The Power Of Mind Food - An Interview With Lauren Lovatt
Ahead of her debut book launch, Rebecca Moore caught up with chef, entrepreneur and now author Lauren Lovatt about how we can inspire better mental health through food.
Mind Food is Lauren Lovatt debut book, launching today (the 15th of February), alongside a host of exciting events and plant-powered workshops. Lauren describes her challenging but transformative journey with food and the impact what we eat can have on our mental health.
I first met Lauren through a mutual friend several years ago, I attended a supper club she hosted in a cosy venue in Covent Garden. I was blown away by the experience; each dish beautifully presented, like art on a plate. The delicious flavour combinations stole the topic of conversation at the table. Half way through the evening, Lauren popped out of the kitchen to say hello. Massaging kale leaves in a large metal bowl, her bright blue eyes beamed with enthusiasm as she greeted all her guests. Her deep rooted passion for wholesome mood boosting foods was truly infectious and no one left uninspired.
Lauren’s curiosity for food was ignited on her road to recovery from mental health challenges, during her time at university. This inspired her to train as a chef and a chance opportunity saw her running a popular plant-based concept, Asparagasm. She went on to travel the world teaching culinary skills, curating experiential events and sharing her passion for plants far and wide. Lauren has since launched her own successful chef school, international food curation consultancy and a London based food filming studio. Even finding the time to write her very own book.
I sat down with Lauren to learn more about some of her go-to good mood foods, supportive practices and her vision for the future of Mind Food.
When did you first discover the connection between food and mental health?
Growing up, food came very naturally to me. I adored eating and cooking, I had no knowledge of nutrition, yet was always fascinated by making things. Whilst at university I started to live in a way that was naturally more focused on partying than food and saw many around me suffering from ill mental health. My own world collapsed when very suddenly I lost someone I loved very much to suicide, this was when my own mental health battle began.
For many years I experienced first-hand the challenges of mental illness; I suffered from periods of restricting food, then recovering from serious mental health issues and really thriving on food. I can now look back and see how certain lifestyles were a definite factor in negatively impacting my mental health and that of those around me.
Going through all of this made me see food in a whole new light. When I finally turned a corner with the help of counselling and alternative therapies, the wellness industry was only just emerging and I discovered a whole new toolbox of ingredients. As I started to see and feel the power of plant-based food I was finishing a very long degree in the arts. Straight out of university I retrained as a chef and searched for courses and opportunities that celebrated the ‘food as medicine' approach to life.
Connecting to food, what we eat and cooking can change everything for us individually and collectively. As chefs and cooks, we have so much potential to share this with those we share food with. Now more than ever this is crucial. Mind food is an approach to truly celebrating this way of life in the most delicious, authentic, easy and enticing way, making knowledge readily available, with the mission of integrating these ideas into our day to day lives.
How did your past experiences inspire what you do now?
When I first started my career in food I had six jobs, working for various cafes, restaurants charities. I had also started my own wellness consultancy business; all whilst taking every plant-based food course I could find (which seven years ago wasn’t many!) I was fortunate enough to meet Kate Lewis, who had created the first vegan pop-up supper club in London, Asparagasm. After watching her create mesmerising events for many months, one day I got a call from her asking if I would be interested in setting up a permanent space in the Cotswolds for the brand. Of course, I was all in and spent the next six months setting up, designing the space, recruiting staff and working with our chef on the menus. Then, within a week of opening, the chef left and I had to step up and become the chef overnight!
Two years, many festivals, events and guest chef pop-ups later, I was ready to train further and really deepen my food knowledge and chef skills. I put everything in place at the restaurant so I could go to LA and train at Matthew Kenney Culinary. A month in and I was hooked. I came back and started to host my own plant-based pop-up nights in London. Eventually, I made the difficult decision to close the restaurant and go back to take level two and three of the Matthew Kenney courses — eventually being offered the opportunity to open their Barcelona Academy.
