One step inside Kate Smith's sleek, tranquil kitchen in Bingham Farms and the stress of the day subsides, your breathing slows, and you immediately feel more Zen.
That's exactly the feeling Smith wanted.
The white granite countertops are mostly bare. Windows stretch across most of one wall and around an eat-in area just off the kitchen, filling the room with natural light. And near a corner by the sink, nestled by a massive aloe plant, stands a small bronze statue of Dhanwantari, the physician of the gods in Hinduism or the god of medicine.
Smith, who redesigned and expanded her kitchen six years ago and now teaches classes out of it as an Ayurvedic chef, says she wanted "to create a quiet space."
"It's like a sanctuary," Smith says.
And when Passover begins next week — the eight-day Jewish holiday that commemorates when the Israelites were freed from slavery in ancient Egypt — Smith will open her sanctuary to relatives and friends as they sit down for the Seder dinner on the second night. Led by her husband, Rick, they'll read the Haggadah, the book that recounts the story of the Exodus. And they'll share a multi-course meal, all prepared with an Ayurvedic twist by Smith. Ayurveda, which means "science of life" in Sanskrit, looks at how food and digestion affect health.
"Food has always been my passion, and it creates balance for me," says Smith, who teaches Ayurvedic cooking classes through Karma Yoga in Bloomfield Township and is also a psychotherapist at the Birmingham Maple Clinic. "And I think cooking is the gift we give ourselves. It's a reflection of care. … Cooking for me is spiritual sustenance."
Smith grew up in Long Island but moved to Michigan 22 years ago. Before becoming a psychotherapist, she formally trained as a chef at the New York Restaurant School. So when she and her husband, Rick, a music business attorney, decided to update their kitchen, it was redesigned with Smith's culinary background in mind.
Smith worked with John Morgan at Perspectives Custom Cabinetry; Ben Heller at Morgan Heller was the architect and builder. Jane Schwartz handled interior design.
Smith, who says she wanted a very linear design, says they spent a lot of time listening to one another, and the design reflects that.
"They all got me," says Smith of working with Morgan, Heller and Schwartz. "It was a totally Zen experience."
The kitchen is a mix of wood, metal and stone. Small appliances are tucked away to keep the space uncluttered. It's divided into several stations. There's a baking station near the oven, which blends seamlessly into the walnut cabinets on one wall, including the refrigerator, which has a walnut veneer. Near the stove is a prep sink and Smith's massive spice drawer.
"This is a great drawer because you can see everything," Smith says. "I could tell him (Morgan) the way I cooked, and because I was a professional chef it was different than a domestic chef. … He knew a little spice drawer would never cut it for me."
The kitchen has no upper cabinets so they don't obstruct the view. A large, granite-covered island with enough space for 10 people to sit around is perfect for her cooking classes. Just off the kitchen is a light-filled nook with a circular table, five chairs and modern, pendant light fixture, all added during the renovation, which took about a year and expanded the kitchen by about 500 square feet.
"With the windows, I wanted the light," says Smith. "I've often stood aback and said, 'Ahh.'"
Down a short hallway off the kitchen is the dining room, which has a small sitting area and sprawling wood dining room table. Originally from an old French railroad station, Smith had the table shipped from the couple's farmhouse in New Jersey to Michigan.
The table is already set up for Passover with eight table settings, the Passover Seder plate and the Elijah cup. Designed by Smith's friend Janet Stein, personal touches are mingled throughout: a Seder plate made by one of Smith's sons in preschool and glass Shabbat, or Sabbath, candlestick holders.
"They're from Israel," Smith says. "My son Max brought them back for me when he was there, and I love them."
Vibrant-colored plates with hues of red, yellow and orange, which reflect the spices Smith uses in her cooking, are a part of each place setting.
Passover doesn't start until Monday, but Smith already has her menu planned for the Seder on the second night: asparagus soup with Passover herbs, eggplant bharta with chicken, hard-boiled eggs and the traditional Passover dish of Haroset, except she'll use grape juice instead of wine, dates and soaked nuts.
It's all served "during the course of the Seder, which is the service, the telling of the story. The telling of the story is so important, which is really what cooking is. It tells a story all the time," Smith says.
And while deeply committed to her Jewish faith — Smith's family belongs to Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield Township — mementos of other faiths are sprinkled throughout her kitchen and home.
Just off the front foyer is a 3-foot Thai piece that Smith, who also is a registered yoga teacher, calls her "Namaste god." Nestled among plates and bowls in her kitchen is a Buddha head.
And then there's Dhanwantari, considered the founder of Ayurveda. In Hinduism, he rose out of the ocean as an incarnation of the god Vishnu with the elixir of life, which he's holding in his hand.
"For me, it's a piece of art and it represents the god of cooking, the god of medicine," Smith says. "… To me, it's an archetype. It represents an offering of what nature has to offer us, which is the medicine of life."
Smith's journey toward Ayurveda — pronounced eye-ur-vay-duh — started more than four years ago. She was having gastrointestinal issues and Western medicine wasn't helping, so she turned to an Ayurvedic practitioner for guidance.
She started making small changes to her diet — starting her day with hot water and lemon to soothe her stomach before eating, and eliminating or limiting certain foods, such as popcorn — and immediately noticed changes.
But when she decided she wanted to become an Ayurvedic chef, training was hard to find. She eventually traveled to New Mexico to train with Amadea Morningstar with the Ayurveda Polarity and Yoga Therapy Institute, and also taught herself.
She now offers three different classes in Ayuvedic cooking, which is very similar to Indian cuisine, through Karma Yoga, all taught out of her redesigned kitchen. "What better place to teach?" Smith says. "… It's a great cooking facility. Everybody loves it. We're around the stove, we're chanting, we're singing."
"Food is medicine," she says simply.