Executive Chef Hari Govindaraj takes us on a tour of his secret organic garden at Gili Lankanfushi

Wherever he goes, Hari Govindaraj sees recipes. Today as he’s walking among the troughs of his organic garden at Gili Lankanfushi, the exuberant Executive Chef whose energy is infectious says that a couple of hundred recipes come to mind. As he wanders among the wooden tubs of plump tomatoes, trays of pandan leaves standing to attention and banana leaves swaying in the wind, he plucks the fennel flowers for me to smell and taste, giving my palate a hit of aniseed.
Always keen to learn, the Indian chef has spent time with renowned Michelin-star chefs Raymond Blanc and Pierre Gagnaire. It was Blanc who introduced Govindaraj to ingenuity of the herb verbena. As Govindaraj places the verbena leaves into the palm of my hand he asks me to taste it and look out for the sensation of lemon grass, carrot and then ginger. Govindaraj sees the garden as his playground. But this Willy Wonka of vegan recipes admits from the start that he is also a meat eater. However, when a guest who told him that she had become vegan and just asked for a salad, Govindaraj was determined to do better than that.

It set him on an exploration of food – looking for vegetables that could replace the texture of the animal proteins in the dishes that he loved. In Govindaraj’s hands aubergine became sirloin steak, daikon radish became vegan scallops and aloe vera turned into a refreshing ceviche recipe.
Govindaraj’s dishes are so successful that guests will often text him to check that he will be on the island and not on holiday during they stay. To make the vegan experience at Gili Lankanfushi even more special he will cook and serve the dishes to the guests within the organic garden. Guests can dine at a picnic table in the centre of the organic garden or among the treetops at the 360 private dining room, which is set at the edge of the garden and offers views of the sea.
The garden is the heart of the restaurant believes Govindaraj. With a farm-to-fork philosophy, the chef was determined to grow vegetables on their own tropical isle. However, the alkaline coral sand, combined with the long hours of harsh sunlight and monsoon rain created a challenge for the team. “We are constantly looking for the kind of vegetables and herbs that can grow in these conditions,” said Govindaraj.

But, this doesn’t stop them from experimenting. “We knew that the weather condition in Maldives is not favourable for growing strawberries, yet did manage to grow some,” he said.
As the garden is based at the centre of an eco-friendly retreat, it was important for the chef to create an organic garden. Potential pests are kept at bay with rice water from the kitchen’s cooking pots and compost is created from vegetable cuttings, banana leaf water as fertiliser and broken down with the help of hermit crabs, who seem to view it as their own personal buffet.
Govindaraj’s next project is to grow edible flowers and to also create natural food colourings from the plants themselves. “We just need to discover the natural gifts of these plants. Some flowers give beautiful variation of colours, while others provide a rich unique flavour to enhance the dish which we create. Every part of the plant is good for something, we just have to discover it,” said Govindaraj.

No-Bake Vegan Cake

Marzipan (three layers):
250g almond powder
100ml coconut milk
100g fresh grated coconut
Filling: (two layers)
1 mango, finely chopped
1 avocado, finely mashed
75g fresh grated coconut
Raw Ganache
25g cocoa powder
50ml coconut milk
1 tbsp honey
25g fresh grated coconut
Basil or mint leaves

Mix the marzipan ingredients together and divide the dough into three. Roll each into 2mm thick pieces. Place the marzipan at the base of a cake cutter. Add individual layers of mango, avocado and coconut. Place another layer of marzipan and the fillings. Finish with the final layer of marzipan. Now remove the cutter. Make the raw ganache by mixing the cocoa powder, coconut milk and honey in the bowl. Now glaze with the ganache. Garnish with coconut, mango, strawberry and basil or mint. Store in the fridge until you want to serve to guests.

Pan-seared Vegan Scallop

Vegan scallop
250g white radish, boil and dice into scallop-sized chunks
Raw cauliflower couscous
75g grated cauliflower
15g tomato, deseeded and finely diced
10g chopped parsley
10ml extra virgin olive oil
Lime juice
Pumpkin puree
100g roasted pumpkin
50ml coconut milk
10ml olive oil
Coconut Curry sauce
25ml vegetable oil
50g crushed garlic & ginger
1 medium onion sliced
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp cumin powder
150ml coconut milk
1 fresh tomato
25g curry leaves
½ tsp mustard seeds
2 cloves
Green cardamoms
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tbsp coriander seed
1 cinnamon stick
Fresh coriander root
Salt to taste

Mix the couscous ingredients together. Then in blend the puree ingredients. Sear the boiled radish in a frying pan until golden brown. Then to make the curry sauce, heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Crush mustard seed, cumin seed, coriander seed, fennel seed, cardamom, cinnamon stick, curry, rambha leaves, crusted ginger and garlic then add and onion, tomato, curry powder. Sauté over medium heat for few minutes. Mix coconut milk, simmer for 5 minutes. Strain and adjust the seasoning. Use hand blender to create foam. Place hot pumpkin puree on a serving plate, add the radish, cold couscous, and curry foam.

The Lightfoot Team will help you craft your perfect Maldivian experience. If you want to take a trip to the eco-chic isle of Gili Lankanfushi enquire now!

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