Crispy Salmon with Crispy kale
Crispy Salmon with Crispy kale

Six months ago, when chef Paul Kinny of 212 All Good, introduced tender coconut pad Thai with crushed peanuts, tofu and bean sprouts, and cauliflower risotto with cashew-mushroom sauce, little did he know that it would soon become one of the most popular 'keto' items on the menu. "Frankly, we did not even label it as keto because we weren't expecting patrons to follow certain diets when they drop by at a restaurant," he says. The realisation dawned when customers began requesting for more diet compliant dishes. Now, Kinny has ensured that his waiters are well versed in the diet lexicon. "We have more dishes on the menu that fall into this category, because the restaurant is all about healthy eating. Moreover, seeing the rising demand for keto dishes in the past one year, we have trained our staff to make recommendations. So now, they can easily tell a keto from a paleo or a vegan," he says proudly.

Baked cheesecake with choco-almond crust at Food Darzee. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Baked cheesecake with choco-almond crust at Food Darzee. Pic/Nimesh Dave

The reason for the newly imparted lessons are not hard to guess. The ketogenic diet, which goes against conventional wisdom on healthy eating — here fat is good — is fast gaining popularity in the city. In fact, just last week, Meghnesh Narayan Salian, founder and chef of 3 Wise Monkeys, launched a new keto menu after being on the diet for two months. "I managed to knock off 10 kg in 50 days. And this, by eating fat-rich food," says Salian, who embarked on a diet to be in shape for his November wedding. The keto menu at the Khar outpost now boasts of a range of appetisers, main course and desserts. "There's grilled cucumber bruschetta, paneer tikka, broccoli and cheese fritters, chicken and cheese croquettes and seafood bruschetta. Since fatty food is tasty, the notion that healthy food is bland and boring, doesn't apply here," he says.

Cauliflower risotto at 212 All Good
Cauliflower risotto at 212 All Good

Fat is the way forward?
Keto is the new low carb and high fat diet to hit the active scene. Each day, keto followers have a cap on their daily carb intake, of not more than 20 to 40 gm. "It works on the mechanism that when the body is deprived of carbs, the primary source of energy, it will dig into the fat reserves and burn them. This results in the accumulation of byproducts known as ketones which can be flushed through the urine so long as the body receives enough fiber and water. For this, your calorie intake should be 80 to 90 percent fat, with the rest coming from protein and carbs," says Dr Siddhant Bhargava, co-founder of Food Darzee, a start-up that delivers ketogenic meals at your doorstep.

Tiramisu
Tiramisu

Started by four health enthusiasts Anirudh Ganeriwal, Devaj Jhunjhunwala, Anik Bhandari and Bhargava in June this year, the service is one of the first to tap into the growing market of those on the keto diet, which interestingly originated in the 1920s. Dr Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit medical practice and medical research group based in Rochester, Minnesota, developed it to treat epilepsy among children. The diet, however, fizzled out after the birth of anti-seizure medications in the 1940s. "But it's back with a bang because of its strong weight loss credentials, and is gaining momentum globally. During my last trip to the States, I met many who have adopted it as a lifestyle," says Siddhanth, son of nutritionist Shalini Bhargava. The 23-year-old was compelled to take to the diet after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease characterised by the production of unusual antibodies in the blood in early 2015. "I was on steroids for a year and half and had piled on 95 kg. That's when I came across keto." he says, adding that the idea of introducing keto meals was also to help people battling medical conditions. "It can tackle Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), an inactive thyroid and even diabetes," he says. According to Bhargava, it takes about six days for the body to understand the transformation that's taking place. "At the time, your body kind of pauses and says, 'Okay, I don't have any sugar. What am I supposed to head to? Once it starts tapping into the fat reserves, the benefits become evident, including significant weight loss and insulin resistance," he says.

