San Francisco Chronicle
April 17, 2002
Shangri-la in the raw:
Pioneering Marin chef breaks a culinary barrier
by Kim Severson
Roxanne Klein is seducing the great chefs of America.
Is it her ability to spin raw parsnips and pine nuts into perfectly seasoned sushi rice? Or that she can turn cashew milk into a cheese course worthy of the Bernardaud china it’s served on?
Or is it her husband’s big wad of cash?
Likely it’s all of the above. Still, the food Klein prepares at Roxanne’s, her four-month-old restaurant in Larkspur, has so impressed the nation’s elite chefs that raw food has become the new edge of the culinary frontier.
The world of haute cuisine has never seen anything like Roxanne’s. You won’t find a steak, an egg or even a stick of butter inside the gleaming walk-in coolers. No rice, beans or bread, either. There isn’t even a stove, because none of the food is heated much past 115 degrees, the point at which enzymes begin to die. Raw foodists believe the more live enzymes remain in the food we eat, the healthier we will be.
Yet in Roxanne’s polished, subdued dining room, health food zealotry has no place. The emphasis is on flavor and service. It’s the first raw-food restaurant for people with a palate who don’t want to be punished for eating healthy.
Renowned Rubicon sommelier Larry Stone designed the first-class wine list. Michael Judge, former general manager at Masa’s, runs the 62-seat dining room. It is environmentally perfect, with silky indigo hemp chair covers, solar power and recycled glass lamps.
One might well ask how delicious a world of sprouted nuts and vegetable juice can be. But Roxanne’s has earned a rare 3Ç-star rating from The Chronicle. Famed Chicago chef Charlie Trotter is writing a book with her. The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller was so intrigued he made Klein and nine guests a raw food dinner that, top wines included, cost more than $30,000, according to chefs in a position to know.
Even Ron Siegel, the no-nonsense, hard-to-impress Iron Chef at Masa’s, says she’s got talent. “I don’t like to eat that way, but it tastes good,” he says.
“You gotta give her credit.”
Klein’s raw journey began about seven years ago, with a chance meeting and a Grateful Dead concert.
Klein was at a Mill Valley espresso bar – this was back when she still drank espresso — when she met a limo driver. He worked for Michael Klein, the son of one of the founders of Bally’s Las Vegas resort and casino. Michael Klein, now 47, was a multimillionaire whiz kid with a business degree from Harvard who had recently sold his telecommunications company. He had given up his fast-track life in Manhattan, one in which he ate out with abandon 200 nights a year, and moved to the Bay Area where he met Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir at a flag football game. Klein ended up touring with the band and running Weir’s Novato-based guitar company, Modulus. The two also shared some political causes, most notably efforts to save the world’s rain forests.
Michael Klein and some of the band had gone vegan — he for the environmental politics of it, Weir to save his vocal chords and Jerry Garcia because he was obese. The limo driver figured the pretty vegetarian chef and the rich vegan Deadhead would be a perfect match.
“Want to go to a Grateful Dead concert?” he asked her.
Klein rolled her eyes. “I thought, ‘I guess I’ll have to find that hippie dress.’ ” She went, and the Kleins fell in love.
“It was immediate,” she says.
The couple’s raw revelation came later. In 1996, they were hanging around with actor Woody Harrelson at a spa in Thailand, working on a cultural vegan cookbook. The Kleins were eating curries, but Harrelson stuck to fruit and green papaya salads.
The actor took them through Raw 101. Raw foodists believe cooking food is a bad habit people picked up thousands of years ago. The theory is that the work it takes the body’s enzymes to digest cooked food is the cause of human disease. Living food — that is, plants and seeds that haven’t been heated over 115 degrees — still have their natural enzymes intact. Eating plant enzymes means the body won’t have to use its own limited supply, which leads to a healthier, longer life. That raw foodists eat no animal products goes without saying. Even vegans think raw is radical.
Harrelson was so convincing that the Kleins went to their $9 million Kauai getaway and spent a month eating raw.
“We felt so good. We slept two or three hours less a night. We’d go to bed and lay awake for an hour just because we were so energized,” Michael Klein says. “At the end of that month we looked at each other and said, how can we eat this way all the time?”
The answer is Roxanne’s, a raw food Shangri-La that could happen no where else but Marin County.
Naked in the kitchen
For chefs who work with raw foods, there is nowhere to hide. They can’t use fats or cooking techniques to mask less-than-perfect ingredients. Caramelizing for flavor is out. So is smoothing sauces with butter or enriching them with stock.
Therefore, Klein relies on the most pristine fruits and vegetables she can find. She might spend 12 or 15 hours at a stretch trying to perfect the layers of spice for a tagine.
