Meet Ankur Parikh, M.D.
The Natural Gourmet Institute's Former Guest Blogger
Ankur Parikh, M.D. is an emergency room physician who has his earned a certificate in Food Therapy from NGI, has studied Ayurvedic science and learned advanced culinary techniques at the Basque Culinary Center. Ankur has had a passion for food since he was young. Ankur is a first-generation Gujarati American, and his family, like many others, revolved around the kitchen, the gas burners, the table and all of the space in between.
Here's how Ankur hopes to converge his passion for culinary creation with his passion for medicine.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born and have spent most of my life in New York City, currently living in Brooklyn. While time spent living and traveling abroad have challenged and changed me, I identify myself first as a New Yorker and second-generation Indian American, each of which contributes greatly to how I experience the world around me, wherever I am. These experiences have left an indelible impression, resulting in a desire to serve my local community and ultimately influencing my decision to go to medical school. A strong sense of home can do that: make you want to build upon that foundation with respect and gratitude. For me, medicine was a way to enact this feeling.
How did you become interested in cooking?
The kitchen was where the action was when I was a kid. I saw my mom running around mixing spices, making sauces, talking, tasting, singing, feeding guests from the neighborhood and abroad and sending them home satiated. These are the things I remember; the movement and coordination, the thrill in guests’ faces, and how when eating good food you can cycle through a conversation that is both light and heavy at the same time. I wanted a piece of that action, asked a lot of questions, and, over the years, started my own journey, cycling through classes at culinary schools around the world. I love the people in my life, the stories, culture, and history. To be a part of all that and use my hands? It just makes sense. I also like to eat, and that never hurts.
You are open about how your mom’s cooking inspired you. How do you use this inspiration in your own cooking?
I grew up in a matriarchal family. It’s always been my mom, my dad, my brother and me, but she’s always been our strength and the center of our family. That said, she grew up at a time and place that didn’t allow her some of the choices that progress today allowed for. She sacrificed career aspirations and was forced to bite her tongue at times when her voice could have made crucial positive change. But I really believe that one of our deepest mechanisms for resistance is creativity; and while she cooked for her family with love and nostalgia, she also created, modified, and improvised with intellect and resolve. She never stopped adapting her recipes, taking on new ideas and applying them to old ones. She wasn’t scared to change, learn, and move forwards and that courage is something that I bring not only to the kitchen, but to other aspects in my life. We’re always trying to find ways to respect our own history, both collectively and individually, while continuing to evolve, but it is certainly not easy. Having her behind me has certainly helped.
What triggered the correlation between food and health for you?
It just feels logical that what we take in has a strong effect on what we put out. Health typically feels like something inside us but really, it’s something we put out. We can’t wake up in the morning and determine our own blood pressure, hemoglobin saturation, blood glucose specifically, but if we are honest with ourselves, we are usually able to assess the energy we are putting out and how it feels compared to yesterday, last year, or even ten years ago. I think that output of energy is always going to reflect the input of what we’ve consumed, including visual stimuli, thoughts, the people we choose to surround ourselves with and, of course, at the most basic level, what we feed ourselves. It’s fascinating because it’s that simple, and once we recognize that, it becomes trial and error to figure out what makes you feel good and what makes people around you feel good. This exploration should be fun, and I get excited talking about it.
You’ve hosted several pop-up dinners for different causes. What have these experiences been like for you?
To begin, it’s not easy. Organization, repetition, and precision never are easy for me, so I have a ton of respect for those who can practice it every day. As far as collaborating with causes goes, it has been a dream to help raise awareness for organizations that, usually without any glory (or significant individual monetary gain) whatsoever, commit to the small niche that they serve. As I mentioned before, the ability to flow in and out of light and heavy conversation has always been part of my experience with food, both in preparation and consumption. My pop-up dinners provide that forum to have those light and heavy conversations around the complicated societal questions and problem we face. For me, it’s more than just the dinner; it’s using food as the connector that draws us together to have these conversations, combining action with urgency. Though I can’t say I’m raising millions of dollars for anyone, it’s what could be called “Prasad,” a kind of offering to my community.
What are your goals in growing as a cook and physician?
I think it’s always nice and natural to bring worlds together. More and more, I am striving to converge my passion as a chef and for culinary creation with my passion for medicine, and there are a multitude of options to do so these days. But to me, growing has always been less about uncovering absolute answers and more about discovery, about asking questions and understanding that the answers are difficult to find.
This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.