Zen and the art of cooking
Saito Cecilia Kaoru’s take on food is a blend of Indian vegetarianism and Zen simplicity
Saito Cecilia Kaoru advocates the Universal Diet, a food concept that she has constructed. Cecilia is Japanese and strangely enamoured by Indian philosophy and ways. Her food concept, which she propagates through her NGO UDCC or Universal Diet Cooperation Centre, is a blend of Indian vegetarianism and Zen simplicity. Cecilia is in the process of publishing a book, in English and Japanese, based on her food practice. She was in the city to try out the recipes in the kitchen of Kochi’s first Japanese restaurant, Tokyo Bay.
Besides being a foodie Cecilia is an artist too.
“There is an imbalance created in the environment due to our lop-sided food habits,” says Cecilia whose food philosophy is a reaction to the rise in the consumption of meat and meat products.
“In Japan people are eating too much meat. The young generation there loves spicy food. I don’t want to use the word vegetarian for my diet. I call it universal diet as it is good for everybody, whatever race or nationality.”
According to her, the five elements that make nature and our body have been disturbed. It’s from this belief that her food philosophy arises. It draws a connect between the food we eat, the way we live and our natural habitat.
The most difficult thing to do is to wean people away from a meat rich diet, she says.
She has made 11 menus using vegetarian ingredients that will have any meat eater relish the dish without missing the meat, says Hisao Nagatani, director of Tokyo Bay.
Soya bean is Cecilia’s main ingredient. She uses this product in versatile ways. A preparation that “tasted like beef and appeared like shredded lamb,” cleverly masquerades as meat. Konjac, a tasteless, colourless tuber, from the “jimikand family” (sweet potato), is interestingly prepared with Soya bean to make filler buns in Hamburgers. “Konjac is good for digestion. It makes good bacteria inside our body; it is great for weight loss and for diabetes. Most of all it takes other flavours well and thus turns very tasty,” says Cecilia.
No to dairy products
The Universal Diet has no dairy products, “no curd, milk, cream or ghee”. It is Soya milk that she advocates. Soya meat noodles is another of Cecilia’s crafted food.
For dessert Cecilia recommends from her platter a Soya whipped cream with green tea or a seaweed jelly preparation.
Cecilia’s book, besides explaining the concept, will also recommend dietary habits like the need to have early dinner. “Indians eat very late in the night, which is not good for the system.” The book will have two versions, an e-book and also paperback edition to be published by September, “before the Namaste India festival in Tokyo.”
Cecilia was invited earlier this year to the seafood fest in Chennai to present her food concept. She has toured many cities in India for her art programs too.
What surprises one is Cecilia’s draw towards India. “I liked Indian stories from childhood. The story of Shakuntala and of Mahabharata held special interest for me.” In junior school she learnt yoga and in high school she was attracted to Indian philosophy. She also learnt meditation. She studied the Vedas in Tokyo from “a man from Orissa”.
While her food draws from her philosophy, her art too is linked with it and her mystical persona.
“Art comes from the Sanskrit word Atman.” Cecilia learnt sculpture at Tokyo Zokei University and is a travelling faculty in many colleges. “Veg. cooking too is an art,” she says
Her art education “is not only about painting.” Design is a culmination of varied interpretations in art, she says stressing on the “approach to the subject.”
Earlier this year Cecilia held her art show at Ginza, in the heart of Tokyo.
Is her diet friendly to the young generation? Remaining unfazed, she says. “Boxer Mike Tyson and sprinter Carl Lewis are vegans. I am not interested in changing mindsets, I want them to taste the food and then believe in this. I have so much information about vegan food but I don’t want to force my food concept on them. Eat and decide.”
At the end, Cecilia, quite like her gentle, healthy diet, closes her eyes and with a beatific smile on her face chants from the Bhagwad Gita. She then opens her eyes and says, Namaste.