After a flourishing 25-year career as a legal professional, Atlanta-based chef and founder of gourmet grocery stores Olea Oliva! Smita Daya asked herself what she can do to educate people to eat healthy yet flavorful? The question paved the way for an inspiring journey in holistic wellness and community development. During the pandemic, she was called upon by a local hospital to cook healthy meals for doctors and front-line workers, and she donated more than 2,000 nutritious meals designed for mind-body balance. Now she’s coming to the aid of the local community coping with obesity and weight gain.
This month, Saris to Suits ® caught up with her to know more about her culinary experiences and the inclination behind learning Ayurveda.
(Atlanta, GA, September 17, 2021) Indian American Smita has an inspirational journey involving three countries and three continents. She was born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia, but Atlanta has been her home for more than 30 years. Her culinary journey began at a young age in her Indian-origin mother’s kitchen. In 2014 when Smita hit her 50s, she decided to leave her job as a paralegal at an Atlanta-based law firm to introduce creative and healthy cooking to her community. That’s quite a reinvention during what some would call ‘midlife’ when most people began to plan for retirement.
“As a wife, mother, and caretaker, I wanted to devote my time to family and also have a business that is personally fulfilling. After living in the States for several decades, I realized that we had the highest obesity count. So, I thought to help people experience the food that raises awareness and increases focus on a lifestyle that lasts forever.”
After noticing an uptick in North Americans looking to adopt nutritious and plant-based cooking, the 58-year-old nutritionist, who is also a trained Ayurvedic chef, decided to introduce them to the principles of Ayurveda. “Ayurveda originates from India. It is an integral part of the Hindu texts and Vedas. Unlike many other diets, the Ayurvedic diet provides personalized recommendations about which foods to eat and avoid based on your body type. The main tenet of Ayurveda is the concept of the three primary energies, or doshas – Kapha (water and earth), Pitta (fire and water), and Vata (space and air), and it aim to achieve the right balance of the three,” she explains.
Chef Daya confesses that the inclination behind learning Ayurveda for her was to make a difference by educating, inspiring, and empowering people to heal in a way that promotes happiness, connectedness, and heightened spiritual awareness. The mother of two loves exchanging notes on the benefits of this ancient healing system but acknowledges that it has been hard for her to open people’s minds. “Since many of my customers are new to it, they walk into the store with a lot of reservations. To help them, I regularly hold workshops and culinary sessions where I talk about the benefits of Ayurveda and fuse its principles with Mediterranean cuisine.”
Speaking of Smita’s exemplary cooking classes, Kim Barnett, one of her clients, writes, “The introduction to Ayurveda is just the first step for me. I want to learn more and grow in this new, healthier lifestyle. I have already gained greater clarity, significantly decreased digestive issues, and have a new sense of overall wellness that I had been missing. Thank you for being so helpful as I begin this lifetime journey.”
The Atlanta chef has earned a certification in plant-based nutrition from a prestigious program at Cornell University and certificates in Ayurveda from multiple well-known organizations such Hale Pule and SKK Ayurveda & Panchakarma. Her husband Dilip is a certified Olive Oil Sommelier. Their label Olea Oliva! sells the most refined extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegar. A chance introduction to freshly pressed extra virgin olive oils by an Italian family laid the foundation of their love for gourmet extra virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegar, and super spices. In 2016, the duo opened their first store in Marietta.
In 2020, the global pandemic hit small businesses everywhere. The two were also put to the test in more ways than one. “Our business came to a complete halt. We had to make sure that we had enough cash flow to pay the bills for the next few months and determine how to sustain for the future. We started to communicate with our customers via weekly email blasts, offered online cooking classes. Many of our products are imported, and with ports partially closed, we had to constantly connect with our suppliers to make sure they fulfilled our orders.” Stepping up during these challenging times, Smita channeled her energy to help healthcare and frontline workers, various shelters, and local orphanages by donating 2,350 ayurvedically cooked meals.
For the unversed, the entrepreneur has also authored a cookbook An Odyssey of Flavors that offers nourishing recipes from her workshops. “At the end of the day, I believe entrepreneurship is about making other people’s lives better while you improve yours,” she says.
(Manvi Pant is a staff writer for Saris to Suits ® Omniscient Perspective. After a corporate career spanning eight years, she has moved to academics and also runs her storytelling platform Real Life Heroes. Founded by former network news anchor Patti Tripathi, US-based Saris to Suits ® focuses on building awareness to break down the barriers that constrain the advancement of women and girls. We aim to advance women’s empowerment, education, gender inclusivity, equality and social justice. www.SarisToSuits.org)