“I just start smelling and tasting,” she says. “I feel somehow like a painter when I begin.” While her husband approaches raw food armed with an intellectual recitation of theory and politics, Roxanne relies on intuition and her deep need to find flavor.
“It’s about maintaining the natural, inherent sensuality of each ingredient,” she says. “I don’t need a nutrition book to tell me how to eat. I just say, ‘Does this taste yummy? Will this make me feel good to eat it?’ If it does, I put it on the menu.”
Because she hasn’t eaten meat, dairy or cooked food for almost six years, Klein says her senses of smell and taste are highly elevated. She quickly rejects perfect-looking baby spinach as too grassy and muddy tasting. She can barely stomach a whiff of dog kibble or a stroll past a supermarket meat counter.
Roxanne retains taste memories from her days as a meat-and-dairy chef. She appreciates the appealing smell of barbecue smoke and the sublime flavor of baked French goat cheese. When she sees a young girl walking at the farmer’s market with a big chocolate croissant, she doesn’t turn up her nose.
“I remember how good that can taste. I used to really need that 3 p.m. espresso and sweet,” she says. “But the idea of actually eating it doesn’t appeal to me at all anymore.”
Dressed in black stretch pants, a black cropped down jacket and a leopard scrunchy, she drives her black Mercedes SUV to the San Rafael farmers’ market two days a week and walks the aisles with her chef de cuisine, Stephanie Valentine, a recruit from Charlie Trotter’s who has been eating raw about 90 percent of the time since she joined Roxanne’s in August.
“It just makes me feel so much lighter,” says Valentine, who still finds coffee too difficult to put down. “Coming from Charlie’s, you think, ‘We’ve got the greatest food around.’ But now I’m like, ‘This was picked four days ago — what’s going on here?’ ”
If the food at the market isn’t to the pair’s liking — and Klein has no problem rejecting the best from high-pedigree producers like Full Belly Farms — she’ll scour her own three-acre garden for inspiration.
The organic garden, with a green house, orchards, terraced beds and a strawberry-lined walkway, wraps around the front of the estate she and her husband own. The site, which sits on a hill in Corte Madera, belonged to the late music producer Bill Graham. The Kleins bought it in 1992 and tore down Graham’s two-bedroom bachelor pad and turned the volleyball court into a raised-bed garden. The new house — they just moved in last month — is a five-bedroom, rammed earth beauty made with all recycled materials. It features a water system that uses a series of six ponds filled with natural filtration devices like lily pads and shrimp.
In the garage, a new red three-wheeled electric car called a Lido is plugged in next to the Porsche, the BMW and the two Mercedes. A decal on each side reads, “Roxanne’s.” The vehicle was a gift from former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca, who plans to introduce it in San Francisco soon.
The only heat source in the kitchen is a six-burner Viking to cook pasta and rice for the kids, 4-year-old Nataraja and 10-year-old Alexandria. Although they say their mom can smell chocolate the minute they try to sneak it into the house, Roxanne does fix them treats like chocolate “milk” made with the water from young coconuts and Valrhona cocoa.
Klein is a fifth-generation Californian who grew up on a farm in Manteca, the daughter of school teachers Melvin and Carola Sohns. She ate organic food from her grandmother’s garden, and turned vegetarian during her student days at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her parents, who served as guinea pigs for Roxanne’s raw recipe tests, cooked French food, following Julia Child on a black-and-white TV set. They still brag about how Roxanne could sit through a two-hour meal in Paris when she was just 4 years old.
Roxanne got serious about cooking in her late 20s, graduating from the California Culinary Academy in 1990, then working at Stars with former chefs Jeremiah Tower and pastry chef Emily Luchetti.
“I have always been drawn to pastry. I don’t know if it’s the chemistry of it or what,” she says.
After cooking in San Francisco, Roxanne headed to Provence and Paris, until on a return visit she met the limo driver.
It would seem that taking the heat out of the trilogy of chef, stove and food would limit a formally trained chef like Klein. But she says it forces her to be even more creative because the range of ingredients is so narrow.
“I love to figure things out. I’ll lay out 25 different spices and mix it all and blend them until I get just the flavor I want for something,” she says.
“I think about a certain culture, about the spices and flavors of that culture, then I come to the garden and think about how I want experience this asparagus today. How can I make what the garden is offering shine?”
Klein relies on a series of innovative processing steps to turn nuts, seed and vegetables into cuisine that can command $39 for four courses.
The two custom-built kitchens in her restaurant feature three-gallon blenders and food processors so big they have to sit on the floor. Convection dehydrators at 110-115 degrees turn flax seed paste into crisp crackers and dates, cocoa powder and ground cashews into a reasonable facsimile of a brownie.
