3,000-year-old way to eat
The Ayurvedic philosophy comes to Legal Sea Foods'
spices are intoxicating, the flavors seductive, but that's not really the point.
Or at least not the whole point..
the next few weeks, Legal Sea Foods is exploring the very personal
connections between certain spices and ingredients and good health in mind and
philosophy is Ayurvedic science, a 3,000-year-old set of beliefs designed to
balance mind, body, and soul. In Ayurvedic practice, each individual has one of
three ''doshas,'' and certain foods and spices are prescribed to keep energy up
and balanced. Special menus at all 26 Legals - from Boston to Florida -
include South Indian dishes such as shrimp and scallop tanjore in a spicy sauce
designed to aid digestion; fish roasted in banana leaves that has been marinated
in dill to lower cholesterol, and Mysore seafood rasam, a hot and sour soup with
tomatoes, shrimp, and cod. The lentils in the soup are supposed to enhance
stamina. One of the desserts is cardamom rice pudding; the spice cleanses the
mouth and is thought to refresh the mind.
in these dishes was not a simple matter of devising recipes and typing up
a menu. In a project more than a year in the planning, cookbook author and Salem
resident Nina Simonds flew to India, met with U. K. Krishna, an Ayurvedic doctor
and authority at a clinic in Mysore, collaborated with chef Suresh Vaidyanathan
of the Bombay Oberoi Hotels, and consulted with organic spice farmers in Kerala.
months of e-mail conversations among Simonds, who has been living in London;
Vaidyanathan in India; and Legal's executive chef, Richard Vellante, in Boston,
the team arrived here about 10 days ago. In a whirlwind four days, the chefs
trained Vellante and the chefs from all the Legal properties up and down
the East Coast. After cooking, roasting spices, tasting, and discussing the
menu, it was rolled out first at receptions and then in the restaurants.
the first day, more people ordered from the Indian menu than from the regular
menu at the Park Plaza Legal, Simonds says.
Vellante, who's accustomed to thinking of serving 70,000 diners a week, the
Indian chefs' approach to cooking and eating was a revelation. ''It clearly is
very foreign,'' Vellante says. ''They're really like chemists'' in the way they
roast spices and then mix them together to create very specific flavors and
tells of eating with Vaidyanathan and chef Babu Raj Sajipa. ''We were having a
pickle that I, at first, didn't find very appealing. Then when the Indian chefs
mixed a very small amount with rice, I began to realize how the mixture should
taste and why the proportions were chosen.''
Ayurvedic methods are ''a very scientific approach to cooking,'' Vaidyanathan
says. ''You have to understand the chemistry of each spice and also understand
your own body.'' Different spices and foods match not only personality types but
ages, he says. Tailoring foods to each person is a way to promote good health.
that sounds a little too scientific, the combinations of spices and fresh
seafood make for wonderful flavors beyond the matching. At a reception this
week, a rice dish, or biryani, was studded with fat chunks of saffron-flavored
lobster, promoting digestion, yes, but also delicious. Shrimp and scallops had
been rubbed with ''chettindam,'' a 12-spice mixture, before being grilled
tandoori-style. And steamed asparagus, bathed with cardamom-scented butter,
probably did cleanse the breath and refresh the mind, as well as tasting great.
says that the Ayurvedic philosophy goes far beyond spices and preparing food.
''They approach their meals in a very regimented way,'' he says. The diner
should allow enough time to concentrate on the food. ''Everything must
stop. Americans rush, rush, but they don't set aside the time.'' It's not just a
matter of time, however. Simonds stresses that there's not only much
appreciation for food and the act of eating in the Ayurvedic philosophy, but
also joy in the flavors and beauty of it.
who advised the chefs on Ayurvedic properties, is both the chief consulting
physician of the Indus Valley Ayurvedic Center and the assistant director of the
Institute of Oriental Traditional Medicine in Toyko. Vaidyanathan has just
finished 10 months researching the dishes of Southern India, going to villages
to cook with elderly women. ''To learn the food of a region, you must know the
people,'' he says. He understands why people eat a certain way and how it
helps them maintain good health in a particular climate and location.
is putting together a reference work on his findings and teaches in the Oberoi
Centre for Learning and Development. Babu Raj Sajipa, who cooks at the Oberoi
Hotel in Bangalore, also trains chefs in South Indian cooking and has worked
with Vaidyanathan on the research project.
American venture didn't end with Boston. After presentations at the French
Culinary Institute in New York, at a Smithsonian Institute-sponsored event in
Washington, and food demonstrations in New York state and New Jersey, the Indian
chefs, Krishna, Vellante, and Simonds, along with Legal's Roger Berkowitz, will
cook at the company's Florida locations.
challenge of putting these menus into place in all the restaurants was immense,
Vellante says, but worth it as a way to understand another culture. It's the
most ambitious project that Legal has undertaken, Simonds says, and fits in with
Berkowitz's interest in alternative medicine. Simonds' next book, ''Moonbeams,
Dumplings and Dragonboats'' (Harcourt), which she co-authored with Children's
Museum official Leslie Swartz, will come out in the fall.
this approach, there's always more to explore. Vaidyanathan is looking into what
direction a diner should face for maximum benefit from the food.
a little like feng shui,'' he says, the Chinese system of arranging a room for
comfort and well-being. Maybe after three weeks of Southern Indian flavors and
health-giving spices, the staff will move all the chairs and tables around.