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"Yo! Any vegetarians in the house?" hollers Stic.man of hip-hop's radical duo Dead Prez. A roar and dozens of fists rise up in CBGB, which is packed. It's 3 a.m. and the young, mostly Latino crowd has been hanging all night for a showcase of politically conscious Latin bands booked by Ricanstruction. Despite the late hour, the air is strangely smoke-free.
"Any vegans?!" More shouts from the crowd. "All right!" Stic nods enthusiastically, dreads bouncing as he hops back and forth.
"What about the raw foodists? Any raw foodists in the house?" A few whoops and hands shoot up, waving wildly. "Yeah!" Stic shouts. "That's the shit!" as Dead Prez slam into "Be Healthy," from their Loud debut album, Let's Get Free.
"Be Healthy" exhorts would-be revolutionaries to forgo fried chicken for juiced greens. They should play it at New York's newest raw food restaurant, Quintessence. "It's a political act to eat raw foods, because major corporations are poisoning people with over-processed, denatured food," says Dan Hoyt.
Hoyt and his wife, Tolentin Chan, both 37, opened Quintessence in December above his former recording studio on East 10th Street. A sandy-haired Midwesterner with twinkling ice-blue eyes, Hoyt first reduced his space to rubble 16 years ago, cutting a hole in the floor and installing Vital Music in the basement. He recorded scads of East Village rockers, from Alice Donut to Clowns for Progress. In 1997 he tore the place apart and reemerged with the Lab, which specialized in custom sound design.
Meanwhile, Chan was doing some rewiring of her own. A technical designer at DKNY, Chan had asthma and caught frequent colds. When a colleague raved about the effects of a raw food "cleanse," Chan visited her counselor, David Jubb, a self-described "specialist in colloidal biology" with a Ph.D. from NYU, who's been eating raw for 27 years. He guided her through "nutritional fasts" consisting of smoothies, blended soups, and juices. Today Chan, a slender woman with bright black eyes, gorgeous skin, and a quick, slightly mischievous smile, recalls, "My health improved tremendously. Now I'm 100 percent raw and my asthma is completely gone. I never get sick, and my energy is really high."
Inspired, Hoyt saw Jubb too. "The results from fasting are really drastic, so it's very motivating," Hoyt says. "I lived with hay fever, food allergies, but when these problems go away and you learn more about eating this way, it seems so logical."
The raw food diet consists of fresh fruits, vegetables, and sprouted seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes. "Sprouted grain loses its enzyme inhibitors and releases more nutrients," explains Jubb. Raw foodists obtain most of their calories from monounsaturated fats like avocado, young coconut, and olive and flax oils, instead of cooked grains and beans. Protein and minerals come from leafy greens, spirulina, bee pollen, seeds, and nuts.
"People assume raw food is hard to digest," Hoyt notes, "but when you cook food you destroy its enzymes and must use your own to digest it. Raw food digests itself. You don't even have to eat itif you blend a tomato and leave it overnight, it'll be 90 percent digested by the morning. Cooking was invented to prevent foods from breaking down overnight."
"When you eat cooked vegetarian food, you lose the life force raw food has," says Chan. "Vegetarians are calm and relaxed, but they don't always look energized, don't have that vibrant, glowing quality. That's the difference between a raw foodist and a vegetarian."
Chan and Hoyt began attending classes and lectures around town."People were into the nutrition, but they weren't making the greatest tastingor lookingfood," Hoyt says, laughing. "We were making really good food at home."
So he gutted his space once again and, with Chan, created Quintessence. They opened in bitter weather, but lines soon formed out the door. "I thought there were a few hundred raw foodists in the city, but there are at least a few thousand!"
The Apple Pie Shake, Coconut shake, and Weird "electrolyte Lemonade."
Neighbors are drawn in by the restaurant's calm beauty and gourmet menu. "People think eating raw is gonna be like chewing on weeds," Hoyt says, "but raw food is very vibrant. We use lots of spices and sauces. The flavors are very strong and clean."
These days Quintessence has regular customers from the tristate area and beyond. "Six kids drove 16 hours from Iowa to get here after they found us on the Internet!" Hoyt exclaims.
Competitive triathlete Mathew Mercur, 26, another customer, is convinced that eating raw enhances his athletic performance. "I was nervous to try it," Mercur admits, "but now I'm 90 percent raw and I love it! I never get sick, I can train more, and I recover faster." Mercur, who won the U.S. triathlon series championship for his age class and is training for the 2004 Olympic trials, says he benefits from the concentrated nutrition provided by juicing and loading up on raw fats. "I find fats a better source of long-term fuel than cooked carbs, which weigh me down."
As for protein, Mercur says, "When you eat a steak, you have to break it down to amino acids. But leafy greens, nuts, and seeds are packed with amino acids and minerals your body can use to build protein right away."