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A finished pot of sabji on the stove. Photo by Allie Ginwala.




“Cooking for Krishna” vegan cooking class

When: Thursday nights at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Vrinda Center for Vaishnava Culture and Studies, 57 S. Main St., Concord
Email vrindacenter.nh@gmail.com to sign up. Space is limited. No set cost, but donations are accepted.




Cooking in a mindful kitchen
Vegan class adds a spiritual element

05/28/15
By Allie Ginwala aginwala@hippopress.com



In a small kitchen tucked in the back of the Vrinda Center in downtown Concord, Charles Latchis stood by the sink washing zucchinis, green peppers, potatoes and broccoli. He recently restarted his weekly vegan cooking classes and was prepping the items he’d need for that night’s class. 

Latchis opened the Vrinda Center for Vaishnava Culture and Studies in 2006, offering multiple programs, including a Thursday night cooking session. But he stopped the classes in 2009 when he launched the Vegan Community Kitchen of Concord in the space right next door. 
“It was a membership organization that was sponsored [and funded] by the Vrinda Center and the purpose of that was to give a place for vegans in the community to meet together and to cook together and also to educate the public about the benefits of a plant-based diet,” he said.
Adding on a dinner lecture series for the public and regular cooking cooperatives for members, the community kitchen went on for a year before he launched Rasa’s Vegan Kitchen to utilize the space during the lunch hours. In 2011, it became Spoon Revolution Vegan Bistro, which served vegan cuisine until it sold in the end of 2014. 
During each iteration of his food service, Latchis focused on sharing vegan culture with the public.
“I believe that if people are given the opportunity to really experience vegan food, fine vegan food, and [are] educated properly about the benefits of a plant-based diet, I believe that most intelligent people would choose to be vegan,” he said. “It’s just a question of trying it, getting educated about it and living in a supportive community where people can help them make that transition.”
He never planned to stay in the food industry long term and decided at the end of last year to move on from owning a restaurant so he could focus more on the Vrinda Center. After a pilgrimage to India at the beginning of this year, Latchis started up the Thursday night cooking classes once more.
“I came back April 1, and as soon as I came back we started up the Vrinda Center again doing the programs here,” he said. “So we’ve gone full circle here, totally back.”
Cooking for Krishna on Thursday evenings is not a typical cooking class, in both format and content. While the tangible element centers on learning how to make vegan Indian dishes, Latchis spends time sharing his thoughts on veganism as well as the Vaishnava culture and philosophy.
“This is really about preparing soul food and in the Vaishnava terminology it’s called prasadam,” he explained. “Prasadam is soul food, it’s spiritual food which is offered to Krishna.”
That night’s dish was a broccoli and potato sabji, an Indian vegetable curry dish that he makes with all organic ingredients.
The center’s kitchen is warm and eclectic with an atmosphere similar to a home kitchen, outfitted with a sink, stovetop, oven and table space covered with dishware and different seeds, spices and oils. Two large windows give plenty of daylight to the cramped yet comfortable space, which allows for no more than five people at a time. 
A few notable differences to this style of cooking class are that no tasting is done during the process, since it’s meditative cooking. Shoes aren’t worn in the center, it’s a choice of socks or socks and sandals while in the kitchen. Latchis worked at a relaxed pace, chatting or saying mantras as he peeled potatoes to keep his mind focused.
“Unfortunately, in today’s world everyone is rushing so much for their jobs, their careers, their family, that they spend very little time on food and thinking about their food choices and really eating and cooking consciously,” he said. “So this is really the purpose of what we’re doing here on Thursday nights. But we’re taking it a step further than just a regular vegan cooking class. We’re actually also engaged in a spiritual practice.”
Latchis works with measured motions that match his manner of speaking, a stream of consciousness that mixes anecdotes and opinions with tips and techniques. The dishes each week range from Indian flatbreads and dahl to desserts and salads, often depending on the weather. He doesn’t pull from a recipe book, just a memory of dishes stored in his mind from years of preparing them while working in temple kitchens in Europe.
“Really there’s several layers to the flavoring of this dish,” he said of the sabji. “It’s not just … put in all the spices and flavoring at once. That’s really how Indian cooking takes place. There’s certain order to what we cook.”
The cooking process isn’t managed by taste or time, but by sound, smell and feel indicating the next step — in this case, listening for the mustard seeds to start popping and then slowly fade out, smelling the aromatics like ginger, serrano pepper, turmeric and fennel bulb as they heat up and, finally, feeling the slight stick of the spoon on the bottom of the pot when the sabji is ready to serve. 
Once it was complete, Latchis filled a silver bowl with a portion for Krishna on a silver platter. He laid it on the altar and performed the mantras before serving the food to the class. The group sat cross-legged on the floor enjoying the rich flavors of the sabji while engaged in conversation, eating the food in the same slow and mindful manner in which it was prepared.
 
As seen in the May 28, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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