Raw Cuisine

I first heard about raw cuisine about two and a half years ago. I read an article saying that chef Roxanne Klein, while trying to find her unique style, had met Woody Harrelson, a staunch proponent of a strictly raw diet. I had dinner at her restaurant in Larkspur, CA, which a friend described as a second Chez Panisse. It was an unforgettable experience. (I could have sworn M. Night Shyamalan was sitting on the other side of the room.) The flavors simply sparkled in my mouth. The presentation and decor were also exquisite. Unfortunately, Roxanne’s is now closed. However, their menu is still accessible here.

In the raw cuisine circles, “raw” means the food has not been raised above 112-115 degrees Farenheit. That’s not a very high temperature—tropical and desert climates commonly reach this level. Beyond that one constraint, almost anything goes, including blending, chopping, and dehydration. But you will not see a stove or oven in a raw restaurant. Note that raw cuisine is vegan, so sashimi and steak tartar don’t count! However, certain wines do.

Apparently, certain enzymes that are beneficial to digestion and health are destroyed above that temperature. Frankly, a lot of the rhetoric around raw cuisine verges on new age pseudo-science, but here is what I know:

  • The less "processed" food is, the more your body must work to break it down. Since your body expends more energy, raw food has lower net caloric content than equivalent food that has been cooked or otherwise processed. It occupies space in your digestive system longer, meaning you feel full for a longer time. It has a lower glycemic index than processed food, meaning your pancreas is less stressed to produce insulin. Your body has time to process it, meaning it is less likely to be converted into fat for rapid storage. Raw food is less likely than processed sugary food to cause a surge of energy and satiation followed by a crash in energy and hunger. Hence, I believe raw food to be beneficial in weight loss and prevention and control of diabetes.
  • Raw food can be high in fat (primarily from nuts, olives, and avacados) and also very sweet (primarily from fruit juice or even unpasteurized honey).
  • Cooking tends to mute or dilute a food's flavors. In general, people tend to overcook food due to ignorance, negligence, or fear of bacterial contamination. But if you cook your food for a shorter time at a higher temperature, it will taste better, more flavorful. Raw cuisine balances multiple strong flavors to create a wonderful sparkling sensation in your mouth.
  • Much "processing" of food is meant to prolong its transportability, shelf-life, and visual appeal. This includes picking fruits and vegetables before they have ripened. Raw cuisine is nearly always organic, fresh, and local. This means the menu is likely to change throughout the year, but the food tastes the way "Mother Nature intended".

Some people are quite dogmatic about eating only raw food. Personally, I just want to add it to the mix for novelty and health. Since it is easy to eat unhealthy food while travelling, I started to make a conscious effort to seek out raw restaurants in my travels. Here is a list:

  • Karyn's Fresh Corner in Chicago. I've gone four different times and enjoyed everything I had.
  • Organic Garden Cafe Restaurant in Beverly, MA. It's a short distance but a long drive north of Boston. Well worth the trip, though!
  • Go Raw Cafe in Las Vegas, NV. Who'd have thought you could be so good in sin city?

I would also recommend some recipe books:

  • The Raw Food Primer is a great place to start. I’ve made the tomato sauce and the cream of spinach soup multiple times and they are great.

  • Raw: The Uncook Book I slaved for three hours to prepare the simplest of his recipes, thinking the result couldn’t possibly be worth the effort. I was wrong. It was!

  • Raw by Roxanne Klein and Charlie Trotter. I haven’t actually read this yet, but if it lets you even come close to what she served in her restaurant, then it is great.

Tags: Food

Created at: 10 October 2005 5:10 PM