At the beginning of the pandemic in 2021, I found myself without the ability to connect as I normally do - hosting in-person dinner parties in my home and featuring my cooking (or trekking alone in Tibet). It also made me realize that while I had co-founded a restaurant in Lhasa in 1997, run a functional food-focused sustainability consulting firm from 2000-2007, and eventually become a sustainability-focused investment banker and analyst, cooking during COVID-19 had quickly become a chore: the exploration of a new food, new region, new recipe, or simply great meal had largely disappeared. If I couldn't cook for others, why cook at all?
COVID-19 brought me to further stress before it opened my eyes to possibility: my investment analysis and research work slowed just as my parents contracted COVID. Helping them pack, I found photos of my father teaching the Nepalese and Tibetan chefs at Makye Ame Restaurant to cook South Indian dosa I discovered Tibetan functional food ingredients from my days as a sustainability consultant at Aru Namgyal. I found journals from the Erb Insitute for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the University of Michigan, where I planned to join an investment firm building sustainable businesses in the Himalayas. While cooking daily for my parents, I realized that I loved making menus, going to specialty stores, and making international dishes but that making these dishes for the first time for a uniquely demanding audience was quite stressful - so why not simplify by making sauces and recipes? And to close the gap between all of us strong and talented professionals who are also plant-based? While giving back to our communities?
Wecology is my response to my own experiences and challenges: in Asia, I used to have to draw a picture of a pig and cross it out after saying "I'm vegetarian" in the local language; on Wall Street, I had to dress a certain way, have a certain type of hand bag, and talk a certain way. All of this was quite alienating: I couldn't help but feel helpless. And I know I'm not alone. This endeavor is one of community, exploration, adventure, discovery, and sharing: it's the opposite of how I felt on Wall Street.
As i redisciverd myself my and history, I hit upon something new: cooking as a meditation on connectedness. COVID has forced us all into greater isolation and more cooking: it stands to reason that cooking – which uses water, fire, wind, earth, and space to transform – can also transform our feeling of disconnection.
Wecology is my response to my own experiences and challenges: while I’d always enjoyed the adventure that is cooking and food, I had also become a professional whose work was largely disconnected from this passion and joy. I created Wecology because cooking connects us elementally: it is an immersive act that directly connects us to plants, animals, ecosystems, and environments. I’ve made sauces to make cooking less stressful and employed the constraints of vegan, nut-free, gluten-free, and sans added sugar and sugar substitutes to spark exploration and adventure. And I’ve focused the sauces and recipes towards elemental connection using functional ingredients and cooking soundtracks. The soundtracks and app guide people to use the five elements to transform your ingredients into exciting and flavorful dishes while they breathe, listen, and move in tandem with like-minded seekers. I hope the Wecology culinary wellness adventure helps transform peoples’ feelings of disconnection just as it has mine
I hit upon something new: cooking as a meditation on connectedness. COVID has forced us all into greater isolation and more cooking: it stands to reason that cooking – which uses water, fire, wind, earth, and space to transform – can also transform our feeling of disconnection.
shouldn’t have to feel lonely when we can walk into our kitchens, login to an app, find a recipe from another part of the world, see recommendations and reviews from other, grab vegetables grown in other hemispheres, and make all of these into our own stories – the apps, the recipes, the sauces, the
eeling alone (whether pioneering or alienated) in being plant-based while still being an adept professional, an internationally adventurous eater and traveler, and a creative cook. With Wecology, I aim to elicit elemental connection: the practice is an immersive act that directly connects us to plants, animals, ecosystems, and each other. I hope the Wecology culinary wellness adventure, with the right backers and supporters, helps transform peoples’ feelings of disconnection just as it has mine.
Wecology™ is a culinary wellness adventure™ that seeks to connect people through active culinary meditation™. Born of a New York City kitchen after its germination at Makye Ame Restaurant in Lhasa, Wecology is an experience of elemental connection™ in one’s own home.
Cooking employs the elements of fire, wind, water, earth, and space to transform. It also connects us elementally (Have you ever tried barbecue in the rain? Or light a stove in high winds?). In Tibetan philosophy, wind, water, earth, fire, and space are known as the Five Elements and comprise the basis of everything from thoughts to feelings to physical states. Meditation on the five elements is common - and, in Asian cultures more generally, takes multiple forms: yoga, breathing, movement, dance, etc. Wecology employs cooking as its mode of elemental meditation, pairing our recipes with guided audio. These soundtracks take you on journeys from the Tibetan Five Elements to kitchens, cultures, and environments around the globe, and home to yourself and your community of like-minded seekers.
Cooking is not only a culinary meditation™, it is also an adventure: you can travel to kitchens, cultures, and ecosystems with one ingredient, one recipe, or one review. To elicit your senses of exploration, Wecology provides you with six signature sauces inspired by recipes from culinary traditions around the world (and eliminating the need for any special skills or equipment). To further spark your sense of discovery, their accompanying recipes use only plant-based ingredients (sans added sugars, nuts, gluten, or "alternative meats"). Moreover, each sauce (Brainy Banana, Slumbering Sesame, Perky Pineapple, Calming Carrot, Luminous Lemon, and Mustering Mustard) features a functional ingredient said to enhance beauty and radiance, tranquility, sleep quality, energy and motivation, focus and memory, or longevity while highlighting two of the Five Elements.