Her culinary workhorses are a mixture of pureed parsnips and pine nuts that, with some creative flavoring, becomes couscous or sushi rice. Zucchini and buckwheat are ground and dried into a pizza crust. Almonds and cashews are soaked overnight, pureed and milked to form soft cheese or soft-serve ice cream.
Salt, good quality cocoa, 100-year-old balsamic vinegar and the highest quality olive oil build flavor — this is not food that is as low-fat or low- sodium as might be expected. To make up for the aromas that heating food produces, Klein serves many dishes on warmed plates, and wields a little tray of droppers with intensely flavored oils scented with curry, truffle or sesame.
Like an alchemist, she adds drops here and there before plate leaves the kitchen.
An unlikely revolutionary
Until Roxanne’s, raw foodists didn’t have much culinary expertise. In San Francisco, Juliano Brotman, a wild-haired, midriff-baring young chef, tried his hand at Organica in the Sunset District in the mid 1990s. The raw restaurant has since closed and Brotman lives in Los Angeles where he holds rave-style raw food classes for celebrities like Alicia Silverstone and K.D. Lang.
Although Juliano was the first to get national exposure for raw food, he had little formal training. He called eggs “chicken abortions,” and his sun-baked pizza crust and quasi-religious approach to food were both hard to choke down.
A few small raw restaurants have since opened in Boston and Manhattan, but they are the stuff of health fanatics and hipsters, and are often subject to ridicule. “The raw food trend is, even as I write, sweeping the modishly spiritual bowels of Manhattan,” wrote New York Observer columnist Simon Doonan a couple of months ago.
Long before Roxanne’s opened, the Kleins commissioned raw dinners from some of the nation’s best chefs. Masa’s Ron Siegel met the Kleins when they asked him to cook an all-raw tasting menu. Because the Kleins consider wine “raw” and have expensive taste, they paired the meal with $1,000 bottles. They got other chefs — among them, Thomas Keller of the French Laundry, Daniel Boulud in New York, Norman Van Aken in Florida and Charlie Trotter in Chicago — to prepare similar raw feasts, often spending thousands of dollars.
Trotter became so enamored with the raw life that he is collaborating with Klein on a cookbook to be published this summer by Ten Speed Press. The chef, who says he eats raw about half the time now, is even considering giving up his trademark foie gras dishes.
Trotter believes Klein is leading a new wave in the raw food movement, one that will take the style of cooking out of the hands of bombastic food purists and into the mouths of people who above all else want food that tastes good. It is, he and other chefs agree, not unlike what happened with vegetarian food.
“Until 10 years ago, if you wanted a true vegetarian meal, the chef would pluck the salmon off the plate and send it out. Now, any serious chef has to offer a vegetable offering, if not a full tasting menu. In five years or 10, it will be the same way with raw food,” he says.
This week, Trotter and Klein will prepare dinner at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in San Diego. “I think there are a lot of chefs who are going to take notice and draw inspiration from this, ” Trotter says.
Of course, chefs are watching her. But they are also aware that she is doing what few can. First, she has a ton of money at her disposal and doesn’t have to make a profit. If and when she does, all the money will go to charity. Second, few people have the time or culinary skill to eat raw every day although the Kleins’ plans to open a take-out deli by the end of the summer, a prototype for a chain of raw food spots, may change that.
Then there’s the simple fact that food often tastes better with heat.
Says Siegel: “Asparagus is nice raw, but it’s also nice cooked.”
Still, popular appeal may not conern the Kleins. On a Thursday evening earlier this month, Roxanne was in the kitchen when her husband pulled up in a stretch limo. He and some friends were headed to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert in Oakland. The driver ran in and picked up four vegetable “lasagna” dinners to go and four good bottles of wine.
“Sometimes I think the reason he did this,” says one of the staffers who helped pack up the meal, “is so he had some place good to eat.”
Roxanne’s Raw Techniques
Finding a language to describe raw food creations is difficult. Roxanne Klein’s intent is not to make “fake” versions of other foods, but she uses terminology that most diners are familiar with. Here are some of the dishes she serves at her restaurant, and how she creates them.
Rawmesan cheese: To approximate the taste and texture of shaved Parmesan, Klein soaks pine nuts in water overnight, grinds them to a paste with nutritional yeast and other ingredients, dehydrates the mixture for a couple of hours in a convection oven, then flakes it when cooled.
Pad Thai noodles: Klein cuts long, julienne strips from the soft, white fleshy interior of young Thai coconuts (also called jelly coconuts).
Couscous: The chef pulses raw parsnips and pine nuts in a food processor at about a 3-to-1 ratio, then flavors the mealy mixture with saffron.
Crackers: Flax seeds, water and cayenne pepper are ground to a paste and then thinly spread on a special mat and dried for two hours at 112 degrees.
