|A Raw Deal: At
San Francisco's Organica Restaurant, dining is au natural because nothing is cooked -- no
rice, no tea, no burgers
By Alison Roberts Bee
Staff Writer Published Jan. 27, 1999
You probably thought you were pretty groovy back in the '70s when
you gave up red meat. By the '80s, if you were at all hip, you gave up meat altogether.
By the early '90s, the alterna-diet standard got tougher: If you
were at all cutting edge, you had to go vegan. No animal-derived food of any kind, no
eggs, no dairy.
All that is a piece of carrot cake compared to the latest.
Now, as the century draws to a close, it's clean-plate time: To
achieve real status in the diet wars, you have to give up cooking altogether.
Welcome to the age of raw. In the no-no'90s when dietary denial and
enlightenment have become one and the same, this no-cooking, all-plant food movement is
the logical next step.
Raw means no tea, lentil soup, not even a little tempeh scramble,
and no dairy or animal, either. Sounds like no fun. But even a burger lover can take a
tasty detour to the land of no-cooking.
On a busy block of Ninth Avenue in the Sunset District of San
Francisco, a small, hand-painted sign that says "Organica -- The Living Cuisine"
points the way to the far frontiers of food.
Go inside, and you'll see what's not cooking. Namely, everything.
A cabbage leaf becomes the "tortilla" for a burrito,
milled turnip becomes the "rice" in sushi, shredded daikon becomes
"pasta" and dried sprouted buckwheat becomes pizza "crust." There are
lots of quotation marks in the land of faux food.
The restaurant is a mecca for those on the dietary cutting edge. As
banana as it may sound (and bananas are allowed), this raw business is a bona-fide trend.
Celebrities including Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore and Robin Williams have eaten here.
(Harrelson recently opened an "oxygen bar" called O2 in Los Angeles where
oxygen-enriched air can be breathed in, and where a raw chef will uncook your order.)
Organica, at 1224 Ninth Ave., opened in 1995 under the more telling
name of Raw. The chef-proprietor was a colorful, charismatic, uni-named, self-appointed
food god, Juliano. He is a flashy evangelist who says things like, "I'm like the
messiah to bring in the new world" (in a profile in the current issue of Spin
magazine). He's also been covered by the New York Time and People magazine. He recently
moved to Santa Monica to open a restaurant. His un-cookbook, "Raw: The Uncook
Book," will be published in April (1999).
Brian Lucas, 27, is the current owner and chef of Organica. His is a
prodigal vegetarian story. He was raised in a meat-free Seventh-day Adventist family in
"When I was about 13, I rebelled; I went meat-eater," he
says. He didn't find true health and happiness until he went raw about three years ago
when he met Juliano.
People call me Basil Lotus," says Lucas, who on this Friday
evening wears a retro hippie shirt of crushed velvet in a sun-dried tomato color. He
doesn't dish out the same appetizingly outre sound bites as Juliano -- but his food is
just as exotic, and the experience of eating here is as surreal as ever.
Alot of what is served here, by chefs and customers, is a fervent
belief, so thick you could slice it with a knife. Picaresque tales of detoxing and dietary
redemption are a staple of dinner-table talk. A woman comes in and tells one of the cooks
she has a cold; he looks at her and says simply, "ginger." But then, diet is
always the answer here. Lucas says without qualification that eating raw cures cancer,
AIDS, diabetes and anything else that ails you.
"Raw is the only way," says Josh Friedman. The 29-year-old
from Santa Cruz stops in for an early dinner. With his sun-bleached, shoulder-length hair,
he is a vision of good health. He wears a smile of beatific enlightenment when he talks
about eating uncooked food.
"It opens up the chi, the current for energy," he says.
For Butch Berry, eating was believing. The 29-year-old lives in the
neighborhood, and came in to try it out about eight months ago. Now, he's 100 percent raw.
"You don't get sick at all if you're 100 percent," he says
with perfect faith.
