It was once commonly accepted practice: To be a food enthusiast was to embrace the cultural capital of saturated fat, butter, and all things gout-ish. Health food and healthy living had its place, of course, but not in the hallowed temples of restaurant life, where the chef was, in iconography, at least, rotund, and probably French.
But then, if you have been paying attention to food trends over the course of the past decade, either on Instagram or in real life, you may have noticed a new passion, a passion for plant-based food, and lifestyle food, and food that is not, specifically, designed to appeal to one’s lesser angels. The kale Caesar salad. The acai bowl. The chia pudding. The impossible burger. Such fads have relied on the somewhat incongruous desire to eat clean while eating well.
Maybe the desire is not, in fact, incongruous. That’s what Corey De Rosa, owner of Bridgehampton’s Tapovana Ashtanga Healing Center of the Hamptons and executive chef of a pop-up Ayurvedic lunch spot, would argue. “I was always interested in food,” De Rosa, whose career began in professional soccer, said. “I always used it as a supplement.” These days, De Rosa is cooking Ayurvedic lunches for anyone interested from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Sag Harbor’s Sen Restaurant.
Ayurvedic medicine — abbreviated as Ayurveda — is a 3,000-year-old Indian wellness practice, predicated on the belief that health relies on a balance between the body, mind, and spirit. “The two main points are to bring health, longevity, and strength to the mind and body and, at the same time, to help the body to work better,” De Rosa said. “The key term in Ayurveda is the improvement of digestion. The meals are scientifically engineered over hundreds of years in order to enhance digestion and strengthen the mind and body. We stay away from supplements as much as we can, unless there’s an acute issue … Ayurveda is the practice of getting nutrients to move freely through the body. There are no restrictions. There are guidelines, and there are suggestions.”
De Rosa is trained in South Indian cuisine, and draws on this training in the preparation of his meals. He defines his cooking as “mildly spiced dishes that have Indian flavors, but are much more subtle and well balanced.” Dishes rotate daily (lunches are offered as a set menu), and rely heavily on traditional south Asian flavors, like lime, cilantro, and coconut. A recent dish of rice, cashew and lentils offered a slow, brooding heat, which was tamped by two pieces of accompanying potato vada — crispy potato croquettes adorned with date chutney. “I studied South Indian cuisine with a local family. I apply principles of yoga and Ayurveda,” De Rosa said. “The main foundation of South Indian cuisine would be easy to digest rice dishes, vegetable dishes, legumes and pulses that are prepared properly … The idea is that it should be enjoyable, healthful, but non-deprivational.”
In fact, De Rosa’s arrival at the intersection of delicious and healthful was entirely circumstantial. After breaking his back, he approached yoga, initially, as a way to lessen his injuries, before he found himself spiritually connected to the practice. “I’m from Long Island,” he said. “Six brothers and sisters. I definitely grew up with a spiritual interest and a competitively athletic background. That interest got lost for a while … I grew up Roman Catholic, so there was spirituality there — the idea of something greater. I started using yoga to avoid spinal fusion for my back. And then, as soon as I started studying yoga, I started studying Ayurveda. I wanted to learn whatever I could to make the experience more profound. And I realized quickly that nutrition and lifestyle were a part of it.”
An interest in nutrition parlayed itself into small lunches at Tapovana once weekly, for the participants in De Rosa’s yoga classes. But as word got out, it became clear that a different venue was needed — one that could accommodate those looking for a certain kind of meal. Since the fall, Tapovana’s Ayurvedic pop-up, now located in the Sen dining room, has quietly attracted a loyal following, most of whom already know the rules: No menu, no credit cards, no choices to be made. The usually bustling Sen provides a particularly meditative backdrop. Yogic music plays delicately in the background. De Rosa’s two-hour chai — a black tea infused with cardamom and served warm — makes for an ideal absolution-free lunch cocktail.
If the four-day-a-week schedule feels too restrictive, De Rosa also offers his Ayurvedic private dinner parties (up to 80), seasonal cooking classes at Sen, and private cooking classes conducted at one’s home. He also prepares “Ayurvedic cleanses,” a mix of Ayurvedic herbs and teas, with accompanying prepared lunches and dinners that assist in detoxifying the body. “We use food to do a gentle detox and reset,” he said.
One thing the Tapovana lunch is not? This is not a restaurant meal — nor is it meant to be. Lunch costs “a requested donation of $15 to $20,” with add-ons, like salads and chai, for an additional $5. Tapovana does not accept credit cards, likening the holistic experience to a visit to one’s home. (Thankfully, the bank is just next-door.)
De Rosa’s inspiration and, indeed, aspiration was to share with like-minded people the benefits he has received from Ayurvedic eating. He is neither preachy nor pedantic, merely enthusiastic about the lifestyle he has discovered. His vision of hospitality, as a result, is less pomp, more circumstance.
“This is an offering,” he said. “It’s like you’re coming into our home and you’re eating what’s offered. When you’re eating food that’s whole and prepared well, it turns back into consciousness. The body doesn’t have to do much to turn it to its full potential … It’s nourishment, and it’s medicine at the same time.”
Simple Yellow Dal
½ cup mung beans, or yellow split peas
1 Tbsp. tomatoes, chopped
½ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
3 cups water
1 tsp. salt; Himalayan is best
1 Tbsp. ghee or oil
½ tsp. black mustard seed
8 curry leaves (optional)
1 pinch asafetida (hing)
Wash the beans or peas (“dal”) and cook with one cup or water for 20 to 30 minutes in a pot, or 10 minutes in a pressure cooker. Remove from heat and blend until smooth.
In a heavy pot, add blended dal, two cups water, tomatoes, cumin, black pepper, and salt. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat.
To prepare the tempering, heat ghee or oil in a saucepan and add black mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add curry leaves and asafetida and fry for a minute.
Add this tempering and cilantro to the soup and mix together.
Serve hot with lime and grated coconut.
1 cup Basmati rice
1 ½ cups water
1 tsp. oil
½ tsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. salt
Wash rice three times and soak for 30 minutes.
In a heavy pot, bring all ingredients to a boil.
Once boiling, cover and simmer on low for 12-15 minutes.
Remove from heat, uncover, and fluff to stop the cooking. Fluff with a fork before serving.