Chakra Chef

Written by Geri Koeppel Category: Food Reviews Issue: November 2011

Owner Kita Centella of Phoenix began her study of herbs in 1983 and apprenticed with American Indian healers from 1987 to 1992. She attended the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, completing 500 hours in Western Herbalism, and ran an Herb Stop location in Phoenix from 2002 to 2006 before opening Chakra 4 in 2006. In April 2008, she opened the adjoining organic vegetarian/vegan café.

Centella, a mother of five, incorporates her philosophy of “body, mind and spirit” into her restaurant, serving up herb-infused foods that not only satisfy the palate but also the soul.

Tell us how you became interested in food.
I come from a long line of women on both sides of my family who showed their love through food, so I couldn’t really help it. From my Italian grandmother to my Russian grandmother and Irish grandmother and mother, all would make your favorite foods. It was something instilled in me that food is important. 

Italian, Russian and Irish – those aren’t the most healthful cuisines.
I became a vegetarian after I left home in 1986 just to lose weight, and I felt really healthy and my mind cleared. That led me on a journey of being healthy.

Do you have formal culinary training?
I’ve never been to culinary school, but I’ve had restaurant experience since I was 16 years old. I’ve worked in small restaurants, industrial kitchens, fast lunch places, fine dining, catering. I’ve done front of the house and back of the house.

Using herbs in cooking is nothing new. What makes your dishes different?
We understand there are medicinal values to the culinary herbs. One of my favorite herbs, basil, is a delicious herb that’s calming to the nervous system. It’s a mild antidepressant. Something like parsley is a tonic to the kidneys. Cilantro is believed to remove heavy metals from the body. Kale stimulates the gall bladder and liver, and is detoxifying to the colon. They’re good for supporting digestion. They all have value besides their flavor. 

Are people surprised to find vegetarian food can taste good?
Yes. Vegetarian food has gotten a bad reputation over the years for being bland, like a big plate of raw hunks of unflavored vegetables. I’ve been a vegetarian for a long time. I know how to make food taste good. It should engage all of your senses. It’s the experience of the food itself that’s part of the healing process. The focus of this restaurant is a crossover for people who have never experienced vegetarian food. It’s a nice segue into healthy eating for omnivores but also offers choices for pure, raw vegans who are strict.... Food is healing medicine. But it should also be really delicious. It should be a pleasure.