way.”
Starchuk said it’s become “painfully obvious” that the public is increasingly wanting healthier, more local dining options. Last year, when he launched the Farm Fresh Sundays promotion, it was like “herding cats” when trying to get restaurants on board.
“What you really have to find is restaurants that are not chain operated and can easily alter their menu,” he explained.
While it’s not impossible to get the big chains on board with this idea, he said it’s “highly unlikely.”
“This year there’s one restaurant in each town centre with the exception of Newton, there’s two,” Starchuk said. “And so all the town centres are represented and the new Greek restaurant in Fleetwood that’s jumped on board, when they found out how simple it was to just tell their (supplier) they get produce from that they wanted it local, it was easy.
“Next year I would expect to have a minimum of two participating in each town centre. Once you have 14 restaurants in the city, it’s great. It just becomes a tough task to get that information out.
“But I really would like to think that five years from now this project doesn’t exist, because everybody’s just doing it,” he added.
Starchuk said the city chose September for the promotion because of the plethora of produce that can be harvested at this time of year.
“Whether it’s squash, leafy vegetables, corn, it’s harvest time,” he said. “The hope is the public, along with the restaurants, start it sooner. I think it’s catching on.”
Participating Farm Fresh Sundays restaurants include Bozzinnis (13655 104th Ave.), Elements Casino (17755 60th Ave.), Maharaja Restaurant (8148 128th St.), Old Surrey Restaurant (13483 72nd Ave.), Royal Oak Restaurant (15336 Fraser Hwy.), Tap Restaurant (101-15350 34th Ave.), and Taphouse (15330 102A Ave.) Tap Restaurant will be offering their menu on Tuesdays all month, as the restaurant is closed Sundays.
Find more information and menus at surrey.ca/culture-recreation/20575.aspx.