In the Zen tradition it is widely believed that the most important element within a yoga retreat setting is neither the Priest, nor the Lama, nor the students themselves - it is the Chef, the Tenzin. This Tenzin’s primary purpose is to nourish the physical bodies of the participants, yet he also uses food as a medium to relax the mind, touch the soul, and invite the spirit to dance within its sacred temple.
This being said, as you are planning your next spiritual, yoga event, make planning the food and its preparation a priority. Well-designed food service can attract new business, encourage return clients, and truly enhance the consumer’s overall experience. It has great karmic returns!THE CHEF
For my first job as a retreat chef, I was hired to cook 3 meals a day for 35 participants during a 12 day Silent Meditation Retreat in a stunning mountain setting just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Throughout their intense period of soul searching and major transformation, food was the only form of sensory stimulation these participants enjoyed. It was then that I discovered the kitchen is the heart of the retreat experience. It is where lives are touched through ecstatic laughter, moments of profound realization, and tears of joy. In fact, every yoga retreat I have cooked for since then has proven to be an enlightening experience colored by the circular connection made while working, serving, and eating side-by-side with the participants.
Due to the profound impact the food has on the retreat experience, here are some of the basic attributes you can look for when interviewing prospective chefs to cook for your yoga retreat.
• experience cooking in retreat or private settings
• experience serving large numbers of guests
• knowledge of organic & natural foods
• works well under pressure
• warm personality
At minimum, a retreat chef should exhibit these attributes. This will not only enhance the retreat experience, but will provide a solid yoga business
relationship as well.GO DEEPER
One way to truly enhance your next event is to offer food that genuinely reflects the philosophy of your teachings. Skilled chefs will design menus to complement your program as well as use their expertise to deepen your message of health and transformation.
Here are some qualities that a more seasoned chef might possess:
• use of only the finest quality organic ingredients
• experience working with well-known teachers
• ability to design an individualized menu plan
• ability to give lectures & cooking classes
• experience with food allergies & special needs
• knowledge of natural remedies & healing foods
• knowledge of different styles
(from a raw/vegan to a meat-eater)
• spiritual self practice
Hiring a chef of this caliber will ensure that
you exceed the expectations of your clients.MEETING YOUR CLIENTS’ NEEDS
When organizing your event you will want to make sure to gather any information from your clients pertaining to food allergies, specific dietary needs/restrictions, and general food preferences. An easy way to do this is to include a short food questionnaire with the retreat’s contract. DESIGNING A MENU
Food is the essential ingredient in helping your guests make the transition from the daily grind to a state of retreat. A highly skilled retreat chef is aware of this and will greet the participants at the first meal with an abundance of comforting foods.
A well-designed menu will consist of the following:
• organic & natural foodstuffs
• organic whole grains
• an abundance of greens
• quality protein (i.e. tofu, organic meats, fish)
• fresh juices/smoothies
You may also choose to complement the experience by providing a beverage station that is available throughout the day and into the evening. The following are some suggestions of items to include:
• hot water
• an array of organic tea
• coffee alternatives
• milk (soy, rice, dairy)
• natural sweeteners
• filtered water with citrus
A seasoned retreat chef will also include a healthy snack station as a supplement between meals. Here are some examples of tasty offerings:
• organic fruit
• organic whole grain bread
• butter or ghee
• organic nut butters
• organic preserves & jams
• organic trail mixRATES
Now that we can see how important the chef and food service is to your event, it is important not to compromise quality. This is one area where money is well spent!
In most cases, professional chefs charge a per person (pp) / per meal (pm) rate for all attendees. This includes the workshop participants, the teachers, and sometimes the kitchen staff.
Prices vary according to the size of the retreat, and the quality of the food being offered. Here is a general guide:
Small Retreats (1-20 persons) $12 - $18 per person per meal (pp/pm)
Medium Sized Retreats (20-75 persons)
$10 - $16 / pp/pm
Large Retreat (75 - 300 persons)
$8 - $14 / pp/pm
An average rate for centers is $35-40 / day per person (3 meals).
Some chefs will have you cover the cost of food, then they will charge a rate based on labor and number in attendance.BOTTOM LINE
Conscious planning of the food service for your retreat will ensure that you provide the finest experience, continually exceeding the expectations of your clients. This is why it is essential to be proactive and establish a relationship with a quality chef prior to setting the rates. By doing so you can build the cost of topnotch service into the price of your event without affecting your bottom line!