After discovering my passion for teaching, which took me to Bali to teach at Alchemy Academy I returned to London to open my own culinary school, Plant Academy. This was an initiation into running a bricks and mortar business of my own, having previously done mostly freelance gigs. In addition to Plant Academy, I now have my own consultancy business doing bespoke food curation for international brands and my filming space, The Food Studio, in collaboration with Sara Kiyo Popowa, the creator of Shiso Delicious.
This next chapter for me is all about inspiring better health through food and coming back to my why, creating new content and experiences that share the potential of mind food.
What was the transition like from design and art into food and wellness?
Whilst studying, I based my final degree project on rebranding mental health with a trend towards wellbeing. For this project, I wrote a trend book ‘The Recipe for Wellbeing’ covering food, lifestyle and even textiles and illustration. This really became the handbook to my life from that point. The idea really planted a seed for Mind Food and took shape over the last decade.
When I retrained as a chef and started my own mini-wellness consultancy business, I got the unusual job of ‘the wellbeing pixie’ at an incredible venue that held events called Matara. I was doing graphic design, social media and even creating websites whilst dying to really get into food in some way professionally. I was trying to connect all the different strands in what I was doing and that’s when the Asparagasm opportunity came up. I literally dropped everything and jumped feet first into the chance to bring the concept to life. From there I lived and breathed the brand and quickly became the chef, travelling, teaching and opening businesses just flowed for me.
Is there anything that you learnt during your time studying art and textiles that you’ve been able to channel into food curation?
So much! I am so pleased that I studied design instead of food, especially because at that time food schools were so traditional and not progressive and artistic. My experience in that period was extremely challenging, due to my battles with mental illness, but very much shaped who I am and what I wanted to do. My art foundation was especially transformative. I really discovered my passion for illustration here and for my degree, I specialised in textile design, both of which for sure influence the way I think about and draw my plates now.
This eye for design and detail really influences my plates. I'm also fascinated with food trends and lifestyle, tuning into trend prediction for my degree has definitely supported my menu writing. This business angle gave me some ideas and supported me when setting up my own businesses.
You’ve just released your debut book Mind Food. What was the process like putting that together?
Mind Food was a book that I had dreamed of writing ever since my final degree project, so when the publisher reached out I leaped at the chance to make it happen. I started out by gathering all the recipes I had tried and tested at Mind Food events and key pieces of information I had learned over the last decade.
The high challenge came in trying to be purely focused on writing, and I totally understand why so many writers need to take themselves away on retreat to get in the zone. I was able to actually do the main part of the writing in the three-month lockdown period. This turned my usually varied schedule upside down and enabled me to slow down, focus and really enjoy the process of testing recipes and writing in the countryside with my family.
The part that was totally new to me was shooting the visuals. Myself and Sara, the photographer for the book and my business partner at The Food Studio, had experience shooting her own book and really showed me the ropes. Going to prop houses, creating each scene and planning the flow of the shoot was the ultimate highlight, making those images and really seeing Mind Food come into reality.
What are your go-to good mood foods?
My go-to good mood foods are:
- Medicinal mushrooms in many forms. When needing extra energy in the mornings I’m leaning on a chaga chai, spiked with cordyceps. Reishi taken morning and evening, to balance hormones and help with sleep and lions mane daily for focus and brain regenerative support.
- CBD and hemp for calm. I tend to use CBD in recipes, like raw snacks and salad dressings, for its calming effect and super brain nourishing benefits.
- Cacao, of course, is an ultimate go-to. An instant mood and energy booster it can also be very calming. I tend to always go for raw cacao, spiked with adaptogens or melted into a hot chocolate for the ultimate comfort.
-Spices are an essential part of mind food and understanding which spices you can use to transport you to a calmer or more energised place. Spices like cardamom and cinnamon are naturally calming, and others like saffron and chilli give you a natural lift. You can be very clever with these potent flavours by adding them to drinks and recipes to totally transform the feeling in your food.
I’m currently adaptogen stacking rhodiola (brain support), shizandra (immune support), baobab (vitamin C), lion's mane (brain support) and daily cacao for a lift in the darker months.
Why is it so important to incorporate good mood foods into our diet?
Our brains are one of the most neglected organs and what we choose to eat has a monumental impact on how we feel.
