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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."
Until recently, the main resources for someone like Mercur were classes and coaching provided by High Vibe, the city's only store devoted to raw foods, and lectures and counseling by Jubb and his ex-wife, Annie.
Jubb, raised on an island between mainland Australia and Tasmania, was influenced by his Nepalese grandfather, "who understood that our choice of food was affecting the earth." Jubb loves the East Village because "there are more people interested in this lifestyle here than in any other place in the country. There's a critical mass of consciousness building that's going to affect the entire earth."
Dagger, who owns High Vibe, also senses an accelerating interest in raw food among New Yorkers. "We get new people in here every day, and now with Quintessence, more people are getting together and communicating. Things are rolling." Like Hoyt, Dagger transformed his former creative space"my art studio, my darkroom"into his business. He describes his inviting basement, with its cavelike white stucco walls and strings of white icicle lights, as "the East Village gone Southwesta sanctuary, a place for people to hang out."
A laid-back artist-photographer-musician with tattoos running up both arms, Dagger got into raw foods because "I had done so many drugs and I just felt so bad. But I always tried to eat right. I started riding my bike like crazy and eating a lot of watermelon. I felt compelled to eat tons of it. I found out later that it's very alkalinizing, and drugs make you very acidic." Although he credits eating live foods with his vibrant health and ability to function on four to five hours of sleep, Dagger says he's "not in favor of zealotism. Do you feel good? That's the only thing that should influence your decision."
Paul Nison, who's developing a restaurant called Eden above the Hygeia Center on East 23rd Street, agrees. Nison was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and told diet had nothing to do with it. Desperate, he experimented with raw foods and his symptoms disappeared. "I was told that by 30 I'd be lucky to have my intestines and I'd probably have cancer. I'll be 30 this year, and I did a 117-mile bike race, and haven't gone back to my doctor."
Jubb student Narda Narvãez, a physical therapist, founded the Natural Wellness School at Hygeia in February. "I started the school to help the community," she says. "Food is so connected with family and comfort that you need a new family to support this." Narvãez, looking for a new space, intends to bring in a variety of health practitioners. She's starting a database of clients who have recovered from serious illness using raw foods "because we need documentation and research."
Jyni Holland, a registered dietitian at NYU Medical Center, wants to see such research, as "there are no scientific studies showing an advantage to eating raw broccoli instead of cooked broccoli." Holland also contests claims that raw foods provide greater enzymatic activity, because "the minute you pull a plum off the tree, you've separated it from its life force and it begins to break itself down. I don't want to put this diet down without knowing more," she adds, "but if you have an immune system compromised by chemo or severe AIDS, we recommend a 'no raw food' diet to protect against bacterial infections. I would also be concerned about adequate caloric intake, and adequate protein, B12, calcium, and zinc."
Holistic physician Dr. Ronald Hoffman notes that "some people do really well on the raw food diet, yet some do abysmally. I do put some cancer patients on a raw food diet, as it is marvelous for detoxifying. We usually use it for two to three months." Lots of fats will "alleviate some of the potential problems with this diet. I give high doses of coconut oil to patients with immune problems, for example, as studies show it to be extremely helpful. Also, if you have ulcerative colitis or celiac disease, using only sprouted starches can help."
Hoffman favors metabolic typing, a blood-test-based method of determining appropriate diets. "We are finding that some people must have meat, while for others it's not metabolically suitable. My hunch is that the people doing well on raw food would be shown by metabolic typing to be in the latter category." He cautions that "people use food like a personal statementtoo much of that is going around. It's best to avoid arrogance . . . or using food as an emblem of virtue. The macrobiotic people destroyed their movement with arrogance."
Eliot Tokar, a practitioner of traditional Asian medicine, agrees. "A raw food diet is a very strong yin diet; most people can benefit when it's used for a limited period. It's in danger of becoming a fad, however, with people thinking it can be applied in any situation and be beneficial. This may be because the diet can cause very rapid change and can make you hyper and spacey."
While building Quintessence, Chan and Hoyt flew to San Francisco to work at Juliano Brotman's Organica, a popular raw food restaurant. "Juliano was so helpful," recalls Hoyt. "He gave us names of suppliers, showed us recipes. This is kind of a movement, so if you know something you share it. It's a supportive communityeverybody's networking. We love that people come to the restaurant and actually talk to people at other tables. That's what it's all about."
photographs by Michael Kenneth Lopez
263 East 10th Street
Open Tuesday through Sunday 5 to 11 p.m.
Classes forming, call for details.
High Vibe Health and Healing
|Eden Vegetarian Restaurant
18 East 23rd Street
David Jubb, Ph.D.
Raw: The Uncook Book
FEELINGS: WOE, WOE, WOE by Robert Sietsema
Robert Sietsema chronicles his raw food experience at Quintessence.