Zipping past Lifefood Gourmet on my bike Saturday morning, I suddenly screeched to a halt. I had biked past the raw food movement long enough! It was time to give it a shot. So I dismounted, turned around and walked back to the store front.
I admit I’ve paid little attention to raw (or live) foodism. After all, with celebrity tabloids as my entree to the subject, who wouldn’t dismiss it as a fad of the eccentric and uberwealthy. But consider this: Demi Moore, 46, and Madonna, 50, both eat raw. These vivacious women look at least 10 years their junior allthewhile juggling career, large families and lives of their own. Now of course they have access to a stable of personal trainers, stylists and makeup artists whose job it is to make them look good. But so do plenty of their peers, and I can only pick out a handful who at that age are as youthful and luminous.
In Lifefood Gourmet’s case, the cuisine can be best described to a layman like me as raw veganism, a diet consisting of foods that a) have not been processed or heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit (i.e. raw) and b) do not contain any animal products, such as meat, poultry, seafood, dairy and eggs (i.e. vegan.) Proponents of the movement explain that treating the foods we eat in this way keeps their energy and life force intact, thus providing a greater biological and spiritual benefit to the body and mind than traditional cooking methods. And, with this holistic approach, a more sustainable lifestyle for the planet, too.
Taste would be the litmus test for me, like it is for most people who are trying this style of food for the first time, say Chef John Schott and Cristian Gonzalez, cousins and owners of Lifefood Gourmet. Growing up in Cartagena, Colombia, the boys learned early on to appreciate their rich, tropical environment on the Gulf of Mexico and the array of exotic fruit that it offered, including nispero (loquat,) zapote (mamey,) guava and guanabana.
“I must have sunny days and water around, as this is how I grew up,” notes Schott, who came to Miami in 1997 after graduating high school. Gonzalez followed six years later. “The tropical fruits make for this lifestyle and restaurant offerings a much more interesting and varied experience. I loved all these foods as a child and now eating fruit as an adult serves me well.” Schott also recalls noticing the social inequities around him. “The balance of justice was slanted in the favor of the ultra rich. This didn’t sit well with me. This sustainable food and health venture has allowed me to explore the principles of freedom and equality. And hopefully we can continue onward with a positive influence.”
I talked to Schott about how the business got its start and what drives him in the kitchen. He gave me a tour back there where the magic happens, and as you’ll see from the photo slide show after the interview, it is far and away the cleanest kitchen I’ve ever seen during service. And hemp, the food he thinks is the key to a sustainable future on the planet? It tastes like a yummier, better textured sunflower seed. Stop by for a visit, and maybe he’ll let you snack on a handful yourself, as you wait for your lifefood to be prepared? It is an eye-opener, not to be missed. (Stay tuned next week for a more in-depth look at raw veganism and its effects on body chemistry, when we’ll talk to University of Miami Assistant Professor and Director of Research for Complementary and Integrative Medicine Dr. John E. Lewis, Ph.D., who coincidentally is working this week from Colombia.)
KI: How long were you at the Coconut Grove farmer’s market before opening up the original location of Lifefood Gourmet?
JS: I began in the market about six years ago, and we still go from time to time as much as the restaurant allows us. Lifefood Gourmet opened up in its previous location in The Roads one year ago. We moved here to Coral Way (1248 SW 22 Street) on February 27 of this year.
KI: Have you always known you wanted to be a chef? What has inspired you and what was the first thing you remember making that people enjoyed?
JS: My days in the kitchen pretty much began as soon as I decided to alter my lifestyle to the one I currently lead. My Dad has always been a very talented chef in the traditional kitchen, so I would account for his influence. Believe it or not, my first two creations, the Superfood Burrito and the Life Burger, still remain my two best-selling and most-liked items.
KI: Do you stick to a raw, vegan diet or do you sometimes use appliances at home that heat food, assuming you have them?
JS: My lifestyle is indeed a complete lifefood and superfood lifestyle. My biology has changed to such a state that this is the only choice for me. I do own a small burner so that I can do some medicinal teas, and herbal extractions and preparations.
KI: Describe the process of creating a new dish. Do you test things out for the menu when you “cook” for yourself at home?
JS: Creating a new dish usually begins with the traditional idea of a known dish, whether it’s international cuisine to American to completely innovative and new. I usually do everything in the restaurant kitchen and not much testing has to be done, since I follow some time tested principles of full palate discovery.
