Cooking as Meditation: An Interview with Kusuma Rao
Kusuma Rao is the owner and chef of Ruchikala, where she specializes in creating beautiful Indian-Mexican fusion cuisine. In Sanskrit, ruchi means delicious, and kala means art, which Rao combined to create ruchikala, or "the art of taste."
Rao developed her passion for food and her unique approach to cooking growing up in Tucson, Arizona. Her parents are from Southern India, and she grew up eating both Indian and Mexican food, experimenting with a wide array of spices in her parents' kitchen.
Rao started Ruchikala after working at a job she hated. As a way to unwind after work, she started throwing elaborate dinner parties for friends, and soon discovered a passion. She was especially drawn to time-intensive, traditional Indian dishes. She realized that creating long, slow dishes gave her time to reflect and connect both with herself and the people she cooked for.
"It's meditative for me to spend intentional time with food," she says. "There's a lot of time to really think about who I am and what I'm doing. It's a mindfulness experience. It slows everything down so much that you have the ability to pay attention to these details that you wouldn't see otherwise. You have to stay engaged through every part of the process - you have to watch the heat because you could burn the spices, but you have to toast them enough so that the internal oils get extracted - there's something that happens in that process that's very soothing. It's a way to feel connected to something. It's an interesting lens to get to know yourself."
Because she relishes the meditative process of cooking, Rao primarily does pop-ups, dinner parties and catering, allowing her to avoid the fast-paced, cutthroat atmosphere of traditional restaurant kitchens.
"I'm privileged in what I get to do," Rao reflects. "It's a beautiful, nourishing experience."
Cooking is also a way for Rao to connect to those she's making food for. She loves to get to know the people she's cooking for and nurture them beyond the experience of just eating. Rao says she aims to "provide a sense of place and holding space" for the people she cooks for, and creating that connection is an integral part of her process.
As a mindfulness and yoga practitioner herself, Rao is especially excited about cooking for the Peace in Schools Gala because of her appreciation for the work we do.
Some of the unique dishes she's creating for us include a chaat tostada - a toasted corn tortilla spread with a yellow pea curry and layers of different chutneys, topped with pico de gallo. She's also making a polenta thadka loaf featuring a host of flavorful Indian spices - one of her slow-food marvels that ferments for 30 hours before it bakes.
We hope you'll join us for this spectacular meal, created with so much love! We won't have formal seating, so you'll be free to mingle, enjoy small-plate courses bistro style, and take in the breathtaking city views.
The Gala will also include local libations, music with a fabulous DJ, as well as moving appearances from the teens we serve.
Tickets are selling fast - get yours now!