May 13, 2002
When Rare Isn’t Fresh Enough
by Janice M. Horowitz
Would you like that well done, medium, rare — or raw? An emerging group of chefs is creating fancy, fussed-over dishes that have never met the flame of a grill or the zap of a microwave. It’s the raw-food revolution. In New York City, Quintessence, a popular downtown raw eatery that fashions ravioli shells from uncooked turnip slices, recently opened an uptown branch and plans to launch another next month. North of Boston in Beverly, Mass., Organic Garden Restaurant just expanded its raw menu to meet popular demand. In Larkspur, Calif., outside San Francisco, the upscale Roxanne’s debuted four months ago to rave reviews for its ersatz sushi rice spun from raw parsnips and pine nuts. Owner Roxanne Klein is collaborating on a raw food cookbook with famed Chicago chef Charlie Trotter.
Purveyors of raw or “living” food follow strict culinary standards: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds — preferably organic — are fine, but meat, chicken and dairy are forbidden. Some chefs ban all added heat, while others accept temperatures of 120° or less, just barely enough to warm. With no stoves, the tools of the trade include food processors, juicers and dehydrators — along with plenty of ingenuity. “It’s like being in a maze and finding you’re up against the wall,” says committed carnivore Norman Van Aken of Miami’s Norman’s, who, for fun, concocted a series of raw recipes for this month’s Art Culinaire magazine. “You have to be very creative to make your way through.” One of Van Aken’s recipes: tostadas made from raw flaxseed and topped with a cilantro-orange sauce.
There is a philosophy — of sorts — to the raw-food movement. Tolentin Chan, owner of Quintessence, argues that valuable nutrients remain intact when food is left in its natural state. O.K., that sounds reasonable enough — but there’s more. “Living food has a life force,” says Chan. “Eating life force gives you life force.” Sushi, though raw, has no life force, explains Chan: “Once the fish is cut, the life force dies.” If you ever have a dinner date with an enthusiast of the raw — or Yoda — now you know where to make reservations.