Ice cream: Klein’s kitchen crew soaks cashews in water overnight, then grinds them with distilled water and “milks” them through a special fine mesh bag. The cashew milk is mixed with honey, olive oil and flavorings such as lemon juice or cocoa powder, and put into a high-speed ice-cream freezer.
To run ice cream through a soft-serve machine and make frozen custard, she uses almond milk, which is thinner than cashew milk, and the pliable meat from a young Thai coconut. To give “lemon custard” a pleasing yellow color, she adds a bit of turmeric.
Baked goat cheese rounds: Klein soaks almonds overnight, peels them and grinds them with Rejuvelac, made from fermented wheat berries, which acts as a culture. The resulting cheese is rolled into rounds and coated with crushed “crackers” made from dehydrating a paste of sunflower and sesame seeds. The rounds are warmed slightly in a dehydrator and served on salad greens.
Fudge sauce: The kitchen blends almond butter with cocoa powder, water, maple syrup and Japanese soy sauce.
Roxanne’s, 320 Magnolia Ave. (at King), Larkspur; (415) 924-5004.
Dinner: 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Wine only. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Street parking and lot behind restaurant. Web site: www.roxraw.com.
This may be garnished with asparagus tips, shaved fennel and radishes marinated in vinegar, truffle oil, salt and pepper.
1/2 avocado (about 3 ounces), peeled and pitted
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup chopped asparagus
2 tablespoons chopped peeled celery
1 tablespoon Nama Shoyu, or other raw organic soy sauce
1 tablespoon + 3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped green onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 thyme sprig
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 ounces fresh spinach
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Olive oil to taste (optional)
Combine the avocado, water, asparagus, celery, soy sauce, lemon juice, green onion, garlic, thyme, tarragon and spinach in a blender. Blend until you have a smooth puree.
Pass the mixture through a chinois or other fine mesh sieve. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper. Swirl in optional olive oil before serving.
PER SERVING: 65 calories, 2 g protein, 6 g carbohydrate, 4 g fat (1 g saturated), 0 cholesterol, 976 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
1 cup whole blanched raw almonds, soaked in cold water to cover for 10 to 12 hours
1 cup whole raw cashews, soaked in cold water to cover for 10 to 12 hours
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons onion paste
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup olive oil
5 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (Celtic brand recommended), or other salt
2 tablespoons tahini
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil for garnish
Drain the nuts well. Using a food processor and working in batches, if necessary, process the almonds, cashews and garlic until pureed and as smooth as you can get them. Add the onion paste, lemon juice, water, olive oil, salt, tahini and pepper. Process until smooth.
Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
PER SERVING: 705 calories, 14 g protein, 23 g carbohydrate, 64 g fat (7 g saturated), 0 cholesterol, 3,177 mg sodium, 7 g fiber.
YOUNG-COCONUT PAD THAI WITH ALMOND CHILE SAUCE
The young-coconut strands are slightly sweet and tender, emulating the classic rice noodle. Reprinted with permission from “Raw,” by Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein (to be published by Ten Speed Press, 2003).
2 tablespoons tamarind juice
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 3/4 tablespoons organic soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/4 teaspoons minced serrano chile pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt + sea salt to taste
1 1/2 cups julienned zucchini
1 cup thinly shredded red cabbage
1 1/2 cups julienned carrot
1/2 cup julienned red onion
1 cup julienned Granny Smith apple (skin on)
1/2 cup julienned red bell pepper
3 cups julienned young-coconut meat
1 serrano chile, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons whole cilantro leaves
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup raw cashews, coarsely chopped
3 teaspoons white sesame oil
Almond Chile Sauce:
1/2 cup raw almond butter
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon organic soy sauce
1 Thai Dragon chile pepper (see note), or other hot red pepper
1/4 cup water
To prepare the pad Thai: Puree the tamarind, maple syrup, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the soy sauce, the garlic, minced serrano, olive oil and salt until smooth.
Combine the zucchini, cabbage, carrots, onion, apple, bell pepper, coconut, sliced serrano and the cilantro in a mixing bowl. Add the tamarind puree and toss until evenly distributed. Season with salt and pepper.
To prepare the cashews: Toss the cashews with 1 teaspoon of the white sesame oil in a small mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
To prepare the Almond Chile Sauce: Combine all the sauce ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding more water to thin if necessary.
Assembly: Arrange some of the pad Thai mixture in the center of each serving plate. Spoon some of the Almond Chile Sauce and the remaining soy sauce and white sesame oil around the pad Thai. Sprinkle with the chopped cashews.
Note: The Thai Dragon is a red chile, about 3 inches long, 1/2 inch wide and about 6 times hotter than a jalapeno.
PER SERVING: 670 calories, 11 g protein, 51 g carbohydrate, 50 g fat (22 g saturated), 0 cholesterol, 686 mg sodium, 11 g fiber.