Divya’s Kitchen – healing food in New York

Ayurveda is becoming more and more popular in the USA, so much so that large companies like Unilever and Pepsi reached out to me to consult them on Ayurveda in relation to food – Divya Alter

Divya Alter grew up in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. She says her conscious relationship with food began when she was 18; while interning at the kitchen of an underground yoga ashram. She has been a vegetarian and a cook since then (27+ years). She says for her food is more than a means of sustenance, it is a friend that has “transformed and uplifted me on levels way beyond the physical.”

The chef/author of “What to Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen” cookbook, Divya runs her kitchen ‘Divya’s Kitchen’ in New York City serving conscious food.

How did you get your name and identity from Vrindavan? What fascinated you about Hinduism?

I am an initiated practitioner in the Gaudiya –Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, and my Guru Maharaja, Krishna Kshetra Swami, gave me the spiritual name Divyambara Dasi. Divya is a shortcut of that, my nickname.

I studied in Vrindavan, at the Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education, on and off for about 5 years. Vrindavan Dhama is my favorite place on earth because it is saturated with the deep spiritual sweetness of bhakti.

I was attracted to bhakti-yoga because of the purity of the practice. Reading Sanskrit texts such as the Bhagavad-Gita and the Bhagavata Purana made a lot of sense to me (and it still does!).

Where did you learn Ayurveda and from whom. Ayurveda has many strict rules about cooking and diet. Was it easy to make the shift from your earlier diet and way of life?

I first encountered Ayurvedic doctors and treatments while I lived in India. Dr. Partap Gupta treated me in Vrindavan and inspired me to begin my studies in Ayurveda. It just made so much sense to me. My main teacher is Vaidya Ramakant Mishra of the Shaka Vansiya Ayurveda lineage. He truly transformed my health and my life. I’ve completed his Pulse and Marma training as well as many other classes, including cooking classes.

I was already following some of the Ayurvedic dietary and lifestyle recommendations with bhakti-yoga; bhakti is a very sattvic practice. Adapting to even more Ayurvedic principles took some adjustment but it was not that difficult because I was committed to do everything in order to cure my autoimmune disorder.

In terms of lifestyle, it is still a bit hard for me to go to bed before 10 pm because I run a restaurant in Manhattan that closes at 10 pm. But I’m working towards it.

Please could you tell me something more about your restaurants, who are the clients who come back again and again, what do they like the most there?

My husband Prentiss and I started Divya’s Kitchen at the end of October 2016. It was the expansion of the culinary education (www.bvtlife.com) and Ayurvedic meal subscription service we’ve been doing in New York for 10 years. It is a vegetarian-vegan restaurant, and the menu incorporates the Ayurvedic principles of food compatibility and digestion.

Our clients are very nice people, from a wide range of backgrounds. We also attract a lot of yoga/Ayurveda practitioners, health conscious folks, people with special dietary needs, and more. Many of our regular clients consider Divya’s Kitchen a home-away-from-home because we serve fresh, delicious home-style food and also the ambiance is relaxing, home like. I think our regular guests appreciate not just the quality of our food but also the friendly service and calming atmosphere.

Is it difficult to source Ayurvedic herbs and ingredients in the US? Are people aware of Ayurveda as a medical practice?

I can easily find almost all specialty herbs and ingredients that we use at our restaurant and cooking classes—that’s one of the perks of living in New York City! Ayurveda is becoming more and more popular in the USA, so much so that large companies like Unilever and Pepsi reached out to me to consult them on Ayurveda in relation to food. The interest and appreciation of Ayurveda is only growing.

A lot of people in the West are moving towards Vegetarianism. Do you think Ayurveda can sensitise us to the environment and the change that needs to happen for people to be more environmentally conscious, responsible?

Yes, definitely. At the core of Ayurveda lies respect for all life and living in harmony with nature. Ayurveda regards the environment we live in as one of the pillars of health (along with diet and routine). The way we treat or mistreat Mother Earth has a direct impact on our health. By applying the universal principles of Ayurveda in our local environments, we can definitely contribute to the betterment of our life on earth and inspire others to do so.

Which is your favourite Indian dish. Where and from whom did you learn it from?

I like a lot of Indian dishes, but perhaps the one I eat the most is khichari. Of course, there are as many cooks as many khicharis! The way I prepare it is very nourishing and balancing. It is the healthiest comfort food!

Have you personally experienced the benefits of Ayurveda in terms of healing and well-being.

Yes, of course. This is what got me into Ayurveda in the first place. Over the years, Ayurveda has come to help me with different health struggles. In India, it helped me with a severe digestive disorder, jaundice, and other ailments. In the USA, it helped me cure an autoimmune disorder, chronic fatigue, and more. I believe in having a healing team—for dealing with health issues, we need to work with specialists in different medical and holistic fields, to approach the issues on all levels. I always make sure to have an Ayurvedic doctor on my healing team.

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