The vegetarian keto fried rice at Khar's 3 Wise Monkeys. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
The vegetarian keto fried rice at Khar's 3 Wise Monkeys. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

At the Food Darzee's Santacruz kitchen, everything that is cooked is first lab tested and measured to the T. "You have to be absolutely precise in your intake of carbs, proteins and fats. For instance, 50 gm of paneer cannot be 60 gm, which is why many keto followers prefer to cook their food at home," says co-founder Aniruddh Ganeriwal.

Mutton hyderabadi biryani
Mutton hyderabadi biryani

In fact, it's for this reason that Salian of 3Wise Monkeys introduced the keto menu at the restaurant. "It's a strict diet, where you have to follow the rules. And, if a restaurant is willing to go that extra mile to provide it, I feel there will be takers," says Salian.

However, what makes the job challenging is the restrictions on ingredients. As part of the diet, no sugar, honey, jaggery or anything that is sweet or starchy can be used. Neither does it accommodate roti, rice or breads. "Here, low-carb veggies make great substitutes for higher-carb foods. So, we use cauliflower to mimic rice or mashed potatoes and noodles are created from zucchini," he says. Salian feels the diet is tailored more for non-vegetarians because meat, seafood and poultry are considered staple foods on a ketogenic diet.

Choco Milkshake
Choco Milkshake

But, that's where the ability of a chef to make the food tasty come into the picture. "There's only so much paneer and cheese that a vegetarian can have. So, we have tried to add a lot more leafy vegetables to the diet and work around the ingredients to bring in innovation," says Ganeriwal, who now has tandoori stuffed mushrooms, pav bhaji and eggplant pizza for vegetarians. While initially there were a lot more continental items on the menu, the owners realised the Indian dishes were moving faster.

The subscriptions here are restricted to three-months. "We don't encourage more than that because people here aren't ready to adopt it as a lifestyle, unless you are prepared to eat no grains, bread, cereals, starchy vegetables or sugars for long periods of time," he adds.

Chef Clyde Comello prepares crispy salmon with crispy kale at Theory, Kamala Mills. Pic/Tanvi Phondekar
Chef Clyde Comello prepares crispy salmon with crispy kale at Theory, Kamala Mills. Pic/Tanvi Phondekar

Testing waters
Like the men behind Food Darzee, many chefs in the city are still testing the waters before taking the plunge. Chef Clyde Comello of Lower Parel's Theory introduced a keto pop-up menu last weekend. "The response has been phenomenal, but I'm not yet prepared to put it on the menu, because the food is restricted, and I don't want them to get bored seeing the same dishes. Moreover, it's a diet that's usually restricted to a few months, so the sustainability is a concern," he says. However, Comello says he's open to the idea of keto items off the menu if people approach him for it.

(From left) Siddhant Bhargava, Anirudh Ganeriwal, Devaj Jhunjhunwala and Anik Bhandari
(From left) Siddhant Bhargava, Anirudh Ganeriwal, Devaj Jhunjhunwala and Anik Bhandari

Independent food consultant, Nachiket Shetye, however welcomes the trend. "For people who are on keto, it's always a challenge to dine at restaurants, so chefs providing keto dishes is a great move. But you have to be sure that all the elements used are keto friendly," he says.

Meghnesh Salian
Meghnesh Salian

While chefs and keto practitioners might hail the trend, nutritionists offer a word of caution. "When your body is in a state of ketosis, your carb levels are as low as 20 gm, which in nutrition ethics, is an imbalanced state. You need 100 gm per day to prevent ketosis — the build-up of ketones in the body which results in ketoacidosis, a medical emergency. I'd recommend a keto only as a push at the end of your weight loss plan, but not as a lifestyle," says Mumbai-based nutritionist Karishma Chawla of of Eat Rite 24x7. According to her, the diet also cannot be recommended to diabetic patients because the chances of the person entering into a hypoglycemia mode (when blood glucose levels fall below 4 mm) are high. While she concurs that weight loss happens seamlessly on some individuals, it's important to phase out slowly.