Naresh Sachdev owns Maharaja Restaurant in Surrey’s Newton area. His is one of seven Surrey restaurants participating in the second annual Farm Fresh Sundays. (Photo: Amy Reid)

Naresh Sachdev owns Maharaja Restaurant in Surrey’s Newton area. His is one of seven Surrey restaurants participating in the second annual Farm Fresh Sundays. (Photo: Amy Reid)

AGRICULTURE WEEK: Surrey restaurants featuring farm-to-table menus

Fresh, locally grown food is ‘medicine’

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.”

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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.”

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Starchuk (pictured above) 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. So when June rolls around and the first carrot comes out of the ground, even if it’s a spinach salad or a Greek salad that shows up at the table. I think it’s catching on.”

With all this produce talk, what about meat?

Starchuk explained there’s not a federally licensed meat processing facility in Surrey right now — but one is in the works.

“There’s a new building coming forward, a new abattoir, I think that’s the french pronunciation of slaughterhouse,” said Councillor Mike Starchuk. “So Surrey will have a newer facility with a better capacity so people will have the ability to not have to ship an animal to Alberta to have it processed. The application’s have gone through Agricultural and Food Sustainability Advisory Committee.”

The facility is proposed on a 25-acre property within the Agricultural Land Reserve at 5175 184th St.

The planned 30,000-square foot abattoir in Cloverdale would process up to 100 head of cattle a day.

According to a city report, that would make it larger than any other processing facility in B.C., but would still be small by industry standards compared to the largest meat processing plants in Alberta the process 3,000 heads of cattle per day.

The proposed facility would be fully enclosed and designed so as to not emit odours to the nearby area.

And while there is an operational 6,000-square-foot abattoir on the property now, it’s can only process a limited number of cattle.

Chris Les is general manager of Meadow Valley Meats, the company behind the project. Meadow Valley Meats is seeking a Canadian Food Inspection Agency license for the proposed abattoir, to become a federally registered meat establishment and expand the operation. This would allow the meat products to be transported beyond B.C.’s boundaries.

“Our focus is on trying to bring a more efficient, sustainable local product to the market, realizing we can do that now in a very limited sense,” said Les. “I caution people when talking to them and they say, ‘What a big plant, that’s going to go allow you to go mainstream.’ Well, yes, if you look in the context of B.C., but this is still a very niche plant and we’ll serve a niche industry for producers and for the market. It’s certainly not going to be a monstrosity of a plant but it’ll be a big upgrade from the site currently.”

Alberta’s operations still dwarf their proposed facility, he added.

“We’ve owned the site for a few years and essentially, over time there’s been two things, I think, that have brought this on,” Les explained. “One, is an increase in demand for federally-inspected product. We’re a provincially inspected abattoir now and it confines us to the province of B.C. for sale and distribution. The operations are essentially the same, it’s just different oversight.”

The second factor, he continued, is an increase in demand for B.C. product, both in and outside of the province, as eating local has become more commonplace.

“It’s certainly become a trend, and people want to know more about where their food comes from,” Les said. “They want to keep their diet local.”

But interest in B.C. beef is coming in from all over the world, he noted.

“We’ve had calls into our office from places as far away as Egypt and Dubai, China for sure. People are wanting Canadian beef, but there’s no way we can really compete with Alberta on that. But recently we’ve had a few calls from people wanting B.C.-specific product. And that’s kind of taken us aback. B.C. has a lot of cattle here, we just ship them to Alberta or Washington state, the vast majority, for processing.”

This new facility, he said, would “open the door” to new markets.

The application received first readings from Surrey City Council on July 24 and now requires Agricultural Land Commission approval, at which point it can be brought back to the city for a decision.

Les hopes to have an answer from the ALC in the “not too distant future.”

“It should be a very supportable non-farm use on the property, I think,” said Les.

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.

amy.reid@ surreynowleadercom