Cathy Norton, like most mere mortals, says living 100 percent raw
would be pretty tough. But she likes the idea and is a regular customer.
"Usually, I try to be vegan but lately I've been
cheating," she says. "I'd like to become more raw."
The 29-year-old Norton even brought her parents here. She says they
didn't freak out and actually enjoyed the food.
Maybe that's because it's delicious. Even for nonbelievers, we're
happy to report that Organica offers an utterly fun dinner experience in a pleasant
setting. Pillows fill a raised dais by the front window for those who like to sit on the
floor at low tables. For those who prefer more conventional postures, glass-topped tables
with dolphin-shaped bases line a wall covered with white curtains and colorful paintings.
On a recent Friday evening, entrees included "raw-violi"
(daikon rounds stuffed with blended nuts), mushroom stroganoff, Mongolian stuffed
portobello mushrooms with a ginger sauce, nut loaf, pasta marinara and sushi. For
desserts, there are carrot cake and a couple of nut-fruit tortes.
Entrees run in the $9 to $12 neighborhood; desserts are $5.
(Do note: You may bring wine, but other alcohol is not allowed and
none is served.)
The closest thing to cooking that happens here (and there are the
sun-dry-or-deny purists out there who disapprove) is in dehydrators. Lucas defends their
use. They only heat up to 105 degrees, about 10 degrees shy of the point at which the
life-giving enzymes that are at the heart of the raw-food belief system start being
knocked off. The dehydrators today hold several "breads" and "pizza
crusts" made of mashed chick peas or sprouted buckwheat.
The food preparation area centers around a long counter facing a
bank of about 50 deli-type metal containers that hold all sorts of magical ingredients.
Several juicers, grinders and dehydrators sit on another counter.
Among the three or four chefs this Friday is Whitney McKinney, 33,
Lucas' life and restaurant partner. The couple have two children, 6 and 2. Their household
is totally vegan but not entirely raw. McKinney says she's about 85 percent raw.
"It's kind of like the new frontier," she says.
She sees raw as salvation, but there's nothing pompous about her
evangelism. Her manner is fun, from her plaid skirt in a nuclear shade of pink to a
stick-on plastic-jewel bindi on her forehead.
During a break, she presents a uniquely Promethean vision of the
fall of man: In Eden, Adam and Eve thrived on a raw diet. The apple of the usual story is
really a symbol for another red and dangerous object -- fire. And that led to the true
original sin -- cooking.
This is heady stuff, but then talking to raw believers is a
metaphysical experience. Here, the godhead is gastrointestinal.
Like all spiritual communities, this one has its doctrinal
differences, so there's lots of quibbling along with the nibbling.
Rawer-than-thou debates rage over whether it's kosher to use
dehydrators and maple syrup. And there are the "living food" adherents who say
raw is not enough -- if it doesn't sprout you should throw it out.
We've come a long way since the term vegetarian was coined in
Britain in the mid-1800s. The raw idea has its roots in the late '50s and the ideas of the
late Dr. Ann Wigmore, founder of the Natural Hygienics movement. The basic idea is that
there are enzymes that confer extraordinary benefits in raw fruits and vegetables.
Several Web sites are devoted to raw food, including All Raw Times
(www.rawtimes.com), which includes recipes and food suppliers. There are dozens of
raw-food cookbooks. There's a magazine, Living Nutrition, published in Sebastopol. The San
Francisco Living Foods Enthusiasts group even has an event "Sproutline" (415)
It's hard to imagine more dietary denial than living raw. But there
are those who claim to go further. A woman with a single name, Jasmuheen, who lives in
Australia (so we can't check her garbage for Twix wrappers), claims to be a
"breatharian," who does not need to eat anything. She exists on light, nourished
from the god force within.
It makes living raw seem like a piece of cake.
Maybe we should learn to like it: It may be all we'll get if
McKinney has her way, with visions of drive-through establishments (McRawnalds?) in a
brave, uncooked world.
"We're trying to make it a raw millennium," she says.