• February 2015

Vilasi Venkatachalam Taps Into Ancient Wisdom to Help Us Heal, Transform

“To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear,” said Buddha.

It’s also the philosophy of Vilasi Venkatachalam, founder of Ancient Wisdom, Modern Solutions.

“I gather nuggets about cuisines, cultures, and cures — in the markets, bazaars, souks, roadside stalls, and backyards of the world,” she shares. “I explore, taste, and write about the secret cuisines and healing traditions, often forgotten. And, I champion markets and makers who do old things in new ways and new things in old ways that delight, heal, and transform.”

At Ancient Wisdom, Modern Solutions, Venkatachalam creates experiences from a brew of art and science, flavored with creative tension of logic and faith, serenity and passion.

Scroll down for our Q&A.

Be Inkandescent: Tell us about Ancient Wisdom, Modern Solutions. What inspired you to found it in 2008?

Vilasi Venkatachalam: I was stepping out of a healthcare system, where I was designing anti-inflammatory and functional nutrition platforms for patient care. Sort of an alternative-integrative-conventional nutritional care.

I had a vision of transforming consciousness of organizations. Creating workplaces that heal. It was a mountain that I did not know which end to chew from.

So, I started to chew from every side I was familiar with and created a mishmash of many experiments.

Professional education seminars, teaching about healing foods, spices and herbs, anti-inflammatory principles in the community and workplaces, doing retreats, using healing traditions for stress management, writing and counseling patients for physician practices, designing foods, menus, ethnocentric patient care … holding supper clubs and salons.

My work has taken the shape of live and multimedia programs such as: “Inspired Palate,” “Be the Architect of Your Own Vitality,” and “Be Your Own Guru.” Now I practice functional nutrition, using healing foods, healing rituals, science, and culinary imagination.

Be Inkandescent: Tell us about your background.

Vilasi Venkatachalam: I have what now feels like a circuitous but ordained route. I started in zoology, botany, and chemistry, then moved into biochemistry. I’m really madly obsessed with nutritional biochemistry in the community.

I’m committed to remembering and reminding the poorer tribal communities of what grows around them that can prevent night blindness, bleeding, and other vitamin-deficient conditions. For example, I observe which mice have longevity and the fluffiest coats? Are they the ones that eat mustard oil, linseed oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, or ghee? What can we apply to ourselves from what we observe in the animal kingdom?

I have been playing with how to create a way to combine the knowledge around functional foods, ethnobotany, and traditional foodways to be useful to those for whom a consistent, healthy diet is most difficult — the hungry, ailing, and poor.

I specialized in all of these for a bit. I managed clinical nutrition and patient care in hospital systems, where I learned that we often sacrifice reason, effectiveness, and care for consistency and efficiency.

Be Inkandescent: Tell us about your popular radio show.

Vilasi Venkatachalam: My radio show is called Secret Cuisines & Sacred Rituals.

I call it a place, a feast, and a quest. Each show is like tiny memoirs of a culture. We explore stories, discoveries, lives lived, meaning, culinary traditions, scents and flavors, and spoken heritage.

The overarching purpose is really a quest for vitality, celebration, connection, and a feeling of reverence.

Be Inkandescent: Who is your ideal client?

Vilasi Venkatachalam: I actually don’t have an ideal client. I have what I call intersecting tribes that gather for a certain feeling and experience.

I love to work with people who love discovery and learning and are comfortable making their own decisions with reason and intuition, and following what feels best for them. They seek to experience vitality in their own particular way.

They are self-directed and looking for guides and interesting ways to discover, experience, and synthesize. And, they prefer to be architects of their own vitality, cobbling together their own particular portfolio of foods, flavors, traditions, rituals, and experiences.

My radio audience is made up of people who are lovers of food, stories, writers of culture, cuisines, fellow travellers, and people who love the Travel Channel, National Geographic, and the History Channel.

I am always surprised who enters my tribe when I speak to very diverse groups at workplaces and communities, so I no longer fixate on the idea of an ideal. My tribes intersect.

Be Inkandescent: What was a major crossroads in building this organization? How did you handle it?

Vilasi Venkatachalam: I had several crossroads, most of them involving the programs I had already created or people I was already working with.

I used to consider the discomfort of dealing with contrary agendas as a cost of doing business. I handled them poorly by not folding things when they should have been folded. The conversation that changed everything came from Hiro Boga, who describes herself as “a business strategist, transformational teacher, and energy alchemist. I work with you to grow your business from the inside out — by growing yourself, and co-creating with the soul of your business.”

