The Flavours Of Good Health

This first thing you notice about Thailand-based Chef Jamie Raftery (The Holistic Chef) is just how happy he is. The importance of food and nutrition is pivotal in yoga and any spiritual practice and a vegetarian diet is always recommended. It brings a certain lightness to the body and this lightness of being is evident in all of Jamie’s words and actions. His compassion for animals inspired this Michelin-level chef to change his eating and cooking to a plant-based diet and this transformation of diet led to an inner transformation and even changed his life. Read on to find out more…

Sophia: It’s remarkable how your ethos about food changed after you lived in Thailand and went from a non-vegetarian diet to one that’s plant-based. Tell us about what shifted inside you?

Chef Jamie: It was a shift of consciousness that I was not expecting! I started to see food and feel its effects in a different way. We get energy from the food we consume. Eating animals (and their by-products) that have lived a life of suffering is going to have a certain effect on our gut microbiome and physical mental energy. Eating a diet of predominantly unprocessed wholefoods is going to have a completely different impact on our physical and mental health. It’s hard to describe the feeling and shift of consciousness, but once you feel it, it’s hard to go back to eating animals. We get pleasure and sustenance from food everyday. I could not honestly enjoy or take pleasure in eating if I knew that the animal I was eating was subjected to such suffering and then there is the environmental impact.

Sophia: You spoke about how your understanding of flavour moved from presentation and flavour  to nutrition and holistic. Tell us about that?

Chef Jamie: I worked in Michelin star restaurants for most of my career. Guests dining in such restaurants have high expectations and it’s a very competitive industry where you’re only as good as the last meal you served. Presentation and flavour are of course a priority and so much emphasis is placed on these ‘desire fulfillers.’ Health and nutrition was never really a pillar or core focus in Michelin star ‘special occasion’ restaurants where 20-course menus, wine flights, foie gras, caviar, wagyu, truffles and all the so-called luxury ingredients were shown off. 

After over a decade cooking in Michelin star restaurants, I started to question ‘why I’m cooking what I’m cooking’ ‘What is the point of it all?!’

I had my own physical and mental health issues after a burn-out from over working. I healed myself through eating healthy whole foods and regular exercise. Throughout this rehabilitation time my core values and perspective around food and what I cooked started to evolve to placing ‘nutrition & health’ as my core holistic pillar.

Sophia: In spiritual practices, a vegetarian diet is recommended as food affects our gross and subtle bodies? Did you feel a change in your mental and emotional personality when you adopted a plant-based diet?

Chef Jamie: Absolutely! As I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to explain the feeling. It’s life changing and life enhancing. 

Sophia: With globalisation, food is no longer a restricted commodity. For example, we can now get grains like quinoa all the way in India and similarly, food that was indigenous to a region is no longer restricted to that region. What do you think of this in terms of seasonality and freshness of food?

Chef Jamie: Like everything, there are pros and cons to this! Of course, you cannot beat fresh, local and seasonal produce. I always champion this way of cooking and eating. It supports your local grower, it’s fresher, it’s more cost-effective, air miles are reduced and eating the foods that are grown in your region will provide you with specific nutrients your body needs at that time of year.

When it comes to dried foods such as grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, and spices these foods have been traded internationally as far back as history has recorded. The main reason the Spanish, British, Portuguese and many other nations sailed to foreign lands was for their foods and natural resources. 

The problem with this food globalisation is the unfair distribution and food waste. 

On one hand; the Teff farmer in Ethiopia or rice farmer in Thailand who grows food for export has a livelihood to sustain their family but are they getting a fair price for their hard labour? Absolutely not. For the most part, it’s the corporate co-op’s who buy the crops from the farmers at a very low price and then export at a premium price. These middle men are making big margins from exporting foods, while many people in these countries are starving. 

Having Thai jasmine rice or Ethiopian Teff available around the world is a great luxury, but we need to provide the growers and their surrounding communities a fair price and also make sure these countries have enough food for their own people before exporting it to the West who actually waste so much food and overeat to the point of obesity. 

