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Top chefs join raw-food revolution

A cookbook co-written by Charlie Trotter is helping nudge raw food into the mainstream.

Associated Press
Published June 2, 2004

CONWAY, Ark. - There probably aren't many cookbooks with comments from Buddha, Woody Harrelson and 12th-century German visionary Hildegard von Bingen all in the same book, not to mention recipes that might send you scurrying for a personal chef.

The book with all those ingredients isn't really a cookbook. As the name suggests, Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw Foods is not about cooking. Rather, it is a collection of recipes, philosophy and information about uncooked food by Renee Loux Underkoffler (Avery, $21.95).

It is among several raw-food recipe books to hit the market in the past year. Perhaps the most publicized release has been a large, beautifully illustrated book titled Raw (Ten Speed Press, $35). Written by California chef Roxanne Klein and one of the country's top chefs, Charlie Trotter, Raw seeks to nudge the raw-food movement into the culinary mainstream.

With Trotter's name comes his reputation for upscale, innovative and excellent food, both cooked and uncooked.

Before you join the raw-food movement as a way to get out of the kitchen, be warned. Recipes are anything but quick preps.

They sometimes require several hours of dehydration or soaking, and exotic or hard-to-find ingredients - among them Rejuvelac (the fermented liquid drained from sprouted grains), smoked salt, sprouted flour, date sugar, flaxseed, carob powder and Celtic sea salt.

Trotter says he and Klein are simply trying to "exalt flavor" and to move the idea of enjoying creatively prepared raw food away from "the political arena."

Now, he says, people are starting to look at the movement and say, "Wow! This doesn't have to be tied in with some left-wing agenda. It's about great food."

"I think that a lot of people are going to do a double-take when they see my name connected" with this book, Trotter said in a telephone interview from Chicago. "They say, we don't think of Charlie as a raw chef or a vegetarian chef."

Yet Trotter is both and more. He is an award-winning master of many types of cuisine, from meat to vegetables, from the raw to the roasted.

"My hope is that mainstream chefs and home cooks that are not necessarily raw foodists or living foodists will look at this cuisine and try to understand the validity of what it's all about," he says.

"It's championship raw food from a flavor standpoint."

Trotter thinks both raw and cooked food can be healthy if you eliminate much of the fat and don't serve huge portions. Along with more traditional menus, his Chicago restaurant, Charlie Trotter's, now serves a raw menu to at least one or two tables per night.

Raw foodists in places as far flung as California, Toronto and Australia are known to gather for raw-food potlucks or restaurant "meetups."

And they're not living on iceberg lettuce alone.

Raw meals at Charlie Trotter's, Roxanne's (Klein's restaurant in Larkspur, Calif.) and an increasing number of other restaurants around the country are far more appealing.

At Roxanne's, for example, a diner might order yellow curried vegetables with biryani rice and two starters: perhaps cucumber-wrapped summer rolls with almond and sweet chili sauces or miso soup with scallions, wakame, marinated mushrooms and carrot. The cost: $44.

Among the recipes in Raw is one for Tacos Three Ways With Mexican Vinaigrette. The recipe calls for making the taco shells from, among other things, golden flaxseed, raw sunflower seeds, filtered water, onion, Celtic sea salt, nama shoyu (an unpasteurized, organic soy sauce) and Rejuvelac.

Once the shells are ready, you still have the chili sauce, guacamole, vinaigrette and the tacos themselves to prepare.

Most people who regularly eat raw find a food dehydrator, processor, blender and juicer indispensable.

Take Suzanne Alex Ferrara, author of The Raw Food Primer (Council Oak Books, $19.95). She owns three processors and carries one when traveling.

Among the movement's best-known disciples are model Carol Ault, who has her own book coming out later this year, and Harrelson, who wrote the forward for Underkoffler's book.

While many supporters say raw food is healthier than cooked food, some, including Trotter, focus more on aesthetics. Some eat only raw food; others allow themselves occasional diversions. And, of course, not everyone is sold on the diet in the first place.

Lisa Sasson, a registered dietitian and clinical assistant professor at New York University, says the diet is too restrictive to be healthy. "It's a bad diet, extremism," she says.

Harrelson, who first interested Klein and her husband, Michael, in raw food, obviously disagrees and, in endorsing the diet, writes that "you can talk theory all you want; if the taste isn't there, color me a cooked-food junkie."

"A life of lettuce, cucumbers, and garbanzo sprouts just wasn't happening for this meat-and-potato-raised Texan," he adds. "I mean, I admire Gandhi, but I didn't want to eat like him."

Ferrara, interviewed while she was living in Little Rock, Ark., said she began eating more raw food after she "just kept getting sick" when she was in her early 20s and living in Berkeley, Calif. For the past six years, she's been eating a 99 percent raw diet, except for condiments. Slender and attractive at 50, she says the diet has changed her life for the better.

"I feel better now than I did when I was 30," says Ferrara, who recently moved to Santa Fe, N.M.

Still, Ferrara and Klein believe going raw is a personal choice.

"It's more important to put more fresh food in your diet," said Ferrara, who recently was planning a dinner of marinated portobello mushrooms along with zucchini noodles with a sun-dried tomato marinara and pine-nut cream.

"You might never get to the place that you want to go completely raw," she says. "But everyone can benefit by just putting more raw food in their diet."

Klein says she also feels better than ever but points out health concerns alone weren't enough to win over a flavor-consumed chef.

"The intensity of the flavors - they're just so bright and clean," she says. Still, Klein isn't didactic. She cooks for her school-age children, and she, too, very occasionally eats cooked food, mostly when traveling or doing food research.

"I'm not a doctor; I'm a chef," says Klein, who tends an organic garden behind her home.

Both Trotter and Klein think top chefs at mainstream restaurants will have to offer raw-food selections on their menus within the next few years.

"It's just too valid and vital of a way to prepare food. I'm talking about beyond health," Trotter says.

"I'm talking about the flavor possibilities, the aesthetic possibilities."

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