Chef Joji James On Innovating Ayurvedic Cure Cuisine In Kerala
Image Credit: Chef Joji James. Image courtesy: Amal Tamara

Think about concepts like healthy eating, mindful eating and Ayurvedic food and you might immediately imagine a diet that is vegetarian, simple and unfortunately boring. But chefs like Joji James, Executive Chef at Amal Tamara, are changing this dated imagination of healthy food with their innovations. With 25 years of experience in Ayurvedic food and cooking and having worked across many Ayurvedic treatment centers and retreats, Chef Joji James is now a master in the field.  

“I had never planned to work on wellness foods,” he explains. “It’s only after I started training that I realized that this is something I am passionate about and want to do. I was more into the healthy side of cooking, so I moved to this sector and never looked back.” Today, Chef James is a part of a team that has innovated something called Cure Cuisine—an interesting amalgamation of Ayurvedic healthy food concepts and the naturally delicious organic produce and recipes that Kerala has to offer. Here’s what his work and this Cure Cuisine is all about. 

Understanding Ayurvedic Food & Detox Diets

“India’s culinary culture is very diverse, and despite the advent of fast food, the younger generation is understanding the value of relying on traditional organic and healing foods,” he says. “We have so many young people approaching us today to understand Ayurvedic food better. We also have so many international travellers interested in India’s Ayurvedic wellness diet. Every year, we have more and more foreigners visiting India to grasp these concepts and adopt them.” He explains that the cooking methods and styles practiced by our Indian grandmothers is now emerging again as a popular concept among young people both in India and the world.  

For Chef James, it is all about maintaining that traditional aspect while tailoring lost recipes to the health needs of the current generations. For example, everybody today talks about detox diets, but very few realise that Ayurvedic food has always been the foundation of detox diets. “When we talk about Ayurveda, the prevalence of toxins in the body is usually traced back to wrong metabolism. Many of the common diseases people face nowadays are rooted in incorrect lifestyle,” he says. “In Ayurveda, this wrong metabolism occurs because of an imbalance in your digestive fire or metabolic rate. When your metabolic rate isn’t good, even if you eat a hundred healthy foods, it will not get digested and it will not benefit you at all. Instead, it will form a toxic deposit in your body.” 

“To correct this metabolic rate, a customized Ayurvedic diet is what you need,” he explains. “That is the root of a detox diet that people fail to understand. For example, everybody says you must eat nuts and probiotic foods, but if your digestive system can’t process these healthy foods, then how will it benefit you at all? Correcting your diet can help you prevent many lifestyle diseases today. So, you have to understand your metabolism and eat according to it to get any benefit from any type of food.” 

Image courtesy: Amal Tamara

Innovating An Ayurvedic Cure Cuisine 

So, he says, a detox diet is never one-size-fits-all. It has to be customized according to every individual’s needs, health status and metabolism. Based on this modern need to create healing diets as per Ayurvedic concepts and individual needs, Chef James and the team at Amal Tamara have innovated something called Cure Cuisine. “The Cure Cuisine concept we follow here is based on Ayurveda. The travellers come to us to modify and improve their health through lifestyle changes. That modification includes a diet and activities,” he explains. “So, when we talk about Cure Cuisine, it is a pure vegetarian diet that includes foods that are easy to digest and easy to absorb nutrients from. We avoid all refined foods, including flour, sugar, synthetic food colours and flavours. More than 90 percent of the things we use are organic food products sourced from our local markets. This Cure Cuisine is the first step to your healing process.” 

The entire process begins with a physician consultation, after which a Cure Cuisine diet suited to your needs is customized. “We create a whole menu according to each individual visitor’s health, constitution and metabolic rate,” he explains further. “We combine Kerala cuisine concepts and local ingredients to create this menu. The menu relies completely on local organic vegetables sourced from local markets where vegetable cultivation is done on a small scale. We have also started our own organic farm with the aim of promoting farm to table food. Whatever can be grown on the property itself is grown here. In fact, we push our visitors to go to the farm and collect the ingredients for their own customized menus themselves. This helps them value the ingredients even further.” 

“When you talk about wellness food, it is definitely going to accentuate the health aspect more than anything else, but the idea of taste and flavour do not get lost in it,” Chef James clarifies. “Traditional Kerala food is very healthy. We serve plenty of Thorans, Avials, Sambhar and other Kerala dishes which are easy to digest and yet very delicious. Of course, the landscape and beauty of Kerala helps just as much. The land, the landscape and the Cure Cuisine all combine to energize and motivate the visitors. Even those who are non-vegetarians never complain about missing those foods. That is the specialty of Cure Cuisine.”