The Ayurvedic Chef
"Food is our medicine, and with proper diet, medicine is unnecessay"
Food Cart, Pune, India 2012
As a young boy helping my mother in the kitchen, I was fascinated by the preparation of our family’s food. I had no idea at the time that I was embarking on a lifelong exploration.
In the past, cooking was a labor of love. It took time to prepare meals from fresh ingredients, in season and in one’s geographical area. Eating was slower – a more family or social event. There were no preservatives, fillers, extenders or manipulation of the flavors of our food.
During the great world wars, scarcity and disruption of home life gave rise to the invention of dried, powdered, frozen, canned foods and the advent of preservatives.
Faster-paced lifestyles led people to seek out the convenience of fast food, drive thru restuarants and take out meals. Lost in the new paradigm was a sense of one's own nutrition and true enjoyment of food.
Fortunately, the more recent past has seen a greater interest in the importance of healthy eating. Increased availability of local, organic, unprocessed food, along with the prevalence of farmers’ markets, has raised awareness of proper nutrition and preparation of our own food.
When I was sixteen, I got my first job working at a gourmet food, cheese and wine store. I spent the next ten years in the wine industry, until I decided to enroll in the Cordon Bleu in San Francisco. During my two-year training in culinary school I worked as an apprentice with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California and then was off to France. In Paris I was a student at Lenorte pastry academy and then apprenticed for a year in two restaurants in France. I returned to California in 1994 and worked my way up in many fine dinning establishments before becoming the Executive Chef in my own restaurant, a hotel, movie studio and Hollywood events company.
Fortunately, none of these ventures required me to become involved with institutional-type food service. I have always focused on local, seasonal, organic food products that promoted good nutrition and health. But, even though I had trained and worked extensively in the culinary industry, I was intrigued and delighted to learn about Ayurveda, a medical system based on the energies which surround each of us and the integral role played by food, spices and herbs in our individual well-being.
According to Ayurveda, creation expresses itself through the five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. These manifest in our bodies as governing principles called doshas. There are three dominant doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each of us has aspects of all three, although one is more dominant. When in balance, the doshas promote normal function of the body and maintain overall good health. When out of balance, they create mental, emotional and physical ailments.
Ayurvedic nutritional approach begins with a determination of one’s basic constitution (prakriti) and prescribes correct food choices, combinations of foods and preparation methods. All food, drinks, spices and herbs are categorized according to their taste: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent or astringent and to the energetic affect these have on the various doshas. Knowing one’s own constitution helps one understand the effects of the diet in bringing proper balance to the doshas.
Many of the culinary spices used in Ayurvedic cooking are also used in Ayurvedic herbology to enhance digestion, absorption and assimilation of foods. Spices also provide a harmonious blend of the six tastes, all of which should be present in a balanced meal.
The Six Tastes