Why the biggest names in raw food are turning up the heat

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Photo: Robert Laing for 00+Co.

Raw foodism is one of those diets that inspires hardcore fandom—and there’s certainly a lot to love: an emphasis on healthy plants, grains, and unprocessed foods, not to mention gut-healthy fermented ones. But skeptics have long had their own list of concerns. Eating raw is rule-heavy and restrictive, they say, and requires a lot of unrealistic prep.

Against that backdrop, raw food trailblazers like Matthew Kenney and Jamie Graber have been quietly converting to a third path: raw-ish. It’s mainly raw, along with plenty of healthy, vegan offerings cooked above 118 degrees, considered the no-fly zone of raw food preparation. With so many big names publicly embracing it, is this the future of raw?

“Raw food is really remarkable. As a chef, I find it the most challenging and rewarding to prepare, and I feel my best when consuming raw foods,” says Matthew Kenney, a star on the American raw food scene who is responsible for a veritable library on the topic, including Cooked Raw: How One Celebrity Chef Risked Everything to Change the Way We Eat.

But Kenney’s latest restaurant, 00+Co., opened a week ago in New York City’s East Village with—shocker!—pizza front and center on the menu. Like, actual cooked (vegan) pizza. Notably, Kenney doesn’t see any tension in the shift. For him, it’s about balance.

“Strict raw diets are difficult for most people to sustain long term, whether for nutritional, practical, or emotional reasons”

“Over a sustained period of time, it’s great to present other options into the diet,” he says. “Think of it like exercise: The gym is great, but we don’t need to spend four hours a day there to feel the results. The same goes for a balanced diet.”

00+Co.’s menu has plenty of heated-below-118-degrees offerings; all of the desserts and some small plates are raw, Kenney notes, so you could still enjoy an all-raw meal. But the star is the pizza, with options that range from the simple (tomato, basil, and cashew mozzarella) to the more exotic (smoked oyster mushroom, walnut cream, green harissa, and lemon). And the wood-fired oven is literally front-and-center; instead of being tucked away in the kitchen, you can spot it from your seat.

Photo: Robert Laing for 00+Co.

And Kenney isn’t alone in this shift. Jamie Graber, founder and owner of NYC raw food and juice staple Gingersnap’s Organic, has also been dabbling with cooked dishes, including a hot tomato stew with chunks of zucchini, carrots, and onions, and a cauliflower soup with olive oil and sea salt. Although the menus at both her restaurant and 00+Co. are rooted in raw, there’s a sense of variety that feels very new and eminently manageable at the same time.

And that, according to the new wave of raw-ish fans, is the key. All of the benefits of a plant-based, vegan diet persist, but that worry that cooking any food degrades its nutrients and natural enzymes is gone.

The Full Helping goes vegan
Photo: The Full Helping

“I know that there are folks who truly do have wonderful, lifelong experiences eating raw or mostly raw, but I think that strict raw diets are difficult for most people to sustain long term, whether for nutritional, practical, or emotional reasons,” says Gena Hamshaw, founder of the go-to vegan food site The Full Helping, which used to be called Choosing Raw.

Though she adored raw veganism when she first discovered it (and was admittedly never super strict with the rules), Hamshaw found that over time it became an expression of what she recognized as orthorexic tendencies (that is, an obsession with eating foods deemed healthy) in herself.

Though she did get some negative feedback with the name change, the blogger notes that fans of the site were generally receptive. They’d seen her diet shift gradually as she stopped treating raw foods in any kind of preferential way. And no doubt they also sensed a focus on nourishment over any kind of dogma—which, no matter which way you slice (or cook) it, is a good thing.

“I wonder if there was just a lot of momentum around raw foods a few years ago,” Hamshaw wonders, “and now the people, like me, who were smitten with raw are simply moving toward something more sustainable.” It certainly appears to be the case.

Whether or not you decide to go raw-ish, you’ll totally be inspired by the six health rules Matthew Kenney lives by.

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