“The whole idea is to make people feel good,” said Brian Aussant as he sat beside me on a barstool. “That’s where the name Karma comes from. What you put in is what you get out.”
Brian opened Karma Restaurant in Northampton in August of 2010 with the help of his wife. Among the incentives other restaurant owners have listed for buying locally, it seems Brian’s primary motivation is health. Karma is 100 percent vegan, and half of the dishes are raw. The restaurant is also soy and gluten-free and offers one of the only elixir bars is the country (meaning if you find yourself with a sore throat, you can order up a “5th Chakra Tea” made from licorice, marshmallow, echinacea purpea, fennel, cinnamon bark, orange peel, ginger, and clove).
“People get turned off by words like ‘raw’ and ‘vegan,’ so we try to keep it out of the advertising,” Brian said. “They don't think vegan food can taste so good.”
Before moving to Northampton, Brian trained as a vegan chef in California. He felt that the Pioneer Valley was the only area that the concept would work quickly enough and maintain business.
“If you want to sustain a restaurant, you need a couple years to get going. I thought it could happen faster here,” Brian explained. “People are open-minded, educated, [and] open to new ideas. The community support is pretty big.”
And the support it two-sided because it just so happens that Brian’s dedication to holistic living practically mandates a partnership with local farms.
“Our philosophy is to provide the cleanest, purest, freshest foods we can,” he said. “And that means buying locally.”
Brian acknowledged Town Farm in Northampton, Enterprise Farm in Whately, and Red Fire Farm in Granby as the restaurant’s three main suppliers.
“We also use different farms for specific items. For example, we get our soy-free miso from South River Miso [in Conway].”
One of Brian’s hopes in establishing a vegan restaurant was to show that one can be healthy without simply eating salads everyday. Indeed, Karma’s menu offers a variety of inspired dishes that change with the seasons.
“Our new menu just came out a couple of weeks ago,” Brian explained. “It’s all nice, light summer food. In the fall, we switch to heartier comfort food.”
And even in the winter, Karma’s chefs aren’t daunted by the limited produce.
“We do a lot of dhal—Indian-style foods. We’ll serve it with an apple raisin chutney and rice. We do sweet potatoes with garbanzo beans and coconut and cauliflower. We do a pad thai with soaked and sprouted seeds…I love the winter menu.”
The summer menu isn’t so bad either. I tried a number of different items, all of which were outstanding. My favorites were the Chilled Cucumber Avocado Soup and the Cashew Mozzarella and Heirloom Tomato Stack appetizer. The soup was extremely refreshing on a 100+ degree day, and the nut-based “mozzarella” on the tomatoes was fluffy, subtly sweet, and utterly surprising in its likeness to cheese. It’s the little creative impulses-- like this delicious vegan substitute-- that make eating at the restaurant not only satisfying, but exciting. And as they say, what goes around, comes around. So I will definitely be returning to Karma soon!
|Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup; Gluten-Free, Raw|
|Cashew Mozzarella and Heirloom Tomato Stack; GF, R|
|And for dessert: Raspberry "Cheesecake;" GF, R|