Rosemary Ann Ogilvie speaks to Kimberly Parsons of The Yoga Kitchen about how food resonates with us on an emotional level and helps strengthen our human experience.
Kimberley Parsons’ new book The Yoga Kitchen follows the yogic principle that we can unite and strengthen our entire system by combining our diet with our holistic health.
Can you tell us about your background? Born and raised in Australia to an English father and Sicilian mother, my upbringing had a strong European influence from the beginning. My Sicilian grandmother had a passion for simple, healthy food that tastes wonderful. From her beloved kitchen she taught me to create the mouth-watering recipes using seasonal produce grown in my grandfather’s vegetable garden that have remained unchanged through countless generations. Over the years, I went on to learn the art of cooking in her company. Through her, true conviviality is in my heart, food that connects to the body, people, and the seasons.
Thankfully, these days my customers are a lot more passionate about sampling my creations than they were back then, when I would try to convince my family to try my rose petal, pepper and parsley smoothies or my sumptuous cumquat- and basil-infused cakes!
With your love of food, you didn’t consider a career as a chef? Somehow the idea of turning my passion for cooking and all things related to food into a possible career path seemed to bypass me through my teenage years. Rather, fascinated by natural health and wanting to help others make the link between their symptoms and environment, I found myself in my early twenties a graduate from the Southern School of Natural Therapies after undertaking a four-year degree in naturopathy.
From a clinic in Melbourne, and with mentor Greg Connolly by my side, I practised for several years, treating patients for all sorts of ailments, from weight loss, infertility, hypertension, to many different types of cancer. It was here my passion for how the body relates to its environment and what we feed it started to make sense. Specialising in nutrition and herbal medicine, I developed a strong understanding of how our body heals and interacts with its surroundings.
But by age 24, I realised I lacked the wisdom to become the true practitioner I yearned to be. I wanted to gain more life experiences before settling into a life of practice. This also coincided with a time in my life when my curiosity about unexplored shores could no longer be ignored. The instinctual explorer within me began to grow restless and I yearned to be back surrounded by the familiar aromas of my Nonna’s kitchen. The destination was obvious: Italy always felt like home so my decision to head to Europe was based purely on wanting to connect to my roots. This was the landscape of food I was raised in, so I guess this passion for food, nutrition and healthy living grew out of those early years.
Can you share your experiences in Italy? As I boarded the plane, I was completely unaware just how big a step into the unknown I was about to take. This step took me to an enchanting 15th century villa deep within the rolling hills of the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy. Here, my childhood passion for cooking and all things food-related began to resurface. Working as an au pair, Tuscany was an education of food, language, love and a journey of self-discovery.
After eight months spent enjoying hot summer days, lazy afternoon siestas, and the abundance of fresh Italian produce, I packed my suitcase again and embarked on my next adventure, this time to the French Alps where I had enlisted as a chalet girl, hoping to find a winter of fun on the slopes. Having never skied before, I was setting myself the task of learning a new skill.
The universe, however, had a different plan for me: the chef was fired just days before our first guests arrived and somehow the apron swung my way. And so began an alpine winter in my first-ever kitchen as a chef. With a mere 48 hours to prepare before my first guests arrived eager to taste the chalet’s winter delights, I set to work preparing dishes I knew well but had never thought I would serve to people other than family and friends.
Talk about what led you to yoga and its impact on you. Yoga helps me find and listen to my inner voice. I find clarity and a deeper sense of myself while on the mat. It helps me let things go that I have been holding onto emotionally and allows me to connect to my body so I am able to stay in tune with it.
I found yoga after finishing my job as a private chef. Although I spent many of my teenage years as a sportswoman, my first experience of yoga came when a friend invited me to join her for a candle-lit class in London one evening. After an hour of twisting, stretching and sweating my way through a dynamic power-yoga class, I collapsed onto my mat utterly exhausted but also feeling completely alive. Somehow I had found peace, elation and clarity in the process of the difficult poses. Immediately quitting my gym membership, I took a position as part-time receptionist at the yoga studio, which then opened the door for establishing my café in the yoga studio – and that was how Retreat Café was born. I was one of the first to open a vegetarian café that was also completely gluten- and refined sugar-free.
