How's your bio-terrain feeling today? Could it use some structured water?
Oh, how I wish those questions were completely a joke. Unfortunately, they're straight from the world of Roxanne Klein, hailed by food writers as the new goddess of the uncooked.
Is this really what the food world has come to? Apparently, we're so desperate for a new trend that we think raw food--and a restaurant featuring nothing but--sounds fabulous.
Sorry, but I can't go there.
Klein's food, at a restaurant in Larkspur, Calif., gets great reviews, even from former skeptics, and she's about to publish a cookbook with Chicago chef Charlie Trotter.
All of which is terrific for her. But I still think it's nuts. (And, technically, it is--her "cashew cheese" is the basis for many dishes.)
The philosophy, which has been around for decades, holds that eating any uncooked food (defined oh-so-specifically as food not heated above 118 degrees) will make you live longer. Supposedly, go above that temperature and you've destroyed the essential enzymes in food, thus forcing your body to use up its finite supply of enzymes during digestion.
This is simply kooky. There's nothing wrong with raw fruits and veggies, of course, but taking it this far leads to such nonsense as Klein's website babblings about bio-terrain and structured water (what the heck is that?). And people who trumpet their raw food diets (one California chef speaks against "all that angry oven food"), ignore the fact that some vegetables release more nutrients when cooked.
Beyond that, this food is incredibly impractical for home cooks. Part of the reason the trend has gotten so much notice is that Klein's food is, at least for what it is, pretty tasty. But to get to that point, Klein (whose husband is so rich that she doesn't need to worry about making a profit from her restaurant) goes through incredible, lengthy manipulations of her food. To make her "lasagna" tasty, for example, she has to toss in more than 30 spices. She's had to design special ovens and cook top to produce her food, and rely on high-speed blenders, dehydrators, flash freezers and juicers.
Or consider Miami chef Norman Van Aken's "elephant garlic in vapors," which requires suspending garlic shavings (drizzled with truffle oil) on a sheet of plastic over a pot of 100-degree water for six hours to try to approximate roasted garlic.
Oh, good grief. Why not just stick the garlic in an oven? Can there really be that many life-giving enzymes in a clove of garlic?
In some ways, this strikes me as so distinctly American. We find a "new" idea, and we take it to its most ridiculous extremes.
Chefs have jumped on this bandwagon with unseemly haste. This includes chefs who previously preached about how the height of good cooking is to take produce at its freshest (which raw foodies certainly demand) and do very little to it (which raw foodies do not).
I'm glad that there's something new for food writers to write about, and certainly it's interesting to read about all the science experiments Klein had to do to create edible, high-style meals. But mostly this trend makes me want to crank up my oven to 500 degrees (after all, who wants to eat cold food--or, as is allowed in raw-food circles, cold food served on heated plates--on a winter day?). Or maybe I'll settle in for some long, slow cooking, such as slow-roasted vegetables with some braised short ribs on the side. That feels like the perfect antidote to this sterile-sounding cuisine. I'm sure my bio-terrain will thank me.
Cook's Notes: Serve the ribs with roasted vegetables such as new or red potatoes, baby carrots, and red bell peppers: Cut potatoes into wedges and peppers into strips, toss with olive oil, and roast at 425 degrees until tender and browned, turning once. For dessert, serve something with some crunch, such as this simple strudel, from my book, Desserts From an Herb Garden. Use fresh phyllo if you can find it, as it's much easier to handle.
Braised Short Ribs
4 cups dry red wine
4 pounds beef short ribs
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
10 shallots, peeled and trimmed, halved
4 tablespoons coarse Dijon mustard
6 plum (Roma) tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Boil wine until reduced to 1 cup.
Meanwhile, cut ribs into 1-rib pieces. Season well with salt and pepper.
Heat a 5-quart pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add just enough ribs to fit without crowding, and brown well on all sides. Repeat with remaining ribs, transferring ribs to a bowl when browned.
Reduce heat to medium and add shallots to fat in pot. Brown shallots; transfer to small bowl, leaving juices in pot.
Stir wine and mustard into pot. Add ribs and simmer, covered, 1 3/4 hours.
Gently stir in shallots and tomatoes and simmer, covered, without stirring, until meat is very tender, about 40 minutes.
Carefully transfer ribs, shallots and tomatoes to a platter and skim off fat from cooking liquid. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste and pour over ribs.
Rosemary Apple Strudel
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3 medium baking apples (such as Granny Smiths), peeled, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
3/4 cup plus 5 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons minced rosemary leaves
6 sheets phyllo, thawed if frozen
Garnish: Vanilla ice cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in oven 7 minutes. Remove and let cool; leave oven on.
Mix apples with walnuts, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and the rosemary leaves.
Unroll phyllo and place 1 sheet on a work surface; keep remaining sheets covered under a damp towel. Brush sheet lightly with some of the remaining butter and sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons sugar. Cover with another sheet of phyllo; repeat the brushing and sprinkling. Continue until all phyllo sheets are stacked, buttering and sugaring the top layer as well.
With one of the long sides of phyllo facing you, spread apple mixture lengthwise over the bottom third of the phyllo, leaving 1/2 inch bare at the short edges. Fold in the short edges, then roll up from the long side, jelly-roll style. Place seam side down on a parchment paper-lined or greased baking sheet; brush top lightly with remaining butter and sprinkle with remaining sugar.
Bake strudel 35 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Serve warm, sliced on the diagonal, either plain or with a scoop of ice cream. This is best served the day it's made; if you hold it overnight, recrisp it in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes.