Some of the most creative, interesting, vibrant and delicious dishes I've eaten recently have been comprised of raw food. My girlfriend and I have prepared almost all of them at home with a food processor, Vitamix blender and a dehydrator, the typical raw foodist's arsenal.
It's a misconception that raw food — generally defined as food not heated past 105 degrees so as not to kill beneficial enzymes — is inherently boring, bland and prone to leave one feeling like a ruminant. (For more on this, see "Rah, Rah, RAW," cover story, June 11, 2009.) Being a raw food cook is like being a master counterfeiter — it's the art of culinary forgery.
Ingredients like avocado enter desserts for the texture of mousse; soaked seeds and nuts are dried and ground to act as gluten-free flours or binders; and uncommon (and expensive) procurements like coconut butter and cacao nibs contribute semi-sweetness to rich, sugar-free treats. Go ahead — fake it, baby.
To get started, you could purchase any of a number of cookbooks and the requisite gear. But I'd recommend you instead attend one of Chevy Lee Raw Foods' monthly "Raw Fusion" dinners at the Business of Art Center.
Chevy Lee is the BAC-based catering business launched by 32-year-old Martine Purdy just months ago, but built upon years of private chef work. The three-course dinners ($30, $35 with wine) are typically paired with live music, though the Feb. 18 dinner I attended corresponded with a special showing of Manitou local Rick Laurenzi's self-produced weight-loss film, Dropping a Ton and Making it Fun. Laurenzi has employed Purdy as a personal chef long enough for her to design more than 200 recipes for him.
Working with around 75 percent organic ingredients, Purdy firstly prepared a mixed green salad with light Asian dressing, flecked with dulse (seaweed) flakes and hemp seeds, and topped with avocado slivers and rosemary crackers. Tasty, but no mind-blowing entry into raw for newbies. That's where our second course came in.
For a personal pesto pizza, she soaked buckwheat groats and pumpkin seeds (which releases undesired phytic acid and essentially initiates a sprouting sequence), then pulverized them into a "dough." On it, she spread a garlicky basil and sunflower seed pesto and avocado and red bell pepper into a "cheese" layer. Then, fresh tomatoes, red onion slivers, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts completed the flavor, which was dead on for gourmet pizza, though the soft texture and overall appearance could of course never be mistaken for real pizza.
Dessert brought a winter fruit compote (pineapple, honeydew, cantaloupe) trifle with hazelnut granola. In between the delicious, agave-sweetened, gingery granola and fruit were layers of coconut-vanilla cream pudding. Yum.
Purdy, not a strict raw foodist herself, says she borrows techniques from cookbooks, but that 90 percent of the end product is hers: "I'll read a recipe for something cooked and figure out a way to create something similar raw — the fat content, the oils. Over time, I learn to substitute this for that."
Chevy Lee very much remains in a launch phase, though expansion and eventually a book are on the drawing board. Down the road, look out for secret suppers: 15-person, oddly located outings to be initiated spontaneously on Facebook or off Purdy's mailing list. Currently, take-out orders (in eco-friendly packaging) may be placed by Saturday for Tuesday pick-up or Tuesday for Friday pick-up, with free delivery to Manitou merchants.