I believe the people who grow, nurture, harvest and prepare our food have to be given more respect and a fair price for their labour of love that sustains us as a species. The knowledge of growing food is a gift that has been passed down through generations. Each region in the world has different challenges and opportunities for growing food. This knowledge is becoming lost as small farmers and growers go out of business in place of big-agriculture mono-crop industries that are decimating the soil and indigenous heirloom crops. 

The global food system needs a major reform. It’s not an easy solution. According to UN reports 735 million people do not have enough food to eat everyday.

We can all play a part by making more conscious decisions on what to buy and what to eat. By just eating enough, not too much and not wasting food. We vote with our forks and knives everyday! 

Sophia: Who are some of your culinary inspirations?

Chef Jamie: Rasmus Kofoed - Geranium, Copenhagen

Daniel Humm - Eleven Madison Park, NYC

Both are masters of their culinary art, inspiring a generation of chefs and doing monumental work supporting local growers. I had the good fortune to work as an intern in both of these chefs' kitchens. 

Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay and Michael Caines were my inspiring culinary mentors throughout my career to-date

Sophia: Your favourite cook books?

Chef Jamie: The French Laundry cookbook. The most influential of my early career. I cannot keep up with the volume of cookbooks released! There are so many great cook books out there! I like to find recipes online and follow recipe bloggers or buy e-books. 

Sophia: What would be your advice to people who want to pursue a career in plant-based cooking and nutrition?

Chef Jamie: Go for it. 

  • Learn something new everyday.
  • Make connections and collaborate. 
  • Try new things. 
  • Explore new cultures.
  • Travel.
  • Have fun.
  • Think outside the box. 
  • Make mistakes.
  • Practise what you preach (but don't preach!)
  • Lead by example.
  • Be creative and build a business that is win-win-win. Good for you, good for the environment, good for the health of those who eat your food. 
  • Pace yourself.
  • Have patience.
  • Invest in yourself you are the priority. The better you take care of yourself, the better you can inspire and look after others.
  • Enjoy the journey


For further information visit The Holistic Chef

Ancient Science, Modern Applications

Dr U. Indulal’s initiation into Ayurveda wasn’t because of the science itself, but rather because of where and how he got to learn it. When he was studying in standard seven, he read an article in a Malayalam daily about a unique Ayurveda college and curriculum, and the Gurukula was situated near the forests and foothills of the Western Ghats. He calls his decision to study there, “the best and only mature decision I took,” and after school, he attended the Coimbatore Ayurveda College, run by Dr P R Krishna Kumar and The Arya Vaidya Pharmacy (Coimbatore) Ltd, to study Ayurveda for seven-and-a-half years including two years of Pre-Ayurveda (instead of Pre-degree). He then worked for The Arya Vaidya Pharmacy (AVP) for 25 years and at present, he is the Chief Editor of Abhinava Dhanvantari, a journal of Ayurveda published by PNNM Ayurveda College, Shoranur, Kerala; he is the Executive Director – Operations, Akami Ayurveda Hospital & Research Center, Kerala; and he is also the Dean, Academics of Swiss Med School, Geneva, Switzerland. In conversation with the Center for Ayurveda Studies…

Sophia: Tell us how your journey to Ayurveda and spiritual practices began?

Dr Indulal: The journey with Ayurveda started early in life not because I had an Ayurveda tradition to follow. In 1983, I read an article in a Malayalam daily about a unique Ayurveda college and curriculum. I was a student of 7th standard. Though I never dreamt of a medical profession, especially as an Ayurveda vaidya, the situation in life at that time made me feel strongly that this place and course are meant for me. It was not the science as such that interested me. It was the place, near the forests and foothills of the Western Ghats and the Gurukula lifestyle mentioned in the article that attracted me. I am happy that the major and perhaps the only mature decision I took in life was at the age of 14. Then the ‘universe conspired!’  I got admission after my 10th standard in Coimbatore Ayurveda College, run by Dr PR Krishna Kumar and The Arya Vaidya Pharmacy (Coimbatore) Ltd, to study Ayurveda for seven-and-a-half years including two years of Pre-Ayurveda (instead of Pre-degree). The education, accommodation and food were provided totally free for all of us by that great man and that great institution. The formal journey with Ayurveda started on 4th August 1985. I started liking Ayurveda then on.

