A culinary gem hidden in your backyard
STOCKBRIDGE — The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health's international appeal is apparent before you ever walk through its doors. On Monday afternoon, searching for a spot in the Stockbridge institution's parking lot involved passing license plates from across North America: Ontario, Quebec, California, Ohio, South Carolina and Maryland.
But Kripalu isn't solely for those who hail from distant locales, nor is it exclusive to yogis. The center is also a destination for savvy foodies who might be a little better equipped to pronounce "Mahkeenac," the name of one of the building's three dining rooms, than guests visiting the area. On Wednesdays, those who live within a 30-mile radius of Kripalu can pay $10 (plus tax) per person for lunch or dinner at the center; usually, it's $15 for lunch and $18 for dinner. Drop-ins on that day can go to a YogaDance class for $5, too. Additionally, a new "Berkshire Mondays" package running through June 10 includes an evening yoga class and dinner afterward for $30 per person (half that for just the yoga). Overall, Kripalu attracts a fair number of regulars from the Berkshires, according to vice president of marketing and sales Rebecca Churt.
"We have a lot of familiar faces," she said.
Carol and Phil Gukowsky are two of them. The Lenox couple regularly dine at Kripalu, hiking before or after lunch. The Wednesday discounts are just a bonus for them.
"We found out there was a deal for $10, but we would have come anyway," Phil said.
"Great variety and very healthy," Carol said. "I like Indian, and he eats American. I'm vegan, too."
One of the myths that Kripalu tries to fight, Churt said, is the notion that it only serves vegan food. While the center takes pride in dishing out "high-quality, energy-rich" foods that accommodate a variety of different dietary needs, those items can span from jerk chicken to raw jicama salad to the "OMG" cherry chocolate chip cookies that are on sale in the first-floor cafe. Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine originating in India, underlies the culinary creations of executive chef Jeremy Rock Smith and company.
"We have a lot of our food philosophy inspired and rooted in ayurvedic practices," Churt said, "and those that are familiar with those teachings and those different viewpoints, they will also see that things are labeled based on whether you're Kapha, Pitta or Vata, or whether or not something will specifically help you in the direction of balancing one of those elements."
Those labels appear in the main cafeteria space, one of the center's three dining area — the aforementioned Mahkeenac Room and a silent room are the others — that currently offer daily seating for breakfast from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Dinner runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m. except on Fridays and Saturdays, when it is extended to 5 to 7:30 p.m.
The central dining spot is divided in half by two buffet lines: one is vegetarian, and one contains meat options. First-timers are advised to scan the seasonal offerings before picking up a tray; there's a lot to digest. On Monday, for instance, spring corn soup, roasted veggie and chevre enchilada, vegan roasted vegetable enchilada, Wehani rice, pinto beans and sauteed kale and pumpkin seeds were all available at lunch near the salad stations. Toward the back of the room, there's a sandwich bar and the "Buddha Bar," an ayurvedic-influenced section that includes "simple preparations of legumes, grains, vegetables, and an assortment of balancing condiments," according to the center.
Ingredients are listed above menu items. Organic foods are underlined, and potential allergens are bolded and detailed at length. Kripalu sources some of its food from local farms. For example, High Lawn Farm in Lee provides the center's milk. (Scraps go to local farms, and local food banks collect any leftovers.)
Once your tray is full, there is ample seating near the serving areas. The Mahkeenac Room is smaller, but features stunning views of Stockbridge Bowl. The silent room is unique, though.
"If you want to come in and truly have a little bit more of a mindful and personal experience with regards to food, you can opt to eat your food in the silent dining hall," Churt said. "Every breakfast is silent [regardless of room], so we really encourage our guests to tap into the morning and tap into that sensory experience of waking up and starting your day in a little bit more of a quiet way, in a way that allows you to tune in before you become more active."
Eating outside is also an option.
"You can certainly come here and get the food to go, but we would invite people to also stay and take part in the experiences that surround our dining times," Churt said.
On Wednesdays through the end of June, Berkshire area residents can purchase day passes for $52.50, half off of the normal price. The pass provides access to activities, such as yoga classes and "R&R" workshops, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Locals can also stop by the gift shop that day and pick up a copy of "The Kripalu Kitchen: Nourishing Food for Body and Soul." The center's second cookbook was released April 16 and features 125 recipes from Smith.
"We always get people asking about, 'How can I bring Kripalu home?'" Churt said.
Still, there is much to be gained by hanging out on-site. Hannah Wilken of Stockbridge, a Kripalu regular, was eating lunch with one of the center's employees on Wednesday, noting that it was delicious.
"It is also nice to meet people from all over the place," Wilken said.
Eagle photographer Gillian Jones contributed reporting to this story.
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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