The Tastes and Sounds of Ayurveda
Can you describe Ayurveda and how it influences your food?
NK I was trained in French culinary arts in Montreal and when I had my restaurant, I was trying to recreate French cooking in India, with ingredients I was used to. I had this resistance, not on purpose, but because I think we try to recreate what we are taught because we see that as being perfect. I learned that Ayurveda was always a part of the story from the beginning, but I didn’t realize it would become integrated with food. So once I realized that, I fell in love with ingredients that were around me. Seasonality and locality came much more as an experiential thing, rather than an ethics. When I was starting to incorporate all these odd ingredients with the technique I’d been taught, which is very classic, I was also satisfying a palate and imagination which is individual. I could tell my own story with it. Similar to when you’re writing, you’re using a lot of inspiration and styles from other writers, and on a more basic level you’re using grammar and tools you learn. I’m using Ayurveda like building blocks. And adding French cooking techniques to those building blocks.
But you wouldn’t necessarily describe your cuisine as French or Indian.
NK We are citizens of the world, it’s not like you have to say I only do this type of cuisine. I couldn’t put a name on my cuisine, because we’re so integrated and exposed to everything. It’s more about the imagination and personal experience. I think most nouveau-cuisine restaurants are like that. It’s more chef driven, and imagination driven. It’s hard to put it into a box, I feel like I’d be taking away from it if I try to label it. I’m figuring it out, and it changes everyday. I couldn’t set it in stone at the moment, but I would say it’s a journey in Ayurveda for sure.
It was a very unique dining experience, because it caused you to be very present. Often people eat just to sustain themselves, but having the live music, which I found to be influential on the food, altered the experience of what and where I was eating. What was your approach to the music?
MH The dinner was divided into 6 parts, representing the 6 tastes described in Ayurveda: bitter, sour, salty, sweet, pungent, and astringent. I wanted to create a little piece of music, almost like a snack, before each dish that would somehow be related to the taste. Each taste primarily consists of two elements. The elements being: air, ether, fire, water, and earth. Of course, this is a bit abstract, especially when you’re translating it into music. I would have a sound representing the different elements, meaning each taste would have two sounds. It was my own translation, so there was nothing necessarily scientific about it, but there was something systematic about it. I just used intuition to create that translation from taste to sound. I was about the idea that you could open your consciousness for that taste, and for those elements to enter your body. And then, again, thinking about creative ways to translate more literally, we assigned colors to the elements. So there were 6 different colored lights. It was an intuitive and creative translation while trying to be literal. Nobody can tell you it’s wrong or right. We just found it fun for our own process and hopefully for the audience to feel as if there was a system to the madness.
NK Just to add to what he was saying, it is an abstraction, but in Ayurveda, everything is really one. The dimension of music, taste, sound, color, love, experiences. I called my cookbook Ojas, which is the finest byproduct of digestion. And you’re not only digesting food, that’s a very literal sense of it. In your solar plexus, your emotions are at the top of the list of what you’re digesting. This matrix that he described was the base structure, from which we were able to create a communication between me and him. While I was plating, the whole time it felt as if I were in communication with him. And then putting food out, I wanted the audience, to share that. Them eating the food, was almost like replies.
I know you studied engineering. How did you transition to cooking?
NK I was a logistics analyst and was traveling and training people on stuff like RFIDs, super nerdy. Without getting into too much detail I came back from an 80 hour week in San Francisco, and was totally spent, but decided to go directly back to work because I wanted to finish up everything I had to do. And it was expected of me too. I went to the cafeteria, a grapeseed oil bottle fell, long story short I was practically handicapped for 8 months. That really changed my perspective because I honestly felt I was invincible. We all do.
I had gotten into Ayurveda when I was 10. That was my Harry Potter. I wanted to be a yogi. And that never switched off. So after that happened, I didn’t want to take painkillers, or any of that stuff. So that pain and gruesome experience of rehabilitating myself changed something within me for the better. It was a blessing in a very intense disguise. I decided after that, I don’t want to go back to the world of engineering. I loved the science, but I wanted to do something creative. Cooking is more vocational and physical, but it brought out my creativity more and more.
I feel like all creative people have, to some extent, a sort of system or logic that is the basis for their creativity, so I’m sure the engineering background helped with that.
NK It’s such a strong foundation to be creative from. If everything is chaos, including the foundation, then the creativity has nothing to stand on.
MH It’s almost the only way to get anything done. Otherwise it’s just good ideas. Everyone has good ideas, it’s not that hard. It’s about having a driver or vehicle to turn it into something. I think that’s the hard part.
What was the purpose of the white suits?
NK We can make statements with something so small. The suits were to say on a happier level, we’re all stars and we’re connected together like a constellation. We’re all the same. We’re all here, we’re all a blank slate, we’re all working together. I didn’t want to distinguish that I’m the chef, he’s that… everyone has to be there for the experience to happen. Doing this, especially with your partner, and all your most loved people in the room, we created our own universe.