New Delhi, Sep 9 (IANS) He revived Awadhi cuisine in the US through two restaurants he set up in Boston and Cambridge in Massachusetts; served as an advisor to a Saudi Arabian prince who heads a hospitality chain in the kingdom; and tickled the taste buds of foodies in countries as diverse as Kuwait, the Seychelles and Kenya - and is now charting a new course popularising Vedic cuisine, the ingredients of which "have been used for centuries" and "is the way of the future."
"Vedic food interests me as the ingredients used in it have been used for centuries in our culture and are hence time-tested. It promotes food items like regional fruits and vegetables, roots, herbs, teas and legumes, wild seafood and many more," Chef Sunil Soni, who currently serves as an advisor to a slew of Indian hospitality majors, told IANS in an interview.
It is the way forward as "the food chain across the world is contaminated," he added.
"There are a lot of issues with the edible items including pesticide use, antibiotics, genetically modified crops, and water contamination. This has resulted in all kinds of animal food and crops getting contaminated. All those issues have led to (food) processing and that itself is an issue. This has created a variety of health issues across the planet," Soni explained.
"Most meat and its products are heavily contaminated and are the root cause of a lot of diseases including obesity and high cholesterol. Hence the move is towards plant-based protein that has similar texture and taste but totally made from plants. The process remains to be scrutinised for future consumption," Soni added.
Against this, he said: "Evidence from the Vedas suggest that the diet of the Vedic people consisted of cereals, initially barley but later dominated by rice, pulses such as masha (urad), mudga (moong), and masura (masoor), vegetables such as lotus roots, lotus stem, bottle gourd and milk products, mainly of cows, but also of buffaloes and goats."
In Ayurveda, Soni said: "There are six tastes or rasas: astringent, bitter, pungent, salty, sour, and sweet. Vedic cooking recommends incorporating each taste in every meal according to your personal constitution in order to achieve balanced nutrition and good health. It involves naturally existent food that has been used in our culture for centuries, hence is more conducive to our bodies."
Bitter/astringent fruits and veggies, such as spinach, broccoli, and asparagus, Soni pointed out, "are lighter and cleansing. Many herbs and spices also have a host of health benefits. For example, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon include anti-inflammatory properties. Basil is known to aid digestion. And black pepper can act as a diuretic and preservative with digestive properties."
Soni also stressed on the need for healthy cooking oils.
"Ghee is an Ayurvedic nutrition and a superfood because it promotes healthy digestion, decreases inflammation, and can help reduce the risk of cancers and other diseases. Coconut oil can raise HDL (good) cholesterol and help you burn fat. Extra virgin olive oil (it should not be heated) has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties," he elaborated.
Then, there's basmati rice and herbal tea.
"In Ayurveda, basmati rice is said to balance all three doshas (vata, kapha and pitta that control a person's physiological, mental and emotional health).
"Tea, as such, provokes all three doshas. For kaphas, caffeinated beverages like coffee may stimulate energy, whereas vatas may feel overly depleted by it. Herbal teas, which are caffeine-free and don't rev up the doshas, are great for all constitutions and have shown that they reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease," Soni elaborated.
Noting that "we as a society have to choose the right type of food", Soni said: "Our culture has given us Vedic food that is time-tested over centuries. After a full cycle, we are realising that a Vedic diet provides all the food ingredients that are healthy and are conducive to human bodies. The shift is going to be permanent towards Vedic food.
"It is the way of the future. Western countries are beginning to follow the oils that we use, the spices that are used in India and their herbs are filling the shelves of supermarkets. Their benefits are visible. Most simple ailments can be easily rectified by switching to Vedic foods. It may prevent various major illnesses that we have seen rise in societies in the world and we know prevention is better than the cure," Soni contended.
In this context, what were the culinary shifts that he noticed during the pandemic? Will there be a gradual shift back to the pre-Covid days or are the changes permanent?
"Covid has changed the world. It is here to stay and its variants will keep coming. The best way to fight it is to develop a good immune system. It is prudent to consume good food that will keep us healthy and develop a strong immune system. People are now looking for a change in lifestyle and eating habits. They are gravitating towards non-meat products like more vegetables and fruits and bringing it into their eating habits.
"More people are trying to grow their own food for personal consumption. This has brought a change in the food industry that is going to stay. This is more in line with our ancient culture and religion. The population has become more health conscious as bad eating habits have led to various diseases like liver and kidney failures," Soni concluded.