By Thane Peterson
By the time I finish a big holiday meal, I usually feel like I've ingested a bowling ball. In recent years, I've also felt a little guilty because I've contributed to the national holiday bloat by doing pre-Thanksgiving interviews with people like Julia Child (see "A Little Bit of Everything, and Have a Good Time") and Nigella Lawson (see "Chewing the Fat with Nigella Lawson"), neither of whom would qualify as a prophet of lean cuisine.
This year, I thought I'd try something different. Two of the nation's more innovative chefs, Chicago's Charlie Trotter, and Roxanne Klein of Larkspur, Calif., have a delectable new cookbook out that's devoted to one of the more interesting trends of gourmet cooking: Raw cuisine. The recipes in Raw (Ten Speed Press, $35) -- ranging from soups to veggie tarts to fruit purées and delicate nondairy ice creams -- seem so tasty and bursting with flavor that I decided to ask the chefs' recommendations for adding some of them to holiday menus. (Check out Roxanne's restaurant Web site at www.roxraw.com) if you still think raw vegan cuisine -- no meat, no dairy -- can't be elegant and delicious.)
This eating style's presumed health benefits, by the way, have won it many converts among musicians and Hollywood types. In fact, Trotter and Klein indirectly owe their friendship to the rock band The Grateful Dead. Roxanne had married Michael Klein, a Harvard MBA who is CEO of California-based Modulus Guitars and close friends with the Dead.
The band, whose members are vegetarians, made a habit of dining at Charlie Trotter's restaurant because he offered a vegetarian tasting menu, and Roxanne Klein and Trotter got to know one another during those visits. Trotter was intrigued by Klein's experiments with raw foods and eventually suggested that they co-author the cookbook.
Before I get to the interviews, I should note that you can order some of the dishes and ice creams from the cookbook already prepared from Roxanne's restaurant (415-399-1138) or Trotter's-to-Go (773-248-6228, www.trotterstogo.com). If you're reading this on Monday Nov. 24, it still may be possible to get them before Thanksgiving. Now, here are edited excerpts of separate phone conversations I had with Trotter and Klein on Nov. 20, which I've combined here:
Q: Raw cuisine seems like a California thing. Do you think it's going to catch on around the country?
Klein:Oftentimes, this is how a trend starts. People try the food in the restaurants and then get cookbooks and start trying it home. I think the fact that it's based on flavor and sensuality is why it has already gotten the attention of a lot of chefs and fine diners, and other people who enjoy food.
Q: Can you talk about the health advantages? Roxanne, you say in the book that after you and your husband switched to this cuisine seven years ago, you found yourselves sleeping two hours less per night and having more energy than ever.
Klein:That's an amazing part of it for me. I think overall you're getting more nutrition from raw food because when you cook it, you denature the protein and vitamins and minerals. I'm 39, and I feel better now than I ever did in my 20s.
Q: Charlie, are you personally into this style of eating?
Trotter:I love meat and fish too much to give them up, although I have experimented for two or three weeks at a time eating solely raw foods.
Q: How do you feel after that?
Trotter:You feel great. You feel cleaned out, light, lucid, and you need less sleep.
Q: Do you feel this has opened up a lot of possibilities in your cooking?
Klein:Oh yeah. I was always fascinated with food science -- why something gets crisp, what makes something fluffy. I spent eight months, for instance, really balancing the ice creams so they're very clean on your palate and creating the cracker that has the perfect snap to it.
Q: Does the average home cook need to buy special equipment to get started?
Klein:There are ways to get around using special equipment. But I also sell kind of a basic starter kit on my Web site -- a dehydrator, blender, and juicer for about $500.
Trotter: It's very doable food. Some things [in the book] might take some time. If you're going to do any dehydrating, you might have to start a day in advance. Some of the recipes might take three or four hours. [But] some things are very simple and might only take 15 minutes.
Q: What dishes from your cookbook would go well in a holiday meal?
Klein:I'd probably start with the squash or cauliflower soup. I'd also do something like the Mediterranean cheese salad with dragon crackers. And, of course, the bleeding heart radishes are wonderful right now, so you could do the bleeding heart ravioli with yellow tomato sauce.
[As a vegetarian alternative to turkey,] I would do the mushroom lasagna [with corn sauce].
Trotter: I would never say any of these dishes would stand in for a turkey or sweet potato pie. [And,] you know, if you've got the extended family over, 15 or 16 people, you've always got somebody who's a vegetarian and somebody else who only eats meat. So, I wouldn't try to do an entire raw holiday meal. I'd have a turkey and then have this and this -- and this that goes with it. Even the meat-eaters would like to taste these dishes because, above all, this style of cooking is really very tasty.
Q: You've also done a game cookery book. What would be good instead of a turkey?
Trotter:One alternative would a roasted loin of beef or bison. Or you could do a couple of roast ducks and carve them at the table.
Q: Which raw dishes would go well with roast turkey, bison, or duck?
Trotter:The Greek salad in the book is really nice and light. There's also the salad with [pear] jicama, Asian pear, and cucumber. The cauliflower soup is easy to make and would fit right in as a first course.
Q: What would you do as a dessert?
Trotter:The ice creams are great. You eat them, and you can't believe there's no dairy in them. They seem rich, but they're really very light and delicate. Also the banana and chocolate tart on page 170 is very unctuous and sensual.
Q: Any ideas for eating at New Year's?
Trotter:You can just about put your finger down on any page. There's a really nice soup with shiitake mushroom and radishes and small beans that would be a perfect starting dish. The little seaweed jelly rolls would be nice as appetizers. The morel mushroom dish would be a nice main course, and the chocolate cake rolls would be a stunning New Year's Eve dessert.
Q: What are your plans for Thanksgiving?
Trotter:I will be at my brother's house in Virginia. He's cooking.
Q: Are you bringing anything?
Trotter:Nope. I might help him when I get there, but I'm not bringing anything.
Q: Roxanne, what are you going to do on Thanksgiving?
Klein:I'm having 15 relatives over for a big family gathering.
Q: Are you going to serve them all raw cuisine?
Klein:No, a combination. No turkey, but I will make regular mashed potatoes and my version of pumpkin pie.
Q: Do you usually watch football on TV?
Klein:My husband definitely does.
Q: Is he going to feel less stuffed than most people as he's watching?
Klein:You bet. I have people calling me all the time at the restaurant and saying they woke up feeling very clear the morning after eating there. It's because your body doesn't have to work so hard digesting the food. They call me and want to know: "What's going on?"
Peterson is a contributing editor at BusinessWeek Online. Follow his weekly Moveable Feast column, only on BusinessWeek Online
Edited by Beth Belton