The spiritual practices started as part of our life in the college campus at Patanjalipuri, 25 km away from Coimbatore city. Daily yoga and chanting and regular satsangs and spiritual discourses were part of our curriculum. These routines lead most of us to deeper learning and seeking later in life. Currently, I am undergoing a five-year course on the spiritual heritage of our nation. 

Sophia: Ayurveda is an ancient science but like most Indian knowledge systems, its applications are universal and not limited by time. How can this ancient science be useful for modern lives?

Dr Indulal: This is possible because of the universality of its foundational principles. It is its ability to look from the perspective of constitutional elements of anything, anywhere and anytime. These foundational principles are absolute and permanent, and have a universal application. It transcends space and time. But their applications are relative, impermanent and having only a regional relevance. They are limited to space and time. A Vaidya assesses anyone, or any health problem using the fundamental principles and offers solutions such as diet, lifestyle, medicine or treatment, by translating the knowledge of application in a way suitable to that place and time. It is these universal fundamentals and their adaptable applications that make Ayurveda a living medical tradition even now. The Vaidya preserves the fundamentals as it is and evolves strategies, based on the fundamentals, to improvise application as suitable to any new place and time. Ayurveda is presented by the vaidya, as Charakasamhita says, as puraanam (ancient) and punarnavam (contemporary and constantly renewed). In the process, it can effectively integrate even the latest technological developments like AI, without compromising on its fundamentals.  

The purpose of this sastra is to provide relief to the suffering and make them experience completeness in life. The impact of suffering now is the same as in the past. The body and mind, the bases of health and ill-health, are the same, in structure, behaviour, etc, as in the past. Ayurveda has the tools to understand all other factors, the variables specific to an individual in a particular place at a particular time, like diet, activities, place, season, age, environment, emotions, culture and everything related to human health and ill-health and can help with an intervention to help maintain health or regain health when it is lost. This is possible wherever you are. 

 Sophia: What is one of the biggest health concerns of modern times that Ayurveda can solve and how?

Dr Indulal: I would say non-communicable diseases, popularly known as lifestyle disorders. They include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, cancer, etc and are the leading causes of death. In India, they account for nearly two-thirds of all deaths and a majority of these deaths are premature and avoidable. Ayurveda easily understands this threat, as according to it all diseases are linked to a faulty lifestyle in one way or the other.  It has a system to find the predispositions to these types of diseases by understanding the individual constitution (called as prakriti), family history and the status of health at the time of assessment and then relating all these with the individual’s lifestyle. Ayurveda can provide customised diet and lifestyle to get rid of any disease vulnerabilities and thus prevent their manifestation. It is a unique and effective medical preemptive attack.  It can also help restore or improve the metabolic functions that pose a threat when dysfunctional.

Ayurveda can also be used in many stages of the manifested disease as a standalone care or as an add-on therapy or after the aggressive course of western medicine as needed in conditions like cancer. 

Sophia: With yoga becoming a global phenomenon, one of the issues is that the physical practice has gained prominence while many of its subtle aspects are lost. In fact, many yoga practitioners do not even follow Ayurveda. Please elaborate on the importance of how the two are interconnected and complement each other?

Dr Indulal: Ayurveda considers provision of “moksha’ to the follower as one of its purposes. But except for a few references the texts do not speak much about it. It is by studying the allied sastras, like yoga, the knowledge and role of a Vaidya become complete. Yoga philosophy is what constitutes the philosophical foundation of Ayurveda, along with other systems like Nyaya, Vaiseshika and Samkhya. Thus, they are interconnected and complementary to each other. Ayurveda can help a yoga practitioner. Yoga can help an Ayurveda practitioner. Our teacher used to say that yoga begins where Ayurveda ends. This is because the health imparted by Ayurveda is to be used to get initiated into yoga that helps to progress spiritually in life. If we are to imagine nine limbs of yoga instead of the current eight, the first would become Ayurveda. The problem is when yoga is understood only as a physical exercise, something that serves by itself. 

