NYC is a mecca for international culinary delights. So it’s not unusual to get wafts of exotic spices or hear ethnic music piping from the speakers while waiting in line for your falafel.
But have you ever wondered if what you’re listening to affects your food? Probably not. And we’re willing to bet you don’t concern yourself either with what’s stirring in the cook’s noggin when he’s preparing your fried fava bean goodness, right? Why would you? Who cares! But if you asked that very same question of Gary MacGurn, co-owner of Hampton Chutney Co – home of the yoga dosa – he’d say you’re missing The Most Important Ingredient.
That’s because at Hampton Chutney, with locations in SoHo, the Upper West Side and Amagansett, very special attention is paid to not only how the food is prepared, but how it’s consumed. “I would just like to see people living more consciously,” says Gary.
When stepping into Hampton Chutney, customers are immediately met with a feast for the senses, the soft sound of yogic mantras permeating the air and images of Indian gurus and gods lining the walls. Chanting? Gurus? We just came for yummy masala dosas!
This makes sense if you knew that the business was founded by two yogis, Gary and Isabel, who discovered their passion for Indian dosas, and each other, while serving seva at Siddha Yoga Meditation ashram in Ganeshpuri, India under Gurumayi (the same ashram and guru made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray Love connection and recent controversy over Gurumayi’s “dark past”).
What started as a modest chutney company in 1997, blossomed into a full service eatery offering dosas, uttapams and hefty helping of “sublime and high feelings” as suggested by the mission statement posted modestly on the side counter, and reinforced by the perpetual soundtrack of chanting in the background.
The chanting, of course, also follows the mission statement authored by Baba Muktananda, Gurumayi’s predecessor and founder of the Siddha Yoga path. In the Ashram, everyone from the cooks to the servers chant the name of God so that this enters the food and thus everyone’s bellies. “Chanting not only purifies your inner being, but also the atmosphere around you, and whatever it comes in contact with,” says Gary, such a staunch adherent to a chantastic lifestyle that he admits even his home and car emit the repetitive mantras of devotion 24/7.
But this is New York, the city of hustle and bustle! Does anyone even pay attention to Om Nama Shivayah on repeat? Gary says most people get it subtly, and that they may not notice the pictures or the chants, but it enters them anyway. “Even now the chants are entering the food. From the beginning when the food is being prepared the chants are entering the food.” Whether you like it or not!
And those who actually notice the incessant chanting and spiritual decor, do they get offended and split? “When we first opened up 14 years ago we were much lower key, with one little picture. We were afraid that people would freak out. As it turns out it’s like bees to honey.” We imagine it also has something to do with delicious food – we’re suckers for HC’s perfectly spiced chana dal soup – but not everyone loves their dosa with a dose of God-stuff and weird droning.
For those chantagonists, Gary sees the yoga scene as a natural protector. “Sometimes they’ll just step in the door [pans the room] and freak out. And that’s fine, and probably for the best.”
With all this heightened awareness, one might think the company is super eco-conscious too, with locally sourced organic produce, biodegradable takeaway containers and a heaping full compost bin. Not so much. It’s not for lack of trying, but Gary reasons that first and foremost it’s a business, responding to concerned customers with the fact that going full green doesn’t make up for itself quite yet. And profit is very important to him, as he says a percentage of the gross has always gone back to the Ashram, which in return, has always given its blessings. If you really want to be green, says Gary, eat the dosas as intended – with your fingers!
While employees aren’t required to be yogis or remain silent, chanting the name of God, Gary maintains that everything is prepared with pure heart, and that this is still the single most important component in cooking and serving their food. “It’d be best if everyone were repeating the mantra and having high thoughts about God,” says Gary. “It’s a start.”
Read the whole article at YogaCityNYC.com