A conversation with Jeremy Rock Smith, Kripalu’s executive chef and author of ‘The Kripalu Kitchen’
For more than 40 years, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge has been a favorite retreat for serious yogis looking to perfect their practice and harried city dwellers in search of a detoxifying reboot. Food has been an important part of the Kripalu story from the start. When it was still an ashram, Kripalu dining was limited to little more than rice and beans. Today, Kripalu’s buffet represents an evolution in thinking about healthy eating. Visitors can enjoy vegan ginger scones along with their morning broth or adobo-rubbed chicken and avocado cream alongside their braised kale.
Jeremy Rock Smith, Kripalu’s executive chef since 2013, has collected 125 of the center’s favorite recipes in “The Kripalu Kitchen: Nourishing Food for Body and Soul.” Smith teaches food and nutrition programs to guests, in addition to overseeing a staff of 73 who prepare and serve daily meals. The book discusses Ayurvedic principles of eating and helps readers understand their personal nutrition profile, or dosha, to determine their optimal diet. “People come here for a weekend or a week, and they discover this new way of eating, and they want to take that home. That was the goal behind the book,” Smith says. He spoke about the book between meal services at Kripalu.
Q. Tell me about the actual Kripalu kitchen.
A. Last year, we did around 380,000 meals. We’re about 85 to 90 percent vegetarian across the board and about 90 percent organic. Everything is done in-house. Last year, we did like 13,000 gallons of kale out of our kitchen. We get a lot of folks coming through with different sensitivities, choices. I always joke that on a weekend, we can get 600 people and it’s 600 different palates. People oftentimes envision us floating around in the lotus position, praying over the food. And I’m like, it’s still a kitchen.
Q. How do you go about creating healthy food that will please so many different tastes?
A. It’s globally inspired veg-forward cuisine really. We’re getting away from a cookie-cutter approach that says everybody should eat just one way. You know, some people are vegan. Some people are far from vegan. Some people are gluten-free. So we offer quite a bit of a selection. We’re all individuals. We’re all made up differently. That’s where our food comes from.
Q. What are the greatest hits that you always have on the Kripalu buffet?
A. There are a few things. If I ever took the Kripalu house dressing off, there would be mutiny. It’s got tahini, tamari, cayenne. When we were writing [the recipe for the book], we realized it represented a lot of what Kripalu is because it’s got so many different flavors from different cooking cuisines in one. I have people putting it on chicken, vegetables, anything but salad sometimes. The other one would be our scones. We don’t go heavy on the desserts. But we do vegan, gluten-free scones that people claim are the best scones ever. Sesame noodles with peanut sauce. The vegan mushroom cream sauce has become a huge hit.
Q. How does food fit into the Kripalu approach to wellness?
A. People are coming to Kripalu for a variety of reasons. So the food is really here just to support the folks in their programs and the personal work that they’re doing. There’s the nutritional aspect of calories and fiber, but there’s also a physiological aspect of it. An example, if I have a program, and it’s a dance program, you might find people that are really open. They’re like, “You know what? I want to be a vegetarian for the weekend.” Now, another program could be people working through serious stuff, like yoga for trauma. They get into that dining room, and that’s where the peanut butter and jelly comes in. There’s emotional attachment. Those comfort foods play a huge role in that.
Q. In the book, you give the advice that even if you don’t achieve perfection with healthy cooking, just keep working at it.
A. Yeah, yeah. One of the goals with what I teach is really getting folks over that hurdle of seeing cooking as this arduous task and really trying to push the point that cooking is a practice, like yoga. So I always tell people that where you’re at cooking-wise is where you’re at. If you’re in the ‘I’m going to commit to cooking one meal a week,’ that’s where you’re at. Move from there, and that’s where the subtle changes will happen. But if you don’t start, it’s not going to happen. Start small. Commit to one thing, and then move on and go from there.
Q. What do you hear from guests about food at Kripalu?
A. The best compliment that I’ve gotten repeatedly is when people come up to me and they’re like, ‘Hey, I just want let you know it’s my first time here. I was really worried about the food, so I packed a bag full of snacks. I just want to let you know that I haven’t touched them.’ I’m like, OK, I appreciate it.