Passion of the Palate Opener
“I only serve food that I’ve tried out on my own body,” says Yashoda Naidoo, founder of Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café, which has locations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe as well as an affiliated school of Ayurvedic cooking. Naidoo, who’s of Indian ancestry but was born on a boat off the coast of South Africa, was an accountant for years. She never planned on starting a restaurant, but when she settled in Albuquerque, she couldn’t convince anyone to open what she thought New Mexico needed: the state’s first vegan and organic restaurant based on Ayurvedic principles. So in 2002, she did it herself.
It’s a common story among women restaurant owners here. Kadimah Levanah of Apothecary Restaurant at Santa Fe Oxygen & Healing Bar did previously run a café in Madison, Wisconsin, but she was also an intuitive healer who provided wellness sessions from her home before opening a downtown spa/lounge. Erin Wade, of Modern General and Vinaigrette in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Austin, started a 10-acre farm in Nambe, which produces an abundance of vegetables through non-industrial methods.
In preparing our Passion of the Palate cuisine section, we spoke with these three entrepreneurs about how they see food and drink as critical not only to physical health but also emotional well-being. Naidoo’s cuisine is based on the ancient Indian Ayurvedic principle of balancing the body’s biological energies, or doshas: kapha (earth and water), pitta (fire and water), and vata (space and air). Each meal must also include the six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent), and the menu changes to be appropriate for the season. In summer, for instance, Annapurna’s serves food with fewer pitta qualities. Naidoo is a believer in vegetarianism as the healthiest and most environmentally conscious diet, though she’s quick to say that even just eating less meat is a step in the right direction. Even soy, a staple in vegetarian and vegan diets, is not something she espouses. It was first used thousands of years ago in China as a nitrate-heavy fertilizer to grow other food, she explains, and though she serves Om-Mani Phad Thai with tofu, she does so reluctantly. “I think we’ve moved away from awareness of our own bodies. It’s about slowing down and noticing how your body reacts.”
While Levanah and Wade offer dishes heavy on vegetables and fresh food, both offer a variety of meat and seafood as well. Wade looks at the health of a farm, for instance, as a good model for the body. The land mostly provides produce, but it can become unhealthy from doing only that. The presence of some livestock and other animals better reflects nature’s balance. “You’re not really doing the environment any favors if you’re buying organic vegetables out of season from Whole Foods,” she points out. The key, she claims, is eating local. Eventually, regional food supply systems could take advantage of different climates to provide variety within a reasonable carbon footprint.
At Apothecary, Levanah thinks of her cuisine as “alchemized comfort food.” One of her most popular dishes is Yucca Crust Mandala Pizza with fresh vegetables (vegan cheese optional). Yucca, she explains, lowers glycemic levels in the blood. Dishes often include herbal tinctures and medicinal spices while infusion cocktails may include a boost of chlorophyll to oxygenize the blood, ginger to aid digestion, or kava root to induce euphoric calm.
Yet despite the diverse innovation and success of local restaurants, Wade is concerned that the industry is getting overrun by monoliths like Uber Eats and Grubhub, who slice a hefty profit margin off every order and detract from the ceremonial nature of a good meal. Indeed, if we’re at home in pajamas watching Netflix, waiting for our phones to ping at the arrival of food in plastic containers, we’re not exactly engaging in mindful consumption. As meat factories close and victory gardens make a comeback, it’s possible that more people are becoming aware of what it really takes, for instance, to grow a salad’s worth of spinach. “It’s hard to see these beautiful plants just packed up in a to-go box,” says Wade, observing the impact of the pandemic on our dining habits.
As the world teeters on a tipping point of profound change, we bring you stories of resilience and collaboration. Mark Oppenheimer illuminates how restaurant owners and other industry leaders plan for some hopeful changes post-pandemic, and Nancy Zimmerman explores filmmaker and connoisseur Scott Andrews’ collaboration with mezcal makers in Mexico. What is clear is that there is not one way forward. As people are torn between sheltering in place and demonstrating in the streets, our future hangs in the balance. Meanwhile, the local food industry is raring to go.