KI: What’s the last thing you prepared at home?
JS: A quick indulgence while having a bit of sweet tooth. Since there was not much in the house, I went for a cup coconut oil, raw wild honey, fermented cacao powder and some chopped walnuts. Mix with a spoon and enjoy.
KI: What kitchen tool can’t you live without?
JS: A blender.
KI: What ingredient are you currently most excited about?
KI: What foods or techniques are you curious about working with in the future?
JS: Wild fermentation and cultured foods. And making a traditional herbal beer.
KI: What is your favorite thing to eat?
JS: A truly incredible nispero (sapodilla) shake with homemade hemp milk.
KI: How have you updated the menu for this new location?
JS: Two main things: 1., I’ve expanded the menu to offer some more options and 2., I altered a lot of recipes so that the food tastes more fresh and lighter.
KI: What do you think makes your ketchup famous and what is it best served on?
JS: It’s best served in the burger by far, and on the onion rings. Not only is it super tasty, but it’s unique to our place and nowhere else.
KI: Your kitchen is one of the cleanest I’ve ever been in, maybe the cleanest. Can you talk to me a little about the features of this kitchen that are different from a conventional kitchen?
JS: There’s no grease, no oven and no chemicals of any kind. Our ingredients are the star in the cleanliness department, however. Because they are so fresh and easy to work with, it makes for an easy clean up job after all prep. I like this a lot…
KI: Explain the effect that the dehydrator has on food? Do you know people who have them for their kitchens at home?
JS: It works on very low temperature with a fan that dries the food, much like air and wind processing. I like to call it “sun in a box.” It has a very small thermostat that goes up to 212 degrees, but in our kitchen, it never goes past 115, which is the typical lifefood standard. It works best with any food from seed batters, to nut granola, to drying fruit. On our menu, we use it for anything with texture, like tortillas, burger bread and pizza bread. The completely made lasagna and pizzas go in for a few minutes for “warming up.” Most people who lead this lifestyle, and are interested in lifefood prepping for themselves, own and operate dehydrators. They are also used in conventional kitchens to some extent as well.
KI: You mentioned hemp is one of the base ingredients that you tend to frequently use. What different applications can it be used for?
JS: We use it to make hemp “milk”, pates, dressings, desserts or simply toppings on finished dishes and salads. It’s an extremely versatile substance. The truth is that hemp could very possibly be a clean and sustainable solution to many if not all planetary challenges we face today. This country was pretty much founded on hemp. It can be used for clothing, rope, fuel, food, remineralizing the soil and many more other things.
KI: What are customers’ favorites on the menu?
JS: Burger, Burrito and chocolate shake.
KI: What do you see as the future of Lifefood? Will you be growing your own ingredients?
JS: We are doing a lot of research so that we can create new markets here and abroad involving sustainable agricultural practices.
KI: I saw the recipe booklet online that people can download. When did you put this up and how have people been responding to it?
JS: I put the book on the web about six months ago. People love it, and actually I’m very close to updating that version and uploading a second superfood oriented e-book, as well.
KI: I noticed the restaurant’s Facebook page and was wondering how social networking online has been for business?
JS: Although it does have benefits, we still haven’t utilized it for the great tool that it can be. It’s one of the many things that we are working on refining for the future.
KI: What do you want people who have never tried raw or vegan before to know about what you are doing at Lifefood Gourmet?
JS: Education and food choices are more powerful than we are aware off. Through food, community and voting every day with our dollar and how we invest it on ourselves and the planet is the real change that we should all be seeking. Also, that there is no dogma with what we offer, simply a sharing of something amazing.
address and contact:
(305) 856-6767/(786) 523-9669
1248 SW 22 Street
Miami, Fl 33145
Eat in and takeout, with delivery available for orders upon request.
John’s Famous Home Made Ketchup(~14oz.)
¾ C Soaked sun dried tomato
1 Small tomato
1 Tbs. Sesame seeds or raw tahini
2 ½ Tbs. Apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. Olive oil
1 Tbs. Honey
¼ Clove garlic
1 tsp. Sun Dried sea salt
Soak Sun Dried Tomatoes for about 15 min. Blend all ingredients except SDT. Add SDT and blend again.