After years of experiencing this first hand and trying many things, I find the most effective mood boosting support comes with finding the tonic herbs and plants that give you the greatest support.
Mind food is about prevention rather than cure and passing on these powerful messages to your body through food. The more we enjoy and understand these foods, the better we feel and that has a huge ripple effect, making them more widely available and understood by all.
Now more than ever this information needs to be commonplace and just by starting to nurture our own minds we are making a significant impact in this process.
What else should we consider when stocking up our fridges and cupboards?
Mind food is all about eating in a well balanced way, prioritising organic rainbow vegetables, a bounty of seasonal greens, whole grains, a variety of nuts and seeds, healthy fats and really trying to eat as much variety as possible — at least 30 different plants a week.
Eating hyper seasonally is the best way to maximise the nutrition you are receiving from your food and it really helps us to connect to the world around us.
Each season try to introduce a new recipe to your life; if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere this could be a sea buckthorn dressing in the summer, enjoying a bounty of berries as soon as they pop at the end of the spring, nettle pesto in the autumn and dosing up on all the mushrooms in the winter.
Opt for ingredients that are as natural as possible, avoid fillers and useless ingredients, support conscious brands and eat things you truly love.
What other practices do you use to support your mental health?
Mind food is very much about creating a holistic lifestyle, I try to really curate my routine around supporting my mind. In the morning I do all sorts of different movement practices, I especially love kundalini yoga for energy tuning and Qi gong for the most amazing mind body balance.
I love to include little rituals throughout the day, like making a matcha or sprouting some seeds (which I find extremely fun and nourishing) and really turning off all distractions whilst I make and enjoy these things.
I also make sure I walk every day and get as much fresh air as possible, which always helps to clear my mind, rain or shine.
As a night owl, I often get sucked into all sorts of less calming things. I am trying to evolve my evening routine by doing lots of castor oil packs, magnesium baths and TBM (to be magnetic) deep imaginings to end the day on as good a note as I start it!
Tell us more about Plant Academy.
Plant Academy is my, now online, culinary school all about inspiring passion through plants. It began in 2019, as an onsite school, with the idea to bring people together from around the world to teach the best in plant-based food. The vision with Plant Academy was to curate a three-part culinary experience, for both chefs and novice cooks, taught by the leading minds in the industry who are trailblazing the way for the future of food.
We started with these immersive courses called ‘Plant 123’ where we would invite amazing guests and visit inspiring places in London to teach students how to make an impact on the food system and bring their dreams to life through food. Like many businesses, in 2020 we were forced to go online and I transformed these courses into 12 week live experiences, with the same guests, streamed to kitchens around the world.
Plant Academy is all about future thinking knowledge and the most creative food design to support foodies to up level their skills, discover their passion and develop practices for plant-based cooks internationally so together we can move towards a more sustainable and conscious food system.
What else are you bringing to life at the moment?
Now everything for me is about bringing the conversation of mental health to the table, so I am very excited to be working on opening a food and lifestyle space in the near future! In the meantime, I’m am working on plans for many festivals this summer, where I will be speaking and cooking — and can’t wait to be in the fields again!
Aside from mind food, I am starting a new radio show as part of Food FM that I am really excited about. I’m also working with amazing brands, trailblazing the future of food by supporting their concepts, writing menus and training their teams to keep the plant passion alive far and wide!
Can you share a short recipe from the book?
Saffron is an ingredient which is currently getting a lot of attention, because some research shows that it provides benefits for the brain. This ancient spice has been said to increase dopamine and as the sunshine spice, what else would you expect?
Saffron can be expensive because of the time it takes to harvest each individual thread but, if used wisely, it is hugely beneficial.
This spiced drink can be served warm or cool, depending on what you fancy, and is perfect to brighten up a winter's day.
Spiritual and wellbeing therapist, creating soulful spaces for individuals and groups to share openly, explore curiously and transform deeply.
With a background in entrepreneurship, mentorship and coaching, her practice incorporates mindfulness, meditation and reiki - fusing western and ancient techniques, grounded in love, presence and connection.
Projects and start-ups span the arts, fashion, eco-hospitality, natural skincare and conscious living.