First off, tell us a little about where your food journey really began?
Since childhood, I have had an interest in food, even though I was a very fussy eater.
My roots in Lebanese cooking and culture were fascinating. I grew up watching my mother preparing food along with my aunties and my neighbours. When there was an occasion such as Easter, Christmas, a wedding or christening, they all gathered to join forces and produced the most amazing food with a palette of colours, textures and flavours that amounted to the most yummy, nutritious food.
I left Lebanon in 1989 and came to the UK. I did not speak a word of English back then, so the only option for me was to work in Lebanese kitchen where I didn’t have to worry about the language. Food I discovered was a shared language.
So, that’s when my professional journey as a cook began. I was taught how to cook professionally by my head chef then and progressed to run the kitchen as a Head Chef myself. I went on to study NVQ Kitchen & Larder for 4 years and moved into different styles of cuisines, from Bistro, Restaurant, Hotel, Pub & Contract Catering ….
Yoga is a powerful practice for the body, mind and spirit. As both a chef and yoga instructor with your own daily practice, how important is one’s relationship with food and their yoga practice?
Yoga is truly an embodiment and awareness of mind, body and spirit … one does not exist without the other, so my daily practice is as important as the food I put on my plate & in my gut. To look after the physical body, one must practice Asana (yoga Poses) Pranayama (Breath control) & Dhyana (Meditations) so the food you eat will affect all this, and vice versa, so it is important to eat right so you are not putting so much stress on the physical & mental body .
Have you had experience when a great meal or a not so great meal affected your practice?
If I don’t eat right, I can feel the shift in my personal practice, we are all humans and have some sort of weaknesses, so when I eat a “not so great” meal, I feel sluggish & disorientated. Food impacts everything.
You have been working as a chef and teacher for decades. Where do you see people struggling most with food and nutrition and what are some solutions that you find help people to make lasting change?
I have worked in the catering business for almost 25 years & been teaching yoga for almost 10 years now. I see people struggling with food nutrition when it comes to preparing meals. People are always telling me that they have no time, or they are so busy. The solution is simple. Prepare your meals in advance, just a little planning makes things easier for you when it comes to putting them together the day of. Shop for food carefully. You don’t have to go for the most expensive option, but avoid the really cheap stuff. Ultimately, avoid processed food and prepare as much from scratch as possible. This will pay amazing dividends.
Food is so deeply tied to a person’s history, culture and traditions. At Plates, we see this as something to celebrate and share openly with each other. London seems to support and embody this idea. What could London, or any city do to really celebrate diversity and community through food, and even yoga?
We are what we eat & I truly believe all of this is related to our ancestors and cultural traditions. I believe a person should embrace all diversity to make good changes to their habitual living, think outside the box and explore the options. Food & yoga are the perfect coupling. Yoga brings awareness to the body, food brings nutrition to the body. Surely, we need to look after both mind and body to really thrive. When I lived in London, I was fascinated by all the diversity the city has to offer , you will find all sorts of restaurants on any given little street. I was amazed by the culture and how they blend in with the traditions. I am ever so grateful to live in such a diverse community that is truly constantly evolving and makes it what it is right now.
Jean-Claude, enjoying a moment in the sun.
You work with a lot of people that are looking to make changes in their overall health and well-being. For many of us, one of the hardest things to find is consistency. For those struggling in this area, what do you say?
I see lots of people coming to Yoga to make changes in their overall life, health and well-being. Consistency Is a key to this, self-discipline and willingness is a key too. For those who are struggling, I suggest making a small change slowly, kind of baby steps, and see the benefits. like practising yoga, start slowly and try a variety of classes then you can see which one is for you. Same with foods, start by cutting on some bad habits out of your diets, less refined sugar, more greens, less processed food etc….
There is so much overlap with your ethos and the work you do with that of Plates. It’s no surprise we found each other? How do you see our platform serving, both makers and educators like you and communities looking for healthier food options and more connected food experiences?
When I took up a yoga practice, I was searching for changes in my life. When I started teaching yoga, I wanted to guide these changes in people’s lives; to make them happier, healthier and have a better life. I can see Plates platform offering the community a step in the right direction to have a healthy, and happy life. I anticipate offering the community healthy food options, make it easier to prepare and to consume, learn new skills, and have fun while doing it.