Is there a more loving – and beloved – farmers’ market stall-holder than Tusta Das?
I first met the chef and owner of Heart & Halo back when he opened his restaurant in Byron Bay some 18 years ago, interviewing him for a story in this newspaper. Here we are again, a little older, the restaurant no longer (‘the parking meters really affected us’, Tusta says), as a steady stream of fans stop by to either purchase one of his frozen meals or to merely chat.
It’s a simple stall with six menu offerings – all vegetarian – mostly lentils, butcher paper to enclose the containers, recipes learned by Tusta during the years he spent in India. As a wild youth he had travelled there, experienced a sort of epiphany, became a Hare Krishna, cooked alongside women in their homes and in ashrams. ‘I realised,’ he tells me, ‘that this is what I was looking for.’
Everyone is charmed by Tusta, including two sisters with matching smiles. ‘You’re a real-life Krishna’, one of them tells him. ‘I’m a free-wheeling Krishna’, he jokes. What he loves most about the farmers’ markets is the social interaction, the sense of family community, the love. His food is an expression of that love and it’s Ayurvedic, meaning that nothing is processed ‘apart from a little bit of sunflower oil.’ Here’s a man requesting three serves of the Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna (‘the kids will only eat this lasagna!’ he tells Tusta). To another customer he extols the virtues of lentils: ‘they’re good for the mind and emotions as well as the gut… the answers to the world’s problems are lentils and beans!’
I come away with that famous lasagna as well as the Indian Mixed Lentil Dhal, for my lentil-loving partner – who later praises it lavishly.
Heart & Halo is at Mullumbimby Farmers Market on Fridays from 7 to 11am.