She said that every creation that has an evolutionary purpose has a spiritual counterpart, which holds the pattern for its perfect unfolding.

This is not prescriptive. it can happen in any number of ways. It brings with it partners, allies, and support systems. Our business has its own perfect unfolding. We are to partner with its spiritual counterpart.

It was a magnificent and moving idea that changed everything for me. I don’t allow tired marketing theories to dictate anything anymore. I soundly ignore structures that don’t work.

Be Inkandescent: Intuition plays a major role in what you do. Tell us more about that.

Vilasi Venkatachalam: Intuition is built into my work as a subtle tool, as a call to action, in all my programs since they are exploratory in nature. It is the only way to create a space that is gracious, respectful, and nurturing.

Personally, intuition is what I have used to create every one of my services and to choose the people I work with. Over the years, I have collected a set of warning signs, symbols and omens really, and I follow them with considerable respect.

I expect that since intuition plays such a critical role for me, my community — my audience — must place a premium on it and that is why they play in this space with me.

Be Inkandescent: What are your big dreams and goals for your company in 2015 and beyond?

Vilasi Venkatachalam: I am creating rich, multimedia experiences that feel human, not over-curated, and there is a feeling of delight and discovery. They are layered in teaching “Healing Principles of Food” through the lens of cuisines, cultures, and cures around the world, along with the science of food, and vitality.

My dreams are to continue the quest for secret cuisines and sacred rituals and the tribes who love them. I also am excited about writing for my new blogs.

Be Inkandescent: Tell us about your recipes. What are some of your favorites?

Vilasi Venkatachalam: My recipes are fluid. I take them from very traditional sources and add a bit of specific ingredients. Or concoct with whatever I have on hand.

I once created a salon on “Tea on the Silk Road,” (pictured right) on the dessert plate. I used avial, stuffed baby eggplants, grape leaves, savory yogurt rice served with pickled lemon and turmeric, pearl onion and lentil stew, pesto, fritters of chili peppers made with garbanzo bean flour batter … as you can tell, it is an expanding list. My favorites are a moving target.

Here is something everyone can do with fresh turmeric. You can find it in an Indian grocery store or local co-ops.

  • Soak the roots in a pot of hot or warm tap water for 30 minutes.
  • Vigorously rub them dry by the handful.
  • Use a dinner knife to scrape off the skin.

Recipe 1

  1. Peel the skin. It does not have to be smooth, just clean of grit.
  2. Slice into thin coins or grate coarsely, or place it in the blender and try for a coarse chop.
  3. Add lemon/lime juice, sea salt, and black pepper. Let it marinate for 30 minutes or more.
  4. Add to salads, soups, sandwiches, or eat a teaspoon raw a couple of times a day.

Recipe 2

  1. Blend a handful of fresh turmeric roots with a little water.
  2. Add honey and a pinch of black pepper and blend again.
  3. Store this mixture in a glass jar.
  4. When ready, add a teaspoon to hot or warm milk or milk-like beverage .
  5. If you wish, add vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, gingerbread spice, Chai spice, pumpkin spice, or cardamom to really pack a medicinal punch.
  6. You can add this to your smoothies, too!

Recipe 3

  1. Coarsely chop three or four turmeric roots into chunks, or just pound it, or even leave it whole.
  2. Add the turmeric to a pot of water or your tea kettle and boil. Leave it steep. Just use the water and add more water to the roots/kettle, and keep boiling it.
  3. Drink this as tea — six to seven cups a day. Or use it in soups, stews, and pasta sauce instead of stock.
  4. You can also steep other teas in it.

About Vilasi Venkatachalam

The world of my business includes my company, Ancient Wisdom, Modern Solutions, and my radio ​show, “Secret Cuisines & Sacred Rituals.” Both were born out of my desire to create vitality, connection, and celebration and healing at workplaces, markets, and communities.

The tools of my trade are collecting stories, storytelling, designing experiences, and my training in​ food, nutrition, biochemistry, and botany.

The signature of my work is deep grooves, lightheartedness, connection, and graciousness.

I am very interested, fascinated, and intrigued by: intuition, creative electricity, unexplained healing and transformation, stories, memories, longings, and human ingenuity. Out of all the charities and causes in the world, what pulls at my heartstrings most is: Half the Sky, Teach for India, hunger, children on the streets, and orphanages.

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