I’ve never been one for food fads although I once did one of those ‘detox’ diets back in the 90’s when they were THE big thing to do. My dad and I embarked on it together; a seven-day programme of toxin free eating to purge our bodies of the impurities of modern life. In all honesty we were rubbish. On day five I found my step-father head in fridge, guiltily stuffing chunks of cheese into his mouth at half past twelve in the morning. Meanwhile I walked around ready to kill, driven crazy by the lack of nicotine entering my system. We both cracked. Totally unable to cope without our morning shot of caffeine or hefty dose of protein during the day. We decided together that the toxins weren’t that bad after all.
It’s not that I’ve ever had a particularly unhealthy diet. I was, until I started living with my then boyfriend (now husband), a strict vegetarian. I’d even dabbled with veganism for about six months, but that was in my late teens when I wasn’t so keen on vegetables and there just wasn’t the variety of products on the market tailored to vegan living. It was only when my teen was little that I started to eat a bit of fish and occasionally chicken. Back then I shopped in the supermarket and couldn’t afford organic meat so it was easier and cheaper to eat vegetarian most of the time.
My knowledge of raw foodism (is that the correct term?) was pretty sketchy. I’d always imagined raw foodists as a strange sub-group of vegans; pale and unhealthy looking hippy types (yes I’m just going to generalise wildly here so please forgive me) eating salad for breakfast lunch and dinner. These days it seems that more and more people are choosing a raw way of life…and for the most part they look pretty damn good doing it. It’s still not totally mainstream but people like Mike Nash (buff American author of Aggressive Health), David Wolfe (curly-haired ‘rock star’ of superfood) and chef Chris Massamba from Sundia foods (opening night chef at Global Feast 2012) are doing their best to pioneer the trend and tell all about the benefits. If you think it’s just another fad diet I think you would be wrong, it’s a lifestyle (they do all look incredibly wholesome, toned and squeaky clean…which is enough to put me off and make me feel quite grubby). This lifestyle they espouse doesn’t seem to have much room for moments of stodgy cake, booze, cocktails or dare I say it, the odd cigarette but there are plenty of people following suit and lots of websites with recipes and tips on how to do it.
This week I received an invite to Raw Dave’s night of raw food. A three course raw food dinner with talks and demonstrations. I wasn’t sure what to expect (what with my sweeping generalisations and large chuck of cynicism) but with so few food events (let alone interesting and different food events) cropping up in these parts I knew I’d kick myself if I turned it down. In any case I know the chef, Raw Dave (as he is known locally) so I was genuinely interested in what he had to say and prepare for us.
You’d be forgiven for imagining Raw Dave as a gruff feral man, part Tarzan part Neanderthal, emerging from the undergrowth after an extended forage. In contrast Dave is a gentle, laid back self-effacing guy who clearly loves food, experimenting, preparing and eating. He does have a hint of the clean and glowing about him but along with his lovely and massively enthusiastic assistant Gill (for whom all of life is AWESOME. Favourite adjective of the night) they managed to enthuse all the guests with the same amounts of bounce and anticipation.
The totally awesome Raw Dave and Gill
The evening was hugely interactive, well planned and I learnt masses. Guests liberally fired questions across the table which Gill and Dave answered with relaxed honesty and openness. It felt like a cross between a supper club (I had that feeling of deja vu witnessing the birth of a new foodie project) and a food lecture. I’d never have guessed that this was the first time they’d run such an event. They were fun, entertaining, enlightening and interesting. I sat with Jules (from the Incredible Edible Hedgerow project) and a couple of her friends, plus Pete who is a veteran supper club guest. The conversation and debate provoked by the food, how we eat, grow, shop and what the effects of eating such a nutrient rich, unusual diet might be on our systems were definitely a highlight of the night.
Clearly there are long-term health benefits to such a diet. Dave explained his own journey. He’d always been fit but a big guy and as he approached his thirties he felt himself becoming lethargic, achey and slowly he piled on the weight. As he topped 23 stone his Mum developed hypertension and his dad had a heart attack. He found he was developing the same symptoms so decided it was time to make a change. He didn’t become a raw foodie over night (in fact Dave strongly advised against doing anything so drastic and so suddenly…as he said it’s not about putting yourself through withdrawal and feeling crap it’s about improving the diet and feeling healthy), he started by drinking green smoothies and slowly replaced unhealthy snacks with healthy ones. Over a three to four year period he became almost totally raw. In the process and without watching what he ate (raw chocolate plays a massive part in his life) his weight dropped to an astounding 12 stone. He looks healthy. He brims with energy and he no longer aches in the morning.
We started our meal with one of his famous green smoothies. A dark green high chlorophyll (which makes you feel buzzy and uplifted) concoction of 1 juiced apple, 1 juiced pear, a hand full of spinach and a stick of celery juiced, spirulina, sea algae (high in Omega 3), agave nectar.