This has changed dramatically over the past two years and we’ve witnessed a fast-emerging scene in London with numerous healthy-eating options now available. Fortunately, my cafés have always been connected to yoga studios, providing an audience highly receptive to healthy eating. And no, I’ve never had any formal training as a chef: it’s simply been a passion I’ve continued to pursue since I landed in Tuscany and reignited my love affair with food.
Each chapter in your book focuses on a particular chakra. Why? Each chapter is designed to help, support and transform the seven different energy systems within the body called the chakras: Ground, Flow, Vitalise, Nurture, Strengthen, Calm, and Pure. They each provide different types of nutritional support that targets various parts of our bodies.
The chakra system came to the West from the ancient traditions of India, where it originated more than 4,000 years ago. Chakras can be viewed as a collection of homes in our bodies for our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical elements. The chakra system helps us navigate the connection between our inner and outer worlds, creating an alignment through a set of seven portals, which we move between throughout our lives.
I realised early in my chef career that I based what I wanted to eat on how I felt. So I was intrigued to find out how I could start to connect my naturopathy knowledge and my yoga passion and the emotional side of our beings to food. The chakra system was something I already understood and used as part of my yoga philosophy, so it all seemed to come together perfectly. I really like that we can find food that resonates with us on an emotional level and helps strengthen our human experience.
It did require a great deal of research in terms of understanding the finer detail of each chakra. I spent a lot of time sitting on my in-laws’ beautiful balcony on the Greek island of Samos looking out over the gorgeous blue Aegean Sea, collating all the information I was reading about the chakras into a relatable concept.
When reading this book, it’s important to focus and concentrate on deciphering how you feel; what your body craves and how you want to personally evolve and develop, as this will lead you to the right chapter for what you need. The central belief to The Yoga Kitchen is that by concentrating on what we need and reacting accordingly with the food we eat, we can correct and align our balance, energy and happiness.
Can you talk about how food influences our chakras? Good food should make us feel something: the very act of cooking and eating evokes emotion in us. It helps us connect to our bodies, it is a very personal affair and it also happens to be something we’re confronted with several times a day. Not merely fuel, certain foods are chosen to allow us to feel a certain way; and so we eat certain foods based on our moods, the seasons, and lifestyle. Food is a tool we can all use to help us navigate towards health not only on a nutritional level, but also an energetic and emotional level.
In the philosophy of chakra healing, each chakra in the body associates to different emotions, body systems, and organs. So the recipes and foods within each chapter of The Yoga Kitchen have been designed to help strengthen and balance that chakra or body system. As an example, the throat chakra (Strengthen chapter) is associated with the immune system, so there are lots of foods related to boosting your immune system as well as bringing attention towards your throat, which is where our speech allows us to be authentic in how we communicate to the world. Sometimes we find it hard to truly express what we believe is our truth and therefore energy can get stuck at the throat chakra and our immunity can suffer. Everything is connected – mind, body and emotions – and this is why this book is special. It provides a way for us to nourish ourselves on all of these levels.
What struck me is your amazing flavour combinations! Can you talk about this? I have always loved exciting flavour combination! I love an exciting dish and when eating out I always gravitate to the dishes with food combinations I would never have thought to put together myself. My palate loves the plate of sweet and savoury together. When I create a dish I want it to play around on our taste buds as much as possible. I want to bring out the light and dark and balance them out with balancing ingredients, for example a pineapple, chilli, and ginger juice. The ginger balances out the sweet of the pineapple and the spice of the chilli to allow the palate to enjoy all the ingredients.
Tell us about your yoga retreats. I run retreats all through the year now. They’re a very special time for me because it’s when I feel I’m able to be the most holistic with my food offering. By following a regime of yoga, meditation, yin yoga, and mindful silence sessions, participants go through a real journey back to their true selves. All the food I provide during the retreat follows the chakras and I really enjoy bringing this chakra system of eating to my yoga retreats. I cook my guests’ food from each chapter of The Yoga Kitchen and take them on a journey through their chakras in conjunction with yoga and mindfulness sessions. It’s a very powerful process and a very rewarding one to facilitate. The retreats run for one week, so we start at the root chakra on day one and work our way up to the crown chakra. It’s transformation on every level.
Information on the yoga retreats Kimberly runs can be found at www.kimberly-parsons.com. The Yoga Kitchen by Kimberly Parsons published by Quadrille RRP $39.99.