What’s in the water to make Kendall’s Ghee Indian Kitchen instantly hot isn’t nearly as important as what’s in the ground.
One of the secrets to this 5-month old restaurant that has reshaped the flavor of Indian cuisine in Miami — so much that its chef is quietly opening a second location Monday in the Design District with his longtime friend as co-head chef — is the farm that grows their produce.
Chef-owner Niven Patel, 34, hired a local farmer — and put him on the restaurant’s payroll — to turn about half an acre of his Homestead house’s two-acre property into a farm that will provide most of both restaurants’ produce by the end of this year.
That’s as farm-to-table as it gets.
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“We want to be real about what we’re doing,” Patel said.
The Downtown Dadeland restaurant (8965 SW 72nd Pl.), which focuses on lighter, vegetable-forward South Indian fare, has a pair of dishes on the menu that rely solely on the fruits and vegetables grown at Patel’s backyard, playfully nicknamed Rancho Patel. When the plot takes off, Patel hopes as much as 60 percent of all the produce used at his restaurants will be grown in the yard outside his kitchen window.
He hired a Davie firm, Tree Amigos Growers, to design the plot to sustain as many as 4,000 vegetables and fruit plants that will go in the ground in the next two weeks. And he hired local farmer Brendan Sutton to run it to USDA organic standards.
“I told him it’s his farm, and I’ll give him all the resources he needs to make it happen,” Patel said.
That reliability of locally grown ingredients means that he and the head chef at the Design District Ghee outpost, Pushkar Marathe, 32, can plan a similar menu at both restaurants. The idea was so delicious that Marathe gave up his job as chef de cuisine at the highly regarded Meat Market in Palm Beach to join Patel. They cooked together at 3030 Ocean and became fast friends. Marathe, in fact, helped Patel pick out his home two years ago.
At 3030 Ocean, the two worked for chef Dean Max, who spread his love of using sustainable produce to his who’s who of chefs, including Jeremy Ford, a “Top Chef” winner, and “Hell’s Kitchen” competitor and Artisan Beach chef Paula Da Silva. Patel would go on to lead the kitchen for Michael Schwartz’s Michael’s Genuine in the Design District.
They’ve seen this micro-farm idea in action. The two cooked together at Brasserie Cayman under chef Max, and a Cayman Islands farmer produced much of the fruits and vegetables specifically for that restaurant. And so will Sutton for both Ghees.
“He’s going to use every inch of that land so that both restaurants can be mostly autonomous,” Marathe said. “It makes you respect the ingredient because you know how much goes into growing, like, one small eggplant.”
Marathe and Patel have been incubating this idea for more than a year, since the two created a menu together at the 2016 StarChef’s Rising Star event at Marlins Park, Marathe said. They were approached by the landlord of the Design District property that housed Schwartz’s high-end Cypress Room (later becoming a more down-scale Cypress Tavern), which closed in April.
The pair made cosmetic changes but didn’t do any big-money renovations, using the high-end equipment available to produce a mirror to the Kendall Ghee menu. Yet those menus will be a reflection of both chefs’ backgrounds.
“They’ll be parallel to each other with identities of their own at the same time,” Marathe said.
Marathe was born in India’s western Maharashtra state, where fresh seafood goes with heavily vegetarian cuisine. But having a father in the Indian air force meant he was in a new state every year, and he learned to appreciate the entire country’s food culture.
Patel was born in Georgia but raised in Florida with his parents’ deep roots in Gujarat, India, where they never ate meat. Patel has never eaten meat, aside from tasting sauces that may have been made with animal products.
“With me and Niven pairing up, it will make it a more interesting experience for everybody,” Marathe said.
For both Ghee spots, Rancho Patel will grow the restaurants’ staples during the September-to-April Florida growing season: Japanese eggplant and several varieties of heirloom beets, carrots, beans and peppers. Summer will bring Indian okra and a variety of heat-tolerant greens, like collards.
“I’m excited to be a part of it, for sure,” the now-staff farmer Sutton said. “I never thought of this business model — having a farmer on the restaurant payroll —but it seems to be there’s a place for one in our city.”
If the experiment works, they may export the idea to a future third restaurant back in Palm Beach Gardens, Marathe told The Palm Beach Post in August. Patel envisions it as a next step forward for their young restaurant group in bloom, budding from their own fertile ground.
Ghee Indian Kitchen, Design District
Address: 3620 NE 2nd Ave., Miami
Hours: Seven days, 5-11 p.m.
Contact: GheeMiami.com; 786-636-6122
Restaurant debuts Oct. 9