Turn vegan, beat diabetes: American chef's mantra for Keralites

jacques-vipin American celebrity chef Jacques Laventure (L) with his wife Shyno Mathew | Vipin Das P.

Growing up in New York, chef and CEO of Get Fit Eat Well— Jacques Laventure—started out as a model at age 18. Jacques who turned vegan for personal reasons, made it his mission to make the practice global. Along with his wife, Shyno Mathew, who hails from Kerala, Jacques hopes to popularise veganism in the state.

Jacques, who took his culinary training from the International Culinary Training Centre in New York, turned to veganism eight years ago, after his father passed away due to diabetes. His journey into veganism is very personal he says: “My wife's father, too, is diabetic. And so it felt more like a moral obligation than anything else to try and attack diabetes in Kerala which has the highest instances of diabetes in India.” Jacques met his wife at a fundraiser for Shyno's startup related to academics. He helped her put together the food for the event. “We would then just play tennis a lot. One thing led to another and here we are,” he says. The couple got married in Kottayam three weeks ago.

Jacques has also done a stint on MTV USA as a 'Naked Chef' where he went shirtless, and wore just an apron and pants. “There is no escaping it,” he says with a grin. “It was a great stunt being a figure in healthy food and show that vegans are not skinny. When the opportunity presented itself in California, I ran with it. Also MTV was a great platform to connect with millennials.” Jacques says people would ask him what he ate in order to stay fit and stay in shape, “and that is what motivated me to get into culinary school. Plus I really enjoyed cooking and planning my meals.”

For anyone who wants to transition into being a vegan, Jacques says, “It is best to eliminate meat, fish and diary one at a time. Do not be hard on yourself if you slip up and eat meat or cheese. It will take time before you are at your end goal of being a complete vegan.” So, did he convince a true blue Kottayam native Shyno to become vegan? “Shyno was really open to the concept. She already preferred eating vegetarian food when I met her. Fish was the only thing she found hard to give up when she decided to be vegan. But eventually, she sailed through it,” he says.

“Promoting veganism in Kochi reminds me of the time I tried promoting veganism in Texas, a state of heavy meat eaters. What worked in my favour then were workshops that showed people actually how easy and feasible it was and then opening Fitness Joq, a vegan cafe,” he says. He also ensured that a lot of information about veganism was available right from the start and that is what Jacques and Shyno hope to do while in Kerala.

“We are planning more workshops in Kerala, Bengaluru and Mumbai. We also want people from Kerala to be a part of our clinical trial where we will encourage people (especially those with diabetes) to stay on a plant-based diet for 8-12 weeks, increase their activity levels by 30 minutes, try and increase the amount of time they spend in the sun and meditate. Following this and with sufficient information in their hands, we would like to see how they feel.” He hopes to get people to be part of the trial by partnering with doctors who specialise in diabetes. “I feel people in Kerala are educated and therefore very open to new ideas. And so, I think it won't be as hard to get them to try out a new lifestyle,” Jacques says. He also hopes to make veganism a part of tourism by encouraging tourists to get to know local farmers as they enjoy local cuisine.

But what about the feasibility? To this, he says, “A lot of vegan eating can be planned in advance and that helps to keep the budget in check. Milk can easily be substituted with a combination of coconut and sesame milk. Cashew cheese and almond butter are great options, too. Melon seeds and pumpkin seeds are a great source of protein besides lentils and soy. And then, most of your meals should ideally include a variety of vegetables like tapioca, potato or yams with spinach, peas or chickpeas. Tapioca, potato and yam are great sources of carbohydrates while peas, chickpeas and spinach provide protein.”

Jacques feels it would be ideal to start the day with a breakfast filled with macro nutrients— oats soaked overnight in coconut milk with a side of avocado and some chia pudding or a spoonful of flax seeds for the fats. For lunch he would recommend a spinach and beets salad with walnuts or peanuts and some soy.

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