Journeys in Taste Interview with Chef Aisling Larkin
“If there is a day where I am not learning something I feel tetchy, like it is a wasted opportunity,” says Aisling Larkin, mindful eating coach and keynote speaker, well-being advocate, television chef/cook and founder of www.eatingmindfully.ie.
Aisling loves the instructive cut and thrust “being curious, discovering and uncovering new things, learning from others, learning from books, learning from podcasts. I love designing concepts, testing my ideas and learning from the outcomes. It energises me and gives me such hope, optimism and excitement. It gives me confidence and go and try new things all the time, to grow and develop.” She says she is a teacher, an educator, to her core. She loves to learn a new way, a better way, and then teach this to people. “It is my way of leading others along this journey of eating better.”
Such a crucial philosophy for Aisling is inherently connected to what she terms a “360-degree integrative approach to eating food full of umami, food to support joy and excitement and stimulate all of the senses, food for comfort, food for energy, and food to support our physical wellbeing.” It is, she says, what led her to Helsinki, Finland (world leaders in education and food education) a few years ago when she worked with the University of Helsinki on learning in-depth about the Nordic food system. Since then, she has assimilated many of the Nordic food cultures into her daily practices and routines in both her personal and family life.
“In Finland they believe in simple, practical and sustainable approaches to food, nutrition and eating practices,” reveals Aisling. “The children are given a warm main meal in the middle of the day at school. Teachers and students sit together, lunch time is a natural pause in their day, a time to be present, enjoy social connections and, most importantly, to replenish so you can be energised to return to work for the afternoon. Their food is simple, honest, sustaining and sustainable. These are all principles I have taken and integrated into my food and life philosophies.”
Where did her interest in the science of food and food education come from? After getting an A1 in Leaving Cert Biology, Aisling says it was inevitable that it would become intertwined with her passion of food. “I studied seven different science subjects in my degree and a further eight when I went back and completed my Masters of Science in Food Product Development and Culinary Innovation. My reason for integrating the science has always been trying to find out why – why things happen, why we choose what we do, why things are the way they are.” Such interest in science and food deepened when she decided to visit the Children’s Pediatric Hospital in Texas, USA, to learn about the psychology and physiology of feeding therapy.
“Following on from here, my interest in science collided with a deeper meaning of philosophy around food and eating, and I went on to study Mindful Eating. This has shaped my world in an entirely new way. It is about combining ancient Buddhist wisdoms with mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) theories and a plethora of new scientific research to prove it works to help others to have a more positive relationship with food.”
“Diet culture combined with so many mixed messages from the media and the beauty, fashion and food industries,” continues Aisling, “has led us to become so confused as a society we don’t know what to eat or how to eat any more. This is where mindful eating comes in. It allows us to begin to identify our triggers for mindlessly eating, binging and grazing, and put in place coping strategies to help with each of these situations in order to allow us to be in control of our eating habits again. Ultimately, my job here is to change your mindset in order to change your behaviour.”
There are several other significant factors in Aisling’s life that make her mind whirr and her heart spin. One is family. “My family is my world,” she says. “My little humans are the light of life, literally, and we have so much fun together it is tremendous. I am so proud of them, and it is just the best feeling knowing I get to go home to then each day.” Another is the fun quotient she deems necessary to having a fulfilling existence. “I love making sure my work is fun. My relationships have that spark of fun, and my appearances and events on Virgin Media’s Six O’Clock Show are fun. Having fun is good for you because physiologically, it helps to balance out our stress and feel-good hormones, which prevent diseases, long-term. It helps to boost our creativity, energy, productivity, and overall cognition.”
Another important one is living a holistic lifestyle. About two years ago, Aisling and family said goodbye to the commuting grind and headed in the direction of the coast. The move, she says, fulfills and meets her needs of real value each day. “Within a 5km radius, we have an amazing organic chicken farm, a strawberry farm, Comeragh lamb looking down on us, and cows that graze on the side of a cliff all day. It is a natural and sustainable foodie heaven, and I love it.” Aisling’s cookery principles of simple culinary techniques that showcase and enhance natural flavours of food easily reflect her environment and surroundings. “Simple recipes that are accessible to everyone are so important to me,” she affirms. “By now, we all know there are huge benefits to cooking from scratch at home, and that is all I want to do – get people to eat better and improve their relationships with food for their own physical and emotional well-being.”
The positive emotion that is gratitude is another central factor, she says. As she went deeper into the practice of mindful eating, it became apparent to her that gratitude should feature in our everyday lives. “Gratitude allows us to take a moment in our day to appreciate all we have. The weather, the seasons, the producers who grew our food, the rain, the sunlight, the land, the fact that we can put food on the table, the people we are fortunate enough to share a meal with. Gratitude has the power to reshape our mindset and take us from a negative to a positive place really effectively.”
Aisling’s final guiding life principle is to have the ability to let go of a perfectionist, self-pressurised mindset. Life can never be about one big bubble of happiness, she asserts. “There are moments of happiness and peaks and troughs in everyone’s day. What is important is to be present and content in each moment, to savour all that we have. If it doesn’t work out how you expected or planned, then finish your sentence or the process with ‘and that’s okay’.”
For further information about Aisling Larkin’s work as a mindful eating coach and speaker, well-being advocate and television chef/cook, visit www.eatingmindfully.ie For further information about Aisling’s food education/literary processes, visit www.foodoppi.com