Simon Richardson meets John Farrar, aka the Ginger Indian
John Farrar is no stranger to the Leeds dining scene. Cutting his teeth under Jeff Baker at Leeds’ first Michelin-starred restaurant, Pool Court, he has also worked at the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey, the Holbeck Ghyll in the Lakes and more recently as a consultant at Rare and Mr Nobody.
But a chance conversation six years ago planted the seeds of an idea that John, Jeff and three other chefs have now brought to fruition in a series of themed restaurant evenings; the Chef’s Table Pop-ups. So far, they’ve taken diners on a culinary journey involving a whole duck, a fine dining Indian experience and, just gone, a vegan pop-up.
Looking forward, plans are in place for a Mexican pop-up, a Past, Present and Future night with three chefs and an exclusive Wagyu beef and dim-sum evening. But it’s the Indian concept that is keeping them all focused as they raise funds for a larger, more ambitious project.
The Chef’s Table project is heavily focused on provenance. Indeed, the first thing I noticed as I walked into the venue for the Ginger Indian was the beautifully laid-out spice display. I was quickly informed that the spices themselves had been flown in from India – "as fresh as you can get, direct from the source". The meat that we enjoyed that evening was from Yorkshire, but the Wagyu for the upcoming Japanese themed evening, for example, will be from Japan.
The other motivation is healthy eating. John tells me that he has always felt that the greasiness of your average local Indian takeaway "isn’t indicative of good Indian food", and this has spurred him and the other chefs to set about developing healthier versions of Indian classics, which rings true during the meal. The sauces are subtle, the flavours stronger and fruitier, the spices distinct and intense.
Not having been to India, I can’t comment on authenticity, but the result is certainly good quality, tasty and inventive and each of the five courses is well thought-out, with its own unique style.
I’m particularly interested by the kitchen dynamic – do too many chefs spoil the broth? How does it work with a kitchen full of people that are used to being in charge? John tells me that it’s all fluid – that the chefs take individual ownership of specific evenings or dishes, and that everyone else just slips into “sous mode” when they should.
And this is exactly what happened when I spent a bit of time in the kitchen on the Ginger Indian’s first night. Dynamism, no shouting, nobody getting in each other’s way, a Michelin-starred Leeds legend happily plating up in the corner of a room… it’s surreal to catch a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes, but also a real pleasure.
The plans from here are mostly Indian too. The Ginger Indian will return to Leeds as a three month pop-up in the city centre, in the hope that the revenue generated will help John send some of his staff to India on a mission to find the freshest spices, the most interesting cooking methods, and to make valuable contacts to bring back to the UK as they establish their new spice company – Karma Spices – as a profit share with small, local Indian producers.
Alongside this, there’s also a new lunch pop-up waiting in the wings – the Tuk Shop – a healthy eating lunchtime delivery service for the city centre, with a menu designed by a nutritionist and then executed by the group of chefs. The aim, John tells me, is to cook meals that provide all the 'nutrients that the human body needs to sustain itself for a day at work', but with a focus on quality and provenance. I’m told that this is due for "imminent launch", with the Ginger Indian kicking off in a few weeks.
The schedule seems pretty hectic; John Farrar’s got ideas and experience, but are there too many different focuses at once – too many projects in play? I’m not sure, but I have to say that having witnessed – and eaten – the food at the Ginger Indian pop-up, and having listened to John speak with so much excitement about his future projects, I’ll be one of the first to book a table at the restaurant when it opens. And given the culinary pedigree behind the food, I recommend that you do too.