Sophia: Most people associate Ayurveda with just dietary changes but it is also a lifestyle. Please elaborate on how even a house-holder can incorporate Ayurvedic principles in daily life.

Dr Indulal: The first chapter of Ashtangahridaya is titled ‘Ayushkaameeyam’, which means “for those who desire life”. As per the Sanskrit textual tradition, the name of the first chapter also represents the entire science. So, anyone desiring or loving life can rely on Ayurveda for guidance. It is all about understanding the self and developing a healthy lifestyle suitable for the self. Ayurveda is about having a suitable ahara (diet) and vihara (activities) today and to change it in a suitable manner tomorrow, when the season changes and as one ages. But the fundamental requirement is to be responsible about one’s health. Most of the time this responsibility is surrendered to medicines or doctors. When a person, at any stage of life, decides to take up that responsibility there is no other system as helpful as Ayurveda. It helps not by giving medicine or supplement, but by helping you to observe and understand your body-mind complex, to be receptive even to the subtle signals it sends, to design a suitable diet and lifestyle suitable to you, to wean off what is not suitable and add gradually what is suitable, to notice the changes happening to you and your environs and to adapt the lifestyle accordingly. Ayurveda helps one to have a healthy body and mind, which is in harmony with the family, society and nature. 

Sophia: What are some of your favourite books on Ayurveda/spirituality?

Dr Indulal: The favourite Ayurveda books are the samhitas, like any Ayurveda student. I am studying Manusmriti, Narada Bhakti Sutra and Tattvabodha now, as part of the course I am currently pursuing. 

Sophia: How can living an Ayurvedic lifestyle contribute to spiritual progress and inner personality development?

Dr Indulal: A famous quote (got it from a book ‘The Word as Power’, authored by Sir John Woodroffe. Not sure about the original reference) is like this – “apurnam manyathaa vyaadhim kaarpanyaika nidaana bhoo:” i.e. the sense of incompleteness is a disease and the sole source of every misery. The scope of real progression is for that intelligent person who becomes aware of this incompleteness and is motivated to pursue a path towards completeness. Such an individual actualizes completeness in this life or in an immediately next one. The scope of progression is limited in an individual who is complacent and is unaware of the incompleteness. Such an individual will have to live many lives to become aware and actualise completeness. We may interpret this completeness as the purushartha or the aim of human existence. Charakasamhita says thus: “Health is the most important tool to attain dharma-artha-kaama and moksha (the four purusharthas) and disease is that which steals that possibility, excellence of life and life as such”.  Ashtangahridaya says thus: “Be compliant to the teachings of Ayurveda with utmost attention by those who desire life that is meant for the fulfilment of dharma, Artha and sukha”. When we read these two quotes, we understand how Ayurveda contributes to the spiritual progress and personality development of an individual. We maintain or regain health with the help of Ayurveda and that makes the mind-body complex suitable for material and spiritual pursuits in a righteous manner. It is said that even the study of Ayurveda can bring a psycho-spiritual transformation in the student. 

Sophia: What would be your advice to young students and practitioners who want to pursue a career in Ayurveda?

Dr Indulal: There is a fourfold growth in the number of Ayurveda colleges in the country in the past 30 years or so. That means, in a way, the “market is flooded”. However, the irony is that there is still a great demand for an excellent Vaidya, anywhere in the world! So, if you want to pursue Ayurveda, keep in mind that there is no scope for anyone other than the excellent.  Excel in studies. Excel in knowledge translation. Nothing less than excellence. Even Ayurveda, especially in our times, needs that excellence capable of actualising its healing potential in a manner that is classical and contemporary.