It was more tasty than it might seem, although Dave had put plenty of Agave nectar in it to make it more palatable. The apple and pear flavours were strongly in evidence and not over powered by the celery and spinach at all. We were also treated to some raw chocolate bites to go with it. High in phenathlamine (among other things!) they offer a natural high and topped with dried fruit (I can’t remember what Dave said the dried fruit was on top, something like kumquat I think) they were very nice.
raw chocolate: coconut oil, raw cacao powder with a dried kumquat like fruit on top
One of the purported benefits of eating raw is that it boosts your energy levels. With the high nutrient content, added Omega 3 (spirulina), natural ‘good’ bacteria in algae, natural caffeine and chemicals in the raw chocolate I certainly felt quite buzzy and high after the chocolate and smoothie appetizer.
We moved on to starter; a mixed leaf, herb, flower salad with mixed seeds and Green Dragon dressing. Leaves and flowers were harvested from the on iste permaculture garden and the dressing made from half a scotch bonnet chilli (which apparently helps to open up the cells inside us, replacing the bad stuff-toxins, with good stuff), half an onion, a handful of coriander (good for the detox of heavy metals), 7 fl oz tamari soy sauce (a wheat free variety), a couple of dropper full of flax oil (Omega 3 rich, it’s very good for reversing a deficiency but if used too much can cause an imbalance), nine fl oz apple cider vinegar (lower in ascetic acid than balsamic vinegar), good olive oil and pink Himalayan salt (the purist kind and most contaminant free apparently). These were all blitzed in a blender.
The dressing had real punch (from the chilli) but was also slightly sweet and sour. The sweet came from a drop of agave nectar (from the blue agave plant; the same thing they make tequila from…something else I learned that night).
Main course was courgette spaghetti with a marinari sauce and raw pesto. To make the courgette spaghetti Dave used a spiraliser, a Japanese gadget, that Gill demonstrated (after bouncing up and down saying “can I do it, can I, can I” )
Gill using the spiraliser (not the best picture sorry)
This was my most coveted piece of kit for the night. I have to get one of them!
Courgette spagetti with marinari sauce and raw pesto
I don’t think I was paying attention when the demonstration was going on as I didn’t make a note of the ingredients. I think we were too busy being excited by the spiraliser and passing round vegan parmesan substitute. Made by Marigold it looks a bit like fish food and has a yeasty kind of taste, but isn’t unpleasant. It comes into its own when it’s added to dishes. Dave used it in the pesto, which was very nice.
Pete’s extrodinarily long piece of courgette pasta
Although it is supposed to be summer, the sauce would have benefitted from lightly warming as it wasn’t the warmest evening, although this did not detract from the taste; perfectly flavoured and seasoned.
Dessert was raw tiffin with mint sauce. The ‘biscuit’ part (which can also be used as a cheesecake base) was a combination of walnut halves, dates and pink Himalayan salt, blitzed together in a blender until it begins to hold together.
Next coconut oil warmed in a bain marie was mixed with melted raw cacao powder and what we arrived at was, in the words of Gill
“chocolatey joy in a bowl”
Thank you Gill, that is exactly what it was. Once set they cut the tiffin into chucks and served it with a simple pureed minty sauce and a strip of strawberry fruit leather. I’m rarely defeated by dessert but this was so rich half of it made me feel like I’d over eaten!
During the evening my dinner companions and I came up with two questions. Would we be able to sleep after so much buzzy food and would we feel full at the end of the meal? I asked one more silent question of myself. What would it do to my insides? This seems a strange question to ask, but I’m not used to eating solely raw food. As Dave said, “you’re not just getting five a day, you’re getting twenty-five a day”.
Question two was answered easily. Yes we all agreed we felt full and I continued to feel full for a long time afterwards.
The first question was answered later…no I couldn’t sleep. Apparently Sean listened to me talking at him in an over elated fashion while we lay in bed. He listened for a while before he finally fell asleep. He was sure I carried on even then.
My own question was answered the following day. The over abundance of vegetable made me feel quite bloated. The following day my stomach spoke to me in gurgles. Now, without getting too grim about the details, suffice it to say I couldn’t have felt more purged if I’d had a colonic irrigation. Despite this I didn’t feel ill, I felt rather light and energetic until I started getting a headache and a craving for a really big ham roll. Sorry Dave, my toxins rule my body.
Lizzy Hawley and the girls behind the newly revamped Hendre Hall Arts Cafe and Permaculture Garden hosted the evening. It’s a fab place which is now being used as a base for lots of local craft people as well as a venue for weddings, special events and a monthly local produce market. If you would like to attend future events they are mostly advertised through Facebook or word of mouth, so its worth checking their page for news.
Thank you to lovely Lizzy, resplendent in Green taffeta, and the rest of her glamorous assistants for all their hard work and of course to Gill and Dave who were truly AWESOME!