The cult of raw foods sprouted on the West Coast, as most trendy diets do, and took root here five years ago in restaurants like Quintessence, attracting seekers of nutritional nirvana. It took a Bay Area chef, Roxanne Klein, to elevate the regimen to fine-dining status at her wildly influential Roxanne’s, a hyper-refined temple of organic fruits and vegetables in their most nearly natural form, sometimes dehydrated, but never cooked above 118 degrees—the point at which, believers say, they lose their essential enzymes. Next month, newly minted vegan Matthew Kenney does the same for New York with Pure Food and Wine, a restaurant that eases us into the world of the raw and the uncooked with niceties like an international wine list and first-class service.
You’d think culinarily sophisticated New Yorkers would have a hard time accepting nut “cheese,” zucchini “pasta,” and the rest of the genre’s quotation-marked food. But Chicago’s star chef Charlie Trotter is such a fan that he partnered with Klein on a new cookbook, Raw. And Pure Food marks the cathartic rebirth of a high-flying chef who once dished out truffled mac and cheese and presided over such culinary hotspots as Matthew’s, Mezze, Monzu, Canteen, Commune, and Commissary.
“I’m back emotionally and professionally to where I was ten years ago,” says Kenney, who credits the rejuvenating health benefits of his new regime. “I need less sleep and have much more energy.”
As local produce starts to flood the farmers’ markets and it gets too hot to turn on the oven, summer is the perfect time to try your own hand at raw dining. All you need for these inventive recipes, concocted by Kenney and his chef-partner, Sarma Melngailis, is a blender, a food processor, and a well-honed knife. Whip up a refreshing, sweet-and-spicy pineapple-cucumber gazpacho. Carve “noodles” out of young coconut flesh. Wrap vibrantly seasoned cabbage in collard-green leaves, and dunk them in tamarind sauce. And if you never thought that lasagne could be meatless, cheeseless, and pasta-free, and still swooningly delicious, Kenney’s version makes a persuasive, pesto-pervaded argument. Now eat your vegetables. —Robin Raisfeld