03 Feb A DELICIOUS DISCUSSION WITH SENTINEL CHEF FELICIA VAN LEUR
Felicia Van Leur is the Sentinel’s wonderful food manager and head chef. We talked about what you’d eat during a stay at the Sentinel, her favourite dishes, and finding healing through nourishment.
By Lina Konovalov
Lina: Welcome Felicia! To start, how would you describe your cooking style?
Felicia: When I’m planning a menu for a retreat, I keep in mind the quality of the food that is going to be served. I would describe my style as nourishing and full of healthy, delicious food with a variety of colour. I try to make food that makes people happy! People come to the Sentinel to take a load off and work on themselves. If I am able to make food that is highly nourishing and beautiful, that is one less thing that they have to worry about.
Lina: Waking up to a classic Sentinel breakfast platter is such a special, no-stress way to start your day. What are some of the core features of Sentinel cuisine?
Felicia: Health, wellness, and having a variety of foods that are in season is really important to us. We want our food to reflect our core values. We believe in the humane raising of animals. We buy free-range and organic food as much as we can. We also try to buy local and put money back into the community. The Sentinel’s slogan is “to reach the full potential of humanity” – we try and reflect that in the food by giving people the range of nutrients they need. What we put into our bodies is what we are, and if we are fully nourishing ourselves our bodies are going to work better and we’ll be able to reach that full potential.
Lina: I for one feel so powerful and wholly myself after eating a hearty and nutritious meal. Speaking of, what is on the menu at a Sentinel retreat?
Felicia: One of the meals I make is a delicious pad thai that is full of vegetables, with summer rolls and salmon. Another one of my favourite meals to serve is Indian food. I worked at an Indian restaurant for a long time, which is where I learned a lot of my skills as a chef. It’s one of my favourite types of food to make. We do an Indian night with chana masala, butter chicken, aloo gobi, and naan bread with all the fixings. That’s something you will definitely eat while staying at the Sentinel.
Lina: As someone who has eaten a lot of Indian food, I’d say that yours is the best of the best. How does the menu differ when cooking for plant medicine retreats or for guests with alternative preferences?
Felicia: At the Sentinel we cater to a lot of different dietary preferences. Depending on what medicine is being used, we need to bear in mind the dietas too. In a classic dieta, they don’t do any dairy products. We avoid strong flavoured foods like ginger, garlic and onions. It’s pretty simple food, with little-to-no salt or sugar. We still include lots of delicious vegetables that excite the palate and make the food taste delicious, despite it lacking certain spices. A lot of people that come to the Sentinel also have their own personal dietary restrictions. It’s important that everyone gets a full range of food while at the Sentinel.
Lina: No matter what people are coming to the Sentinel for, it’s safe to say that they will always leave with a full belly and a full heart. Having said that, what are your top three staple ingredients?
Felicia: One thing I cook a lot with, especially at the Sentinel, is coconut milk. You can use it for pretty much anything in place of dairy. It makes things taste really delicious – it’s creamy, versatile, and it’s a great staple in a kitchen. I also love garbanzo beans, or chickpeas as they are commonly known. I serve them in pretty much every meal that I make, whether in salads or chana masala or in soups – and when I make hummus! It’s a versatile food you can use in any sort of dish. It’s a great little bean. Last, vegetables in general. They are so wonderful. Half of my food order is just fresh vegetables. That’s one thing you will see a lot of when you come to the Sentinel. We also grow a lot of them here in our garden!
Lina: All those ingredients together would make one yummy dish! Especially the fresh home-grown veggies. If you had to choose, what would you have as your last meal?
Felicia: So hard to choose – I like so many foods! Well, because I grew up in an Italian household, I am a sucker for a good pizza. I would choose a really good high quality pizza. Maybe with a delicious chocolate cake too.
Lina: Want to plug your favourite pizza place while we’re here?
Felicia: Nelson has a wonderful pizza place called Marzano’s. I love it there.
Lina: Great. Maybe they can do a guest chef spot at the Sentinel with all this publicity they’re getting. Before we go, tell me more about your job – food coordinator and head chef sounds like a lot of work! What does the role entail?
Felicia: I plan all the menus. I do all the food ordering. I manage the kitchen staff. A really key component of my job that people don’t realize is customer service. People come to talk to the cook a lot. I end up in that role of supporter. At least pre-COVID, I gave a lot of people hugs to people that were going through their journey. They just needed someone outside that realm to be there and hold them, and I’m happy to do that.
Lina: That’s really interesting. I think a lot of people are coming to the Sentinel with trauma around food or with identities wrapped around food. When we go into a medicine retreat, one of the purposes is to shed all those labels, and to come to the core of who we really are. With food as one of our most primal needs, what is being served on retreat is integral to people’s journeys of rediscovering themselves. This is not removed from the healing work being done inside the maloca – we do work inside the kitchen as well.
Felicia: For sure. I’ll get to work at 6 in the morning during retreats, and have these really intense beautiful conversations with people going through their journeys right then and there. I recall talking to someone who had struggled with an eating disorder many years ago, and in their older age was still working on healing that part of themselves. It was an incredible insight into how crucial eating is to our lives.
Lina: Do you have any advice to people struggling with their eating journeys?
Felicia: Healing your relationship with food starts with loving yourself and accepting the body you are in. The next step would be not judging yourself, and listening to your body. Eat intuitively, listen to your body’s cues. If you are hungry for something, you should eat it with no judgment.
Find Felicia’s delicious energy ball recipe here.