In the Raw: Turning the Raw Cuisine Trend into Raves for your Restaurant

By Robert Trainor Exec Chef, Hilton | October 28, 2008

For a long time, the hotel industry's interpretation of "vegetarian cuisine" was a sad selection of scantily seasoned grilled or steamed vegetables, or ethnic dishes denuded of their spices to make them more palatable to an American marketplace. Vegetarian cuisine was perceived as a time-consuming specialty that really had little place in the high-volume, bustling kitchens of a busy hotel industry. Changes in Americans' awareness of healthful cuisine, as well as the industry's movement toward spas in hotels, are creating a need for better-tasting, interesting and cost-effective vegetarian alternatives.

Raw cuisine is an ideal solution. Chef Roxanne Klein of Roxanne's in Larkspur, Calif. has been a leader in putting raw cuisine into the mainstream and getting the word out about this great alternative. Raw cuisine takes vegetarian cooking to a new level and opens up many new paths in the preparation of non-meat dishes.

Health experts tell us that the minerals and nutrients found in raw vegetables are key to good health and longevity. The natural process of cooking tends to remove many of these nutrients and destroys the natural enzymes needed for the remaining nutrients to be metabolized by our bodies. Raw cuisine advocates believe that by cooking vegetables at a temperature no greater than 118 degrees you can both preserve the food's nutritional value and achieve diversity in your preparations and presentations.

Raw cuisine combines seasonal, organic vegetables, which are totally raw or have been slightly cooked, to create compositions that are a marriage of textures and flavors. To these, the chef adds vinaigrette, vegetable purees, juices etc.

Many Asian products, such as miso, nori and kelp, are useful accents to these combinations. Dairy is replaced with liquids such as almond milk, which is made be soaking almonds in filtered water, processing them and then straining the "milk" from the pulp. To create a substitute for cheese, combine cashews soaked in filtered water with sea salt and Rejulelac (fermented water from sprouts that have soaked for one to two days). After a few experiments with these simple recipes, you realize the possibilities for vegan dishes are endless. You may wonder how you could have served something as simple as a grilled vegetable plate. I know I did.

So why should we, as hoteliers as well as food professionals, consider incorporating raw cuisine into our menus? Because an increasingly knowledgeable and health-aware dining public has raised the bar for chefs to create vegetarian dishes with as much passion and creativity as they would invest in any fish or meat dish on their menus. Raw cuisine takes this thought to the next level. For many advocates, raw cuisine is not just a way to prepare vegetables, it's a lifestyle. As food professionals, we can give our customers a taste of this lifestyle without sacrificing our fundamental objective of running a successful operation.

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