Meet the Chef

October 15, 2008 by Lightwaves
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Recently the Ashram has welcomed into our kitchen Aaron Jeffs, a Nelson-based chef who specializes in vegetarian and vegan cuisine. We caught up with him to discuss food politics, Karma Yoga, grandpa’s tomatoes, and his passion for cooking, among other things.

While recounting his path to becoming a professional chef, Aaron revealed what seems to be an inborn passion for cooking – he began preparing family dinners at home at the age of eight. He also would watch cooking shows with a passionate interest.  He recalled, “When I was growing up, after ‘Mr. Dressup’ and ‘Sesame St.’ on CBC there was ‘Wok with Yan.’ I started to pick up cooking techniques and terminology from him.”

When he was 18, he decided it was time to get into the restaurant business. “I didn’t have any professional experience, but I knew I could cook, and I had 10 years of experience cooking at home.” He put together a modest resume, and as he says, “the rest is history.”

When he moved from Ontario to Vancouver in 1992, he was eating a vegetarian diet and began to get involved with the burgeoning vegetarian restaurant scene. It was during that time that he was introduced to the organics movement. “It just made sense to me,” he says. “my grandfather used to grow vegetables in the backyard garden he’d grow the best tomatoes, the best carrots and peppers and things like that. Size, and flavour, they were amazing. No chemicals on them, no chemicals in the soil. He was composting back when I was young. And I just thought that’s how farming practices were. It wasn’t until I started working in the industry that I realized that not all tomatoes are grown the same way. I saw the way my grandfather did it, the success, the flavour difference, so I just jumped on the organic movement in the early 90’s, and I’ve been trying to support it ever since, especially professionally.”

Something that Aaron expressed appreciation for is the Ashram’s commitment to making our food consumption as sustainable as possible. “Whereas most restaurants are only concerned about the bottom line, here the people are more concerned about the quality and the environment. They’re willing to pay a higher price for organic ingredients.”  He says of the Ashram “…their politics and my politics are very similar – we do believe in food sustainability, the 100-mile diet philosophy, and trying to move towards local buying as much as possible. It’s hard still, for instance our quinoa comes from Bolivia, but at least we’re working on trying to find new sources to get this stuff.”

When asked about why he was attracted to working at the Ashram, Aaron talked about a fusion of work and spirituality, which he’s felt has been missing in his own life for many years. He’s practiced Hatha Yoga in the past, but feels a difference here in “…fact that it’s a yoga center but it’s more than just a yoga class, there is spirituality behind the Yoga here.” He’s also interested in the idea of intentional community, and impressed by the community’s commitment.  “…the fact that people are residents here, and they’ve dedicated their lives to see this ashram succeed, that’s a positive example for me.”

Aaron says this is his first brush with the concept of Karma Yoga. He has, however, volunteered his time to help out with various projects, including being the food manager for a Christmas hamper program in Nelson which focused on getting quality, mostly organic and local food to those in need in the community. He feels fortunate to have the ability to give back, both in the community and in his work with Karma Yogis here at the Ashram. “When people come in and they want to learn and I can show them something, and they actually leave here feeling like they’ve learned something from me, it makes me feel good inside.”

His experience so far has been positive because, as he puts it: “…just the ability to make food with love, as clichéd as that sounds, is actually possible here.  In so many kitchens, there’s a hostile, chaotic environment, and it’s hard to put love into the food. As much passion as I have for cooking, I always felt that because of those limitations, I wasn’t able to bring my true self to the work. To be able to work here and be in a beautiful environment, a calm environment, a healing environment, a spiritual environment, these are all things that help me in my own life to be a better person and a better cook.”

 

Links:

128m Dinner – food sustainability at the Ashram

Sustainable foods – Local Diet Recipe (Video clip)



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