Tibetan-inspired functional sauces; creative plant-based recipes from around the globe; innovative guided soundtracks; and our community-focused app comprise Wecology's singular culinary wellness adventure into elemental connection.
Why did you start your business, and how did you come up with the concept?
I have been growing what a friend described as “the United Nations of rooftop gardens” with every place from Afghanistan to Italy to Trinidad represented; my excitement for botanical exploration yielded kitchen-exotic vegetables, legumes, and fruits that I then had to learn to cook. This did this by hosting regular dinner parties, researching recipes from the plant's country of origin, finding compelling substitutes for meant and dairy ingredients, sending along menus beforehand, and, finally, narrating my journey from seed catalog to plate, illustrating it by pointing out the plant in person.
I never considered any of this unique until COVID changed our social dynamics. I was spending more time with people closeby rather than long-time friends and learning how particular my enthusiasm actually was. When I hosted my first small dinner for good friends in late 2020, I highlighted cardoon, an Italian thistle that had refused to die the previous winter. I paired it with an experimental sauce that I decided to use three ways: as a dip for steamed artichokes (because I'd recently acquired an Instant Pot), as a sauce within a baked polenta with cardoon, egplant, mushrooms, squash, and tomatoes, and as an ingredient in arancini with peas. When my friends suggested I bottle the sauce, I actually considered the suggestion.
What I didn't see then was a connection to my larger passions: Tibet and wellness. I'd been working on a Tibetan wellness concept prior to COVID which used elemental mandalas, physical space, and meditative practices to facilitate change. I realized that the elements were the basic tools for cooking and change was its essence. I also realized how isolating cooking creatively could be - especially if you were either like me and now had to cook only for one or unlike me and found it stressful, period. Sauces could remove the stress while driving adventure and transformation. Thus was the birth of the Wecology culinary wellness adventure.
Why is your business/product important to you?
This endeavor is putting me back in the driver's seat: it's one thing to be on a track, learn the ropes, and incrementally improve while it's a whole other thing to create something brand new. I've been a entrepreneur, consultant, investment banker, and consultant again but am finally back to entrepreneurship, this time, solo. That means that while I'm bootstrapping, it's my writing throughout the whole of the website, my design (using Wix, but still), my drawings on the sauce labels, my recipes, and my sauces.
To walk you through that, in case you are removed from being a newbie, I have a small galley kitchen. I use the space over the sink to chop as the counter is for the mise-en-place. For almost my whole life, I've followed others' recipes to a tee. When I embarked on this journey, I read zero recipes and threw things together. These yielded sauces I had to discard but it also helped when I changed tacks. To the recipes and research I conducted, I added some of my original, more exotic, ingredients (e.g. lotus seeds, fermented tofu, etc.) and impressed myself. Yet, this business isn't just my creativity or cooking: my natural proclivities have always been towards building deep connection with others through adventure, experience, sharing; and to pursuing "secular spiritualism" through yoga, meditation, music, reading, art, and gratitude. I've always had to divorce myself from these driving interests when being a professional in business services. Most people would more likely describe me as pragmatic, problem-solving, analytical, etc. before spiritual. To take this leap has made me vulnerable.
To have the concept and sauces be met with acceptance and then also support - with people willing to pitch in with money or services - is fantastically thrilling. I walk through the days with a deep joy underpinning my stress, frustration, and business. And I have a sense of place borne of joy and gratitude. To take a leap to create something honest to oneself is an seomthing for which all who have done it before me should get immense credit.
What is your plan for growing your business?
Getting on your show and introducing it to a huge audience!
Launch & Test:
Using my new labels to start sell sauces at Farmers Markets in NYC. Introduce full concept at booth and solicit sign-ups for mailing list. Incorporate feedback.
Hire a marketing and an operations professional and develop the audio content and app.
Launching direct-to-consumer pre-sales for a limited time so as to be able to contract a co-manufacturer or lease commercial kitchen space with the appropriate licenses for national distribution.
Distribute to pre-sale community. Get feedback.
Develop further or pivot (e.g. the sauces and wellness adventure can be separated if people prefer, or stay as is; the sauces themselves can continue to have functional ingredients or not; the recipes can highlight "meat alternatives" more or simply be more "American", etc.)
Why do you and your business stand out amongst everyone else?
Not knowing other people or their businesses, I can only say that I am positive this is a concept that would be markedly different from your existing portfolio while also timely on multiple fronts (plant-based food / healthy eating, wellness, and connection) and possessed of a uniquely-placed founder to execute well. While my application has largely focused on the concept and my journey to it, I have a wide skill set that involves building cross-functional and cross-cultural teams, raising capital, developing growth strategies and financial analysis, as well as presenting to business professionals. Coupled with my background in Tibet, functional foods, and sustainability, I think there are few-to-no others who could tailor the business to better complement your existing enterprise while maintaining it's hedge position.
