Travel

Interview with Raul Garcia Crespo, the ayurvedic chef

Chef Raul Garcia Crespo explains the inspiration behind his ayurvedic food — from travelling the world to his family farm in Andalusia Monday, 28 January 2019

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)

When did you get into in ayurvedic cooking?
From a young age, I'd work on our family farm in Andalusia, growing fresh fruit and vegetables. After finishing my degree, I went travelling around India. In the south, I fell in love with cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. Spices like cumin, coriander and turmeric were a complete revelation for me. A year later, I started working as a chef at an Indian restaurant in Bristol, and then trained in ayurvedic cooking for self-healing in Mysore. From there, I spent several winters cooking in a cafe run by an Indian family, and became very familiar with the way southern Indians use spices.

What is ayurvedic food?
It's more than just what we eat, it's also how and when we eat. It aims to boost our health, prevent disease and make us feel alive. The quality of the ingredients is important, and so is eating slowly and mindfully. A good ayurvedic diet should include six tastes — sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. It's about allowing enough time to digest our food properly, not rushing to do things after and leaving enough time between meals.

What are the main benefits?
Ayurveda is a holistic medicine meaning 'the science of life'. We're considered to be one of three constitutional types known as dosha: vata (space and air), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (earth and water). When our dosha is balanced, we feel good. Common conditions such as anxiety, irritability and poor digestion can occur when our dosha is out of balance. Ayurveda believes plants in our diet have a strong influence on our mental and physical wellbeing.

Favourite ayurvedic dishes?
Kitcherie, mixed vegetable subji, jeera rice, aloo gobi, dhal, mung beans salad and mixed roast vegetables with Indian spices. I also love making golden milk — with almond milk, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, turmeric and fennel seeds. It's the ideal comfort drink.

What's your cooking style?
I like incorporating ayurvedic food with dishes from the Mediterranean. I blend in asafoetida, cumin, ginger, mustard seeds, turmeric with black pepper (to help the absorption of turmeric) and a bit of chilli. When I cook grains, stews and lentils or chickpeas/beans, it helps with the digestion and also with the absorption of the nutrients.

What's your hero ingredient?
I love ginger, turmeric and cumin, and use them almost everyday. Ginger helps with digestion, sickness, and keeps your body warm during winter. Turmeric is great for its anti-inflammatory properties, purifying blood and reducing gas. It's also good for the liver and acts as an antiseptic. When I cut myself in the kitchen, I wash the cut with water and apply turmeric to stop the bleeding. Lastly, nothing helps the digestive system more than cumin.

Follow Raul on Instagram.

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