Cooking Is So Totally Over! New Yorkers Like It Raw
by Simon Doonan
The neo-hippie movement, jump-started back in the 80s by the
announcement of the Harmonic Convergencethe beginning of the end of the world as we
know it (Im so sure!)shows no signs of going away. In fact, its
positively mushrooming, and every year new AbFabery is added to the mix. Last year, it was
the infernal Bikram sweaty-yoga craze; this year, New Yorkers are still cooking their
bodiesbut theyve stopped cooking their food altogether.
Yes, the raw food trend is, even as I write, sweeping the modishly
spiritual bowels of Manhattan.
Designer John Bartlett is a proponent. (How come the most
"spiritual" people in New York are always those with the most superficial
occupations? Isnt it always the makeup artists, stylists and fashion designers who
are training to become shamans or ohm-ing and naval-gazing at ashrams?) I recently
spoke to the genial Mr. Bartlett by phone at the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center and
Health Practice in Patagonia, Ariz., where hed gone to do battle with his toxic
mucus buildup. "It accumulates in our intestines and colon, and then diseases get
trapped," explained Mr. Bartlett from the Centers communal phone. "So I
came here to eat raw and cleanse myself completely." (Memo to me: In the event of
intestinal problems, be sure to consult a doctor rather than a fashion designer.)
Mr. Bartlett started on the raw-food diet last January, after reading
Dr. Richard Andersons account of his berry-munching wilderness experience, Cleanse
and Purify Thyself. The raw food rage has two rules: eat a vegan (nothing from an
animal) diet, and never cook. Cooking is evil because it destroys the foods enzymes.
Doesnt this talented Midwesterner miss those hearty tuna melts? "No! The food
here is so delicious," said Mr. Bartlett. "Last night, we had cucumber lasagnanothing
was cooked. For breakfast, nut porridge with chopped apples."
Mr. Bartlett denies any candy-bar lapses. He has, howeverin a
total Eddie and Patsy gesturedived behind a rock for a few quick puffs on an
American Spirit, the preferred cigarette of the woo-woo set.
American Spiritualists are often to be seen lighting upand
hacking up mucusoutside Quintessence. With two restaurantsone downtown (263
East 10th Street) and one uptown (566 Amsterdam Avenue)and a catering service in
Manhattan, the Quintessence mini-empire is the epicenter of the Manhattan raw lifestyle. I
headed to the 10th Street branch and interviewed one of the regulars to find out whatother
than a fear of disease-laden mucuswas behind this bizarre trend.
"Its such a big movementliterally!"
chuckled Calvin Klein and Ungaro fashion consultant Robert Forrest, while masticating a
Quintessence sun bur-ger. "Its made from sunflowers and flax seeds and other
stuff," raved the healthy-looking 50-ish fashion executive. "I never travel
All the talk about mucus having given me quite an appetite, I pondered
the menu, which consists mostly of ingenious quote-swaddled facsimiles of regular cooked
meals (e.g., "pasta" and "shrimp wonton"). I ordered the
"burrito" and found it light and quite bearable, if a little heavy on the
avocado. For dessert, Mr. Forrest and I tucked into a mudslide, a strange triple-decker
fantasia consisting of pecan, carob, dates, mesquite powder, coconut andnatchavocado.
I fired probing questions at the now-replete Mr. Forrest about the
specific benefits of the diet. He mumbled something about "cleansing," ordered a
couple of sun burgers to go for his upcoming trip to the Calvin store in Dubai and left.
Whats it all about, alfalfa? I was still none the wiser.
I scrutinized the menu for clues and found the following screed:
"We believe that by eating uncooked food long enough, we will regain the fifth
element and the mystical powers of our ancestors." Eh? I resolved to cut through the
mucus once and for all and get the real story. I called the Quintessence H.Q.
I tracked down one of the three owners, a Chinese lady who goes by the Lord
of the Ringsish name of Tolentin Chan, and found her less than keen to talk
about that "fifth element" or her ancestral mystical powers. She was, however, a
lot clearer about the overall benefits of raw food than some of her Seventh Avenue
clients. "I ate a standard American diet, and my health was terrible," said
Tolentin, who in her pre-raw days suffered from asthma, thyroid problems and continuous
colds. "Starch and dairy had coated my lungs with mucus." (As a non-dairy queen
who rarely catches colds, I support Tolentins anti-dairy edict.)
Now, thanks to raw food, Tolentin enjoys an asthma-free life. Her
health issues now are stress-related: running two restaurants without the profit margins
from liquor sales is working her nerves. Why no booze? "Alcohol creates yeast, so we
cant sell it. We are not making a lot of money, but its O.K. My motive is to
share my knowledge about enzymes."
Enzymes? "A high-enzyme diet will rejuvenate the body, energize
you and make you feel like a newborn." Tolentin said that aging is synonymous with a
reduction in metabolic and digestive enzymes, and that raw food replaces these enzymes.
Suddenly I realized why the fashion flock, whose Da Silvanoish
diets are already relatively healthy, are embracing the raw lifestyle. Mucus, schmucus!
The raw craze is nothing more than a smoke screen for the distinctly non-spiritual quest
for eternal youth.
Now I remembered something John Bartlett said before hanging up that
communal phone: "The guy who runs this place is 60 and looks 35!" No wonder
Alicia Silverstone and the Playboy Barbi Twins have gone raw!
What the hell: As an anti-aging regimen, it sure beats tucks and lipoand
Arizona is a lot closer than Brazil. Save your money! Cancel that face lift! For a mere
$139 per night, take a few years off at the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center and Health
P.S.: Warning! There are no bananas, peanuts, carrots or beets in the
raw lifestyle. "Its like eating white sugar," explained Tolentin,
"because even the organic ones have been hybridized."
Inbred bananas! How louche!
This column ran on page 31 in the 3/25/02 edition of The New York Observer.