The Restaurateur With Bipolar Disorder Serving A Mood-Altering Menu
Van Gogh is Bipolar (vGiB) – a restaurant in Quezon City, Philippines that serves mood-altering food – reopened last month to serve only eight guests at a time. Every experience is intentionally made different – interiors change at random, and dishes vary daily depending on the owner’s mood. “It’s like how I know myself – being consistently inconsistent,” explains owner and head chef Jetro Rafael.
After being clinically diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008 at the age of 28, Rafael was put on heavy medication. “Due to the side effects of my medication, I was numb to most of my emotions and that made me feel like a living zombie,” he says. Living in constant fear of the growing dependence on his medication, Rafael studied food as a natural healing method for his mood disorder. “It’s called mood-healing nutrition,” he explains. The diet is designed to activate specific neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and norepinephrine to boost a sense of calm and happiness.
When dining, guests are asked to fill out a form about how they are currently feeling. Understanding the guest’s current emotional state allows Rafael to prepare and personalise a menu tailored to each diner. Through his ever-changing menu, he uses ingredients known to aid the regulation of serotonin such as fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) and cashews (magnesium), and on encounters with anxious guests, he recalls creating a concoction featuring freshly extracted fruit juice – mainly citrus fruits (vitamin C) to lower stress levels – mixed with raw honey, which studies show has anxiety-relieving properties.
As he draws connections between food and moods, Rafael maximises every simple or complex ingredient in a way that caters to the individual needs of his guests. Likening the act of cooking for others as a display of unconditional love, he says, “Van Gogh is Bipolar doesn’t just feed the body, it feeds the soul.”
Juli Suazo is a freelance lifestyle journalist for CNN, Resy and Eater, based in Manila and London