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>> Interview with Sarma Melngailis

Interview with Sarma Melngailis

1. What are some rawfood staples in your current diet? Are you 100% raw? How did you start?

I am essentially all raw on a day to day basis. I will sometimes have things as ingredients that are not technically raw, such as organic cocoa powder, or maple syrup – but only in small amounts. Otherwise, as a chef, when I go to other restaurants, I am open and always curious to try other foods, but I try to stay vegetarian, and always bring enzyme capsules with me! Some staples in my diet include E3-Live frozen blue green algae, which I mix with fresh grapefruit most mornings. I am spoiled being at the restaurant every day, so I also snack on our packaged biscotti cookies and macaroons, as well as ice cream, which I occasionally have for breakfast. What I love about raw food is that it’s all about what you feel like… if I want ice cream in the morning, I have ice cream in the morning. I like to have big salads in the afternoons, and green juice when I can. I started eating only raw food as an experiment, with my former partner Matthew. We were not even vegetarian at the time – eating red meat, dairy… everything. A friend told us about it, we were intrigued, and tried it. We felt amazing and were reading as much as we could about raw foods until after only a couple of days we realized we were not going back!

2. What is your book, “Raw Food Real World” about?

Raw Food Real World is about our experiences going raw, particularly from the point of view of not having been even vegetarian before, and sharing our recipes from our own every day lives as well as recipes from our restaurant, Pure Food and Wine. My goal with the book was to make the whole philosophy/concept more approachable to a wider audience – to make it less intimidating – to make it hopefully compelling enough to try. And to share the basics of what we learned that made the philosophy so compelling to us The response so far has been amazingly gratifying – to hear people say or write to me that they’ve been inspired and are eating better and feel better is a really nice feeling!

3. How was it like working with Matthew Kenney?

Matthew and I lived together and worked together for four years. Opening Pure Food and Wine was the best experience - the restaurant is so special and unique. Like the book, we wanted to make rawfood “mainstream” – when you come in to this restaurant, you don’t know right away that you are in a place that serves healthy food. We have a bar, a wine and cocktail list, a sexy atmosphere, and a magical outdoor garden. We are also lucky enough to have the best staff that works together like a family. The response we get from our guests makes all the hard work more than worthwhile. I love being at the restaurant every night, and I live right across the street, so it’s very easy!

4. How do you come up with a recipe?

Having worked as chefs with traditional cooked food for years, coming up with recipes was more about learning to work with new techniques first (such as dehydrating), and then adapting our existing knowledge. It’s exciting because with traditional cooking, most everything has already been done. Working with raw food creatively is like a new frontier. Before the restaurant opened, I had plenty of time to experiment. Now with so many other projects going on, we rely on our talented staff that has been with us since we opened. Our pastry chef Emily has taken raw desserts to a whole new level.

5. Can you share a favorite raw food recipe?

Zucchini-and-Green-Zebra-Tomato Lasagne with Basil-Pistachio Pesto
Matthew Kenney of Pure Food and Wine

Lemon-Pignoli “Ricotta”
2 cups raw pignoli nuts, soaked in water for at least 1 hour
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional; available in health food stores)
1 teaspoon sea salt

Tomato Sauce
2 cups good-quality sun-dried tomatoes (dry-packed), soaked in water for at least 2 hours
1 medium ripe tomato, diced
1/4 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons sea salt
Pinch hot-pepper flakes

Basil-Pistachio Pesto
2 cups packed basil leaves
1/2 cup raw pistachios
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

3 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
3 medium green-zebra tomatoes (or other heirloom variety)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Garnish: whole basil leaves

Cooking Instructions
Lemon-Pignoli “Ricotta”

Place the pignoli, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and salt in a food processor, and pulse a few times, until thoroughly combined. Gradually add 6 tablespoons water, and pulse until the texture becomes fluffy, like ricotta. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.

Tomato Sauce
Place all ingredients in a blender, and process until smooth.

Basil-Pistachio Pesto
Place all ingredients in a blender, and process until smooth.

Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, shave zucchini lengthwise into very thin slices, then cut in half crosswise. Cut the tomatoes in half, and each half into thin slices. Line the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with two layers of zucchini slices. Brush the zucchini lightly with olive oil, spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce over it, and top with small dollops of “ricotta” and pesto, using 1/3 of each. Layer on 1/3 of the tomato slices, and sprinkle with 1/3 of the oregano and thyme. Add another double layer of zucchini and repeat twice more with the tomato sauce, pesto, ricotta, tomato slices, and herbs. Serve immediately, or cover with plastic and let sit at room temperature for a few hours. Garnish with basil.

6. What are some quick tips or hints for raw newbies?

Listening to your cravings… finding snacks that you like that are quick and easy. A favorite of mine is avocado halves drizzled with macadamia oil, lime juice and coarse crystal salt – eating it with a spoon like a melon.

7. Do you have any dental problems on the raw diet?

I have been lucky and had good dental health all my life. However, one of my favorite breakfasts is pineapple, and I think it’s not the best thing for your teeth, so I try to brush my teeth or at least rinse well with water after I eat it.

8. Do you have any major influences?

I love Arnold Ehret’s books and writing – I find it inspiring that he wrote so boldly and took it upon himself to do so many experiments on himself so long ago – before it was even considered common knowledge that we should be eating as much fresh fruits and vegetables as possible to stay healthy. He was ahead of his time. Renee Loux Underkoffler has also been an inspiring author and friend – so full of knowledge, creativity and beauty. David Wolfe, David Jubb… they both inspire me as well.

9. Where do you see the raw food movement heading?

I see the raw food movement becoming increasingly mainstream (speeding up this process is my goal). If you look at the growth of stores such as Whole Foods – expanding rapidly in Manhattan, for example, while more conventional stores are suffering and closing – you can see where the overall market is heading. Raw Food is not a trend, as many like to call it. Once people become educated about raw food, feel better eating raw foods, they don’t revert back. In the same way that no one goes “green” and then later decides they’d prefer to live in an eco-UN-friendly way. ?

10. Can you please tell us about some of your current projects you’re working on or developing.

In addition to running the restaurant, I have many projects going on at once… the biggest currently being the new website www.oneluckyduck.com, which I’m very excited about. We lauched in July, just after the book was released. When I was finishing work on the book back in January, I had to decide whether to reference this website or not – listing it as a source for many ingredients and products – while at the time I had not started any work on it whatsoever. But building the website is something I knew I wanted to do, so I went ahead and turned the book in with the duck references and then raced to put it together. What excites me about it is how much further there is to go – right now we offer “everything you need for the ultimate raw and organic lifestyle” but we keep adding new products every week, and I want to add a whole informational resource section as well, and post new recipes each week, and try to make it more interactive. I am also working on expanding our wholesale business through which we sell packaged snacks that we make at the restaurant to other stores, including Whole Foods.

11. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for asking me to do this interview! And thank you for all you do to spread knowledge about raw food and raw and organic living.

»Click here
to order Raw Food Real World: 100 Recipes to Get the Glow
by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis!


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