Resorts Are Refining the Raw Food Scene

New York Times
April 2, 2006

Resorts Are Refining the Raw Food Scene

BRING up the topic of raw food, and most people will start raising their eyebrows and exchanging amused glances. If they’ve heard of the diet at all — a gastronomic trend that involves eating only organic vegetables, nuts and seeds with nothing cooked over 110 or 120 degrees — they most likely equate it with cults, dream catchers and outspoken purists, like the Los Angeles-based chef Juliano Brotman, who claims that he needs only about three hours of sleep a night thanks to his diet of raw food.

In the last few years, however, a less radical raw food scene has begun to sprout in some of the world’s most luxurious resorts and spa retreats.

Health nuts in New York know about raw food restaurants like Pure Food and Wine and Quintessence, but few know that at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago (816 West Armitage Street, Chicago; 773-248-6228;, Mr. Trotter will serve a raw food dégustation menu if asked. “At least two tables a night opt for the raw food menu,” Mr. Trotter said in a telephone interview. “For us, raw food is here to stay. It’s part of our repertoire at this point. It’s not that we just dabbled in it.”

In late 2003 Mr. Trotter published a cookbook entitled “Raw” with one of the country’s top raw food chefs, Roxanne Klein. That same year he started C, a restaurant designed by Adam Tihany, in the $450-a-night One & Only Palmilla resort in Los Cabos, Mexico (7.5 Carretera Transpeninsular, San José del Cabo; 52-624-146-7000; The executive chef at C, Michael McDonald, has been trained extensively in raw food cooking and weaves in such dishes as a shaved fennel and daikon salad, cucumber spring rolls and vanilla ice cream made from nuts, coconut oil and maple syrup. Like Mr. Trotter, he serves up a complete raw chef’s menu when asked, preferably a day ahead, for $99 (it’s $125 at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago).

“I think in a couple years’ time chefs will have to have an understanding of the possibility of raw food and have a few raw food options on their menu,” Mr. Trotter said.

Diana von Cranach, the owner of Puri Ganesha Villas (62-362 94766;, a $400-a-night Bali hideaway, would agree. She’s just come from a chefs’ raw food training course in Australia and is adding dishes like avocado and coconut salad and apple and pear spaghetti to the resort’s menu.

Chris Miller, executive chef at the newly renovated Shambhala Estate at Begawan Giri in Bali (62-361 978-888;, a Cheong Yew Kuan-designed resort where a double room starts at $495 a night, credits Mr. Trotter and Ms. Klein’s cookbook as inspiration for his raw food dishes like a spicy coconut noodle and vegetable salad. The hotelier Christina Ong bought the resort in 2004 and added it to her glamorous stable of Como resorts, recently putting in spa villas and a second spa building and bringing in visiting energy healers, life coaches and yogis. Raw food also figures into the new formula: the Shambhala Estate offers raw food weeks and raw food dishes at its Glow restaurant.

Mr. Miller said that Mrs. Ong and her chain’s interest in raw food began several years ago during the development of one of her first Como properties, Parrot Cay.

“About five years ago, just when the raw food thing was taking off in a big way, Parrot Cay had some V.I.P. guests interested in it,” Mr. Miller said. “Some of them had private chefs who taught our chefs a few recipes. Over the years, Como resorts developed a spa menu, which brings in a lot of raw food elements. From wheat grass to a dehydrator machine, all the properties have the ingredients and tools that facilitate raw food cooking.”

One of those V.I.P. guests was the fashion designer Donna Karan, a friend of Mrs. Ong’s, a follower of the raw food movement and a regular visitor of both Parrot Cay and the Begawan Giri. Her private chef at the time, Jill Pettijohn, based in New York, had a big hand in developing the raw food section of the Parrot Cay menu.

“I started going down there when I was working for Donna,” Ms. Pettijohn said in a telephone interview. “She would do the yoga retreats. I would be making food for her, and of course I had to use the kitchen. Everyone was really interested in what I was doing. Eventually I gave them some classes and guided the menu.

“There is that hippie cult crowd,” she added, “but there’s a bunch of us that are quite normal.”

Trying a raw food dish at a luxury resort is, Ms. Pettijohn said, a “kind of bridge into a better lifestyle. You can take this road and go along it, and if it doesn’t do anything but make you feel good for a few days, at least you had a taste and know you can go back to it.” While Ms. Pettijohn still cooks occasionally for Donna Karan, she now spends much of her time organizing private five-day raw food nutritional cleanses for prominent New Yorkers.

Similar weeklong raw food cleanses and detox retreats have been offered for years at dedicated centers like the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla., but it’s only in the last few years that more luxurious versions have begun to crop up. While the rustic rooms at the institute are really only a step up from a youth hostel, the Farm at San Benito, opened at the end of 2002 in the Philippines (632-696-3795;, is set on a coconut plantation with thatched-roof villas, elaborate gardens, a pet peacock and a general manager with experience at some of Asia’s top hotels.

The Farm’s signature wheat grass shots and green drinks, squeezed from organic green vegetables, were served up poolside by friendly waiters at the chic Bali-styled spa with open-air massage areas. A wealthy oilman from Oman, a banker from London and a businesswoman from New York City were just three of that week’s dozen guests doing the program. Some will return home and — concerned about raised eyebrows — tell their friends that they were winding down at a deluxe resort. Others, like the oilman, however, had heard about the Farm from a business colleague convert who had done the retreat in an effort to help a recovery from prostate cancer. The seven-day “medical vacation” starts at $1,231.20 a person for two sharing a room.

The Complete Retreat (44-207-689-0030;, also in its fourth year, is a raw food retreat in a white villa about 45 miles northwest of Marbella, Spain. The head of the program, Lisa Jeans, also has retreats in England, and early next year will hold one on St. Barts. Here in Spain one might meet heiresses and accomplished businessmen and women over green juices, morning yoga classes, hikes in the hills and raw food meals that might include cold curried carrot soup, raw food “sushi” and a sorbet made only from frozen bananas. An all-inclusive week starts at £1,350 ($2,416 at $1.79 to the pound), double occupancy.

The guests here talk about babies, compare travels to exotic locales and check out one another’s skin in hope of that mythical “raw food glow.” It’s more of a clique than a cult, and these raw foodists definitely prefer designer jeans to dream catchers.


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