The culture of food has grown, evolved and caused somewhat of an uproar as the modern diner’s awareness of what they put into their bodies increases. And more than ever, food plays a vital role in everyday life. Chef Jackie Sharlup of Tula Kitchen in Bay Shore finds solace in knowing that what she puts on a plate can have a positive impact on a person’s well-being.
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Sharlup, a vegetarian since the age of four, understood the connection between food and health from a young age. She watched her mother care for her father, who was diagnosed with cancer in the 1950s, by preparing healthy meals to boost his immune system. It resonated with her, and she began cooking professionally at 19. She graduated from the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, traveled abroad with an internship at a raw foods spa in South Africa and was a personal chef before opening her own restaurant.
Tula Kitchen’s approach to eating is simple. It uses organic and natural ingredients where possible, and allows customers to embody their own balanced life. Filtered water lines in the restaurant provide clean, chemical-free water for guests to drink and is also used in various dishes. Microgreens come from a local nonprofit Growing Together Community Gardens in Islip, and the restaurant often hosts fundraisers for animal wellness. The breakfast, lunch and dinner menu offerings are heavy in fruits, vegetables and hearty proteins, all served in an intimate, French chic space.
Sharlup shared more about what it means to run a restaurant founded on health and wellness in the modern day.
There is an increasing awareness about healthy eating and overall wellness. How does this translate for you as a chef?
I have been eating this way pretty much my whole life. As a little kid I learned how food heals the body. I wanted to open a place where I could do that. When I opened Tula Kitchen, people didn’t understand that still. The health thing is coming around more now whereas 12 to 15 years ago people were confused, unsure or uncomfortable with the concept. More and more people are seeing its importance in everyday life and they are open to making changes in their diet.
What are some of the main concerns diners have about healthy eating today, and how can you cater to these various dietary needs?
The restaurant industry is in a totally different place. One out of every 15 orders used to have a food allergy when I opened, now it is one out of three. That says a lot about what’s going on with food today. We’re not in control anymore. Food is the way that we help our customers. We try to do as much non-GMO fruits and vegetables and natural and organic proteins as we can. It’s a cleaner way of cooking that has always been important to me. Our menu isn’t full of words saying this is natural or that is organic because it’s just what we do and have always done, whether people knew it or not. We take care of people on a different level that is almost spiritual.
People may not think healthy food equals delicious food. How do you counter that?
It’s funny because I’ve been a vegetarian almost my entire life and I’m the cook. I’ve never really been able to taste the food, but maybe cooking is just in me. I know that the way I put everything out is very specific and I’m on top of it. I have a connection to cooking, as does Helvie Assaly who has been with me since the start. Neither of us are trained chefs but it is innately in us. Healthy food is delicious. You still have to marinate and season!
What is the process like for selecting ingredients for your dishes?
Sid Wainer is one of the top natural growing companies that most people use out here. I scope out producers and make a million calls. I use natural food distributors that are major companies I feel good about. They’re also concerned about people and taking care of them, doing the best by animals—all of which is important to me as well. We want to take care of our customers with food.
Tula Kitchen is located at 41-43 East Main Street in Bay Shore. It is open Tuesday through Sunday for breakfast, lunch and dinner.