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HEALTHFUL RAW-FOOD TREND
IS PICKING UP STEAM

Before you get fired up about buying a fancy new stove for your kitchen, consider this growing cooking trend: uncooked foods. A once-radical form of vegetarianism called the "raw foods" or "living foods movement" is creeping into the mainstream via forums such as gourmet restaurants, upscale food festivals, airline menus and big-name cookbooks.

Since the mid-1990s, the health-food world has embraced a style of preparation in which all ingredients are raw, organic and vegan (no fish, meat, eggs or dairy products), and nothing is heated above 118 degrees.

The rationales are that a diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts is inherently healthier, and that heat destroys key nutrients and enzymes. So instead of ovens and stoves, the essential kitchen tools are juicers, blenders, high-tech slicers and dehydrators.

Until recently, the movement ("raw foods" and "living foods" are usually used interchangeably) gained most of its exposure through Web sites, natural-food stores, trade shows, a handful of modest cafes and endorsements from a few celebrities, including Woody Harrelson and Alicia Silverstone.

Now, the larger culinary world is catching on:

* Veteran chef Roxanne Klein is winning critical acclaim for her new Roxanne's in Larkspur, Calif., the first raw-food restaurant to successfully adopt a fine-dining approach. It features artistic presentations, an elegant interior incorporating environmentally friendly materials, an impressive list of organic wines and an average check of $50 per person.

* Renowned Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, who occasionally incorporates raw-food dishes into his tasting menus, is working with Klein and superstar photographer Tim Turner on a raw-food book for Ten Speed Press, due out early next year.

* Trotter and Klein will give a presentation on raw foods in June at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen, Colo., the nation's largest annual food festival.

* Lufthansa has begun offering raw-food meals, upon request, on international flights.

* A just-released book from raw-food guru David Wolfe, Eating for Beauty (Maul Brothers Publishing, $24.95), promotes the raw-food diet as part of a wellness/beauty regimen.

The most significant bellwether is the all-raw gourmet menu at Klein's 64-seat restaurant, the result of more than five years of research by the classically trained chef. A recent review in the San Francisco Chronicle awarded the restaurant 3 1/2 stars (out of four). Reservations are now a must on weekends.

"It has been an amazing challenge to create an incredible dining experience of sensual flavors with this kind of cuisine," says Klein, who adds that she was introduced to raw foods by Harrelson. "You have to study how the dishes are presented, how to get the aromas and balanced flavors and textures to make it satisfying."

Klein's "lasagna" typifies her approach: Paper-thin slices of zucchini, substituting for the pasta, are layered with mushrooms, garlic, herbs, marinated spinach, fresh corn kernels and cashew-based herbed cheese. The sauce is a marinara made from fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, herbs and more than 30 spices. It's served room temperature on a warmed plate that has been dotted with herb oils to enhance the aroma.

"We get about five people a day at the door wanting to know more about this after they've dined here," Klein says.

While Roxanne's appears to be the only raw-food restaurant to have adopted a consciously gourmet approach, nearly two dozen more modest eateries have opened across the country in the past few years.

The new Ecopolitan in Minneapolis, for example, already is looking to expand to other Midwest markets, and 3-year-old Quintessence in New York has just opened a branch on the trendy Upper West Side.

Wolfe estimates that at least 1 million people in the USA embrace some aspect of the raw-food diet, based upon traffic at various Web sites and the 100,000-plus copies of his book, The Sunfood Diet Success System, that have been sold since 1999.

"And it's just opening up, just beginning," he says.

Wolfe concedes that America is "the fattest nation in the world," but he is convinced that many more people are beginning "to flip around and are getting totally health-conscious and fit. It's in the American nature to go to extremes."

And eating raw foods is an extreme but attractive path to fitness, he says. "After a meal, you come out more fulfilled, feeling lighter and clearer. It turns people on to another level of experience. It's for people who are on the cutting edge."

Written by: Jerry Shriver


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