Levittown resident and Boston native Chris Tavares has been climbing the ladder of the culinary world for nearly his whole life.
At 14, he started as a dishwasher and took an instant liking to the hustle and bustle of a restaurant kitchen. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, completing an externship at Yellowstone National Park and lending his talents to the Mansion Inn, Earl’s New American and Davio’s, he’s embarking on the next chapter in his extensive career.
This father of three is currently serving as executive chef of Ancient Spirits & Grille, which recently celebrated its grand opening at 1726 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia. While patrons are invited to visit Ancient Spirits and order off the menu like usual, Tavares shared that a unique dining experience is available.
Since the European cuisine on the menu was inspired by herbal and Ayurvedic elements – a traditional Indian system of medicine that promotes the balance of mind, body and spirit – guests at Ancient Spirits can dine off a menu that’s tailored to their mental and physical needs.
“Ayurvedic food, it’s not really a religion, but more of a science. Kind of like, ‘You are what you eat.’ You can scan a QR code and it gives you five or six questions about your health, your mind, where you are,” explained Tavares. “Our menu comes up with what you should eat. I’m a little heavier, so it tells me not to eat meats and fatty foods. It’ll tell me what I should be eating to make my body in line with itself.”
The QR code menu is broken down into three Doshas – Vata (air), Pitta (Fire) and Kapha (Earth). According to Ayurveda, the body and mind are ruled by these life forces. Ayurveda divides body types on the basis of the three Doshas, with each person’s physical and mental characteristics being defined by their predominant Dosha. The questions help determine each person’s predominant Dosha and which foods will help them become the healthiest version of themselves.
“We’re not holistic gurus who are trying to push anything,” promised Tavares. “If you want to go into the restaurant and just eat off the regular menu, you don’t have to do the Dosha or any of that stuff. But we use a lot of different ingredients, mostly herbals and stuff that you can put into your body every day that helps you without you knowing it helps you.”
Menu items include rabbit, duck, rack of lamb, seafood and vegetarian options. There is no beef or pork. Various powders, such as turmeric, are used for their health benefits, but don’t alter the flavor of the dish. Cocktails and beers are also offered.
“What interested me was the scientific parts of those ingredients. You add peppercorn and honey to the turmeric, and that actually activates it to better absorb it into your body,” said Tavares. “You need trace amounts of this stuff in your body.”
Tavares intends to keep the menu status quo for the restaurant’s first year, until more patrons have a chance to stop by. However, there will be seasonal specials, including the implementation of pumpkins in the fall and stews in the winter.
Ancient Spirits was founded by two lifelong friends, Syam Namballa and Mahi Reddy, and features three stories with a giant open-layout foyer, seating for 150 and a 50-foot green-style wall. Tavares shared that the duo intends to open other Ancient Spirits locations in Washington, D.C. and New York, both of which he will help get started.
Tavares is grateful to be working at a restaurant that’s on the rise after so many had to shutter their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It feels pretty fortunate. We’re at that point that we can actually have that grand opening and be successful. It feels good,” he said. “And this concept, especially with COVID, I think a lot of people are jumping on board. They want to get healthy and build their immune system.”
Ancient Spirits & Grille is available for semi-private special events, private parties and complete buy-outs. Email email@example.com for more information. Delivery is available through GrubHub, DoorDash and UberEats. Reservations are available at asgphilly.com and on OpenTable. Call 215-478-8777 for additional information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org