Why should Gordon Ramsay invest in your business?
At this point, Mr. Ramsay would be investing primarily in me, given the stage of the business. Having said that, vegan recipes, digital programming, and mental health and well-being: these are the essence of Wecology. They are also areas in which Mr. Ramsay seems to be growing his footprint.
Wecology can build upon Mr. Ramsay's endeavors and access new audiences. Wecology is, by design plant-based, giving it a degree of credibility within those circles. It is also simple: cooking with sauces and accessible ingredients eliminates the intimidation the vegan-curious or vegan-newbie might feel. The soundtracks combine certain elements of Studio Ramsay's podcast (21 & Over; isolation, healthy consumption, well-being) and short-form endeavors (Ramsay in 10; quick internationally-inspired cooking) while again appealing to a niche audience of meditation practitioners and those just curious. The Wecology app's focus on broadcasting and sharing may access other audiences still, while drawing upon Mr. Ramsay's previous success in gaming as well as broadcasting in general.
While I have a unique concept and goals and ambitions, I think it's even more critical that I'm an experienced professional who understands which industry expertises I do not possess. As a result, I'm flexible in a way that many creators are not and am a willing and pragmatic partner driven first and foremost by the needs of our customers and our business.
What has been the hardest moment you have had to overcome in your life?
When I was circumambulating Mount Kailash with my parents and my dad started having what looked like a heart attack on the remote north face of the mountain, he said, in what seemed at the time to be his last words to me, "We are so worried about you," and cried. I had already established myself on the on the other side of the world from my home and country, become proficient in the language, launched and grown a restaurant, started a nascent sustainability consulting company there, and become so physically strong that I could do the 53 km path in 1.5 days, almost like a local. I had also been emotionally crippled by the ending of a serious relationship earlier that year and an unexpected layoff. These words from my father in this most stressful of circumstances, while I was, in my opinion, demonstrating composure, leadership, and executive decision making, and skill, pierced me to the core. It has taken me decades to address the myriad of ways that moment impacted me - but it also showed me what resilience looks like. He was aided by a full team of Nepalese tour guides, Tibetan drivers, and international hospital staff, and recovered; I, on the other hand, have finally become the person I've wanted to be since that time: proud of my accomplishments, confident in my abilities and sure of my worth.
What is your biggest accomplishment in life?
Taking this risk is my biggest accomplishment. When I was just out of college, taking a risk was no big deal. Youth is for the adventurous, after all! At this point, I've made decisions, accumulated regrets, wasted time, and experienced what it's like to lake direction, motivation, or energy. In short, I've experienced long-term disappointment with myself. To get out of that hole and to do so by taking a dive into vulnerability is a serious undertaking. While I'm still very early stage, I have products that I've tested, a tiny bit of funding, and a huge amount of grit - something I've had to rebuild and mine anew after years of professional stagnation. Many may point to past achievements in response to this question (and I do have many from which to choose: Makye Ame Restaurant, Aru Namgyal, dual Masters from the University of Michigan at age 33, brokering multi-million dollar international deals on Wall Street, untitled experiences of joy, gratitude, and care, etc.), isn't it exciting that my biggest accomplishment is on-going? And you can be part of it!
Tell us about one of the greatest moments of your life!
My mom turned 70 on September 11th, 2011 and I threw her a surprise party in the middle of the downtown Hudson River. My notoriously-late family of 30+ people arrived ahead of time and took a skiff to the floating clubhouse through the brown water and endless debris of post-hurricane Financial District waters. When my mom arrived, we were all set up with a view of the still-in-progress Freedom Tower, and i-Pads in our hands. In the warmth of the cleansing sun and lapping waters, we shared poignant photos of each of us with her over the years and told stories about those moments to her. We and she cried and laughed and remained thrilled and moved for weeks after - with my cousin calling it "aunt-a-palooza" to this day.
This was one of my greatest moments because it was the first time I'd thrown her a birthday party and the first time I'd enlisted stories from around the globe, distributed digitally. It turned out to be one of the first times I convened gatherings focused on storytelling, sharing, and connection: during the first year of COVID, I hosted a regular Zoom event called, "Family Moth", in which we all showed up and told short first-person stories on topics ranging from "Bests" and "Firsts" to "Fears" and "Mistakes" (My mom talked about this party when the topic was "Surprises".). To me, bringing about circumstances for people to connect, share, and love despite tragedy, disappointment, and age - this is one of the best things on earth. That moment, the tenth anniversary of a tragic day for the nation, steps away from the earth-shattering scene, I brought lasting joy to the people around me.
Why is your business and/or product the next BIG thing?
Plant-based, Adventure, Cooking, Innovation
If you had the chance to pitch your business to Gordon Ramsay, what would you say to him to make him take that leap of faith on you?
I've always been talented, now I am ambitious - and growing in confidence and courage every day. I've always been nimble, resourceful, and creative, but now...
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