Raw, Hip, and Healthy Food: Raw Daddy Interview

Last week I had the privilege of interviewing James Hall, aka Raw Daddy, about eating a raw vegan diet. We talked about what raw foods do for your health, if it's all about salads (it's not!), and how to prep raw foods in the kitchen.

James recently sold his high tech business. Now he's putting his considerable culinary skills to work with his partner Clarina Bradshaw. Together they host Table of Life raw food potlucks and are planning to open a restaurant soon.

While you're waiting for the restaurant to open, James can cater many of his enticing creations for your next event (his menu), including his portable meals served up inside a cone. They rival the best plated meal you've had. As probably the most stylish man south of S
an Francisco, he wants people to know raw food is hip, not hippie food - it's life-giving food for everyone.

Since the interview, I've increased my raw food intake from 50% to about 90% and I am feeling more energetic, sleeping more soundly, and my pesky osteoarthritic toe is much, much better. I'm a believer, but don't take it from me, read what RawDaddy has to say.
Here is the full scoop from our interview:

Alix: How did you get into raw foods?

James: Actually Raw Food was brought to my attention about 7-8 years ago by my personal assistant at the time. She used to work with someone who only ate raw foods. I thought "what a wacko, why would somebody want to eat that way." Fast forward to a couple of years ago. My partner, Clarina was opening a new division for The Gap, and was working your standard Silicon Valley grind of 18 hour days. She was complaining about how the food she was eating was making her tired. She literally said, "I'm tired of digesting my food."
So that's when I sprang into action, started doing mass amounts of research and found Raw Food. She thanks me every day for doing so. It got her through those long days, and for that matter it's changed all of our lives. 

Alix: You teach raw foods classes, your raw food potlucks are all the rage, and now I heard you plan to open a raw foods restaurant. Can you tell me about it?

James: Clarina and I started feeling better the more raw food we ate, so we opened up our home to have these Raw Food Potlucks to see who would actually come to these events. The very first one we did, 6 people showed up. Now we have close to 250 members and we have to limit it them to 45-50 people. They sell out in a matter of minutes.
We found out through these potlucks, and hanging in the raw food community, that there are specific groups that come.

Alix: Who are these groups?

James: The sick. People who have conditions. They have or perhaps have not gone down the traditional AMA way of looking at things, and realize things aren't getting better, so they say, "let me see if this way of living can help."
The "Hollywoods." They're young at heart, they are very conscious in every thing that they do. They know Hollywood is into Raw Food for its energy, and for its fountain of youth properties. They also know it counter-balances the partying aspect of their lives.
The eco/animal friendly. Folks who eat raw for ethical reasons.
The curious. People who want to check it out. I like the fact that they are curious. It means that they are open to something new. If given the right food and situation, these people can easily incorporate raw food into their diet.
And then there is the rest of the world who probably thinks raw is weird. The 99.5 percent of the population in the world. The people who are afraid of trying new things, who are pretty unconscious about what they eat. These are the people who I am after. This is where the business opportunity lies. If you can come up with, which I think I have, a product and/or service where people don't have to be conscious when experiencing it, they just think it's freaking great. Then you've won the the battle. Oh and by the way, what you just put in your mouth is really something that is great for you. Great for your body, and great for your soul. I mean think about it. Are there any fast food places out there that can say that?

Alix: You are known for combining ingredients into amazing new tastes that people think are "freaking great." Can you give me an example?

James: My chocolate cake is really popular. It's made with cashew flour, raw cacao, and other ingredients. The mousse I top it with has cacao powder, ginger, and shoyu in addition to things you'd actually expect, like maple syrup to sweeten it.

Alix: That sounds both weird and great. I hope I get to try it. What does it mean to eat raw foods when you're not having dessert?

James: It's about being conscious about what you put into your body.
The technical part of being into raw food is No Processed Starches, No Processed Sugars, No Meat and No Dairy. Some people might argue with the meat and the dairy piece of it. And, nothing is cooked above 118 degrees.

Alix: Tell me more about the enzymes and nutrient content of raw foods.

James: It's proven that when you cook food over a 120 degrees you start to lose enzymes and the nutritional content of food starts to decline. Some people will make the argument that some foods are better for you cooked. But the majority of foods seem to do the body better the more unaltered they are. Where the fountain of youth thing comes into play, is our bodies produce enzymes, not only to help us digest food, but for other body functions as well. Some say we have a limited amount of enzymes that we produce in a lifetime. When eating raw foods, the body doesn't need to use its enzyme reserves to digest our food. The food itself uses its enzymes to digest itself. That's why you feel more energy and not a food coma when you eat raw food.

Alix: What do people get out of it?

James: Lots of different things I suspect. I can only speak for me. It's my energy level. When I'm on my raw food game, and my diet is up 85-95% raw, my energy level goes through the roof. I sleep less, and I don't feel weighted down. I feel more virile.

Alix: Is raw beneficial for certain health conditions? I've heard amazing stories from cancer and arthritis patients.

James: I'm not a doctor, and all I can tell you is from my experience meeting people in the raw food community and at our potlucks. The very first potluck we threw, the one where 6 people showed up. There was a gal there who was living the typical Silicon Valley executive life. She was a CEO of a small company, traveling to Paris every month. She told me she'd had cancer, I'm sorry I can't remember which type she had. And that she believes it was her sticking to a 100% raw food diet for about a year that put here cancer in remission.
There have been numerous folks who have come to the potlucks with not so dramatic stories as that, but stories none the less.

Alix: What percent raw foods do you need to eat to get the benefits?

James: Some experts say 60%, some say a minimum of 70%. I say bullshit. I say any amount in your diet being raw will help. Look around at the state of America's waist line. I'm not sure why someone would say those numbers. It would really discourage people from incorporating raw into their diet. I know people who think eating a vegetable is eating a corn dog. You don't think eating any raw food would help them? The least it would do, is stop them for at least one meal.

Alix: Is raw all about salads and smoothies?
For some people yes. That's pretty much all they eat. But it doesn't have to be that way. I don't eat that way. I'm into texture, I'm into the senses. And also the emotional aspect that food brings to us. The senses get dull if they aren't used regularly.
I will say this. Peoples lives would change for the better, if they did just one thing. They should try to have a green smoothie every day or even every other day.

Alix: Is raw always vegan?

James: That's a good question. Some say yes, and other say no. I've met numerous people who eat raw dairy and meat, milk, cream, cheese and eggs. They'll also eat raw fish with out the rice. It's a personal choice. Carol Alt, the model is a raw foodist. She I believe eats raw dairy, maybe even meat and fish.
The thing about including these items in a raw food diet, is you become extremely conscious of where your food comes from. Was it grass fed, is it local? Was it treated humanely? Was it raised organically? Is it wild or farm raised?
Eating raw food should be fun. I'm not militant about it at all.

Alix: Wheat and soy are vegan, why do most raw food people avoid them?

James: There are a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason is that a growing number of holistic health professionals feel that soy is not good for us, unless its fermented, like miso or soy.
Processed wheat? What's the point? Throw in the gluten being hard to digest for a lot folks and you just start looking for alternatives to wheat.

Alix: Nuts are a big part of eating raw - for nut milks, nut cheeses, pates, etc. Why do you soak nuts?

James: Soaking nuts and seeds removes the growth inhibitors that impair germination.

Alix: Is there a difference between soaked and sprouted?

James: Once they germinate, they contain more life force and are easier to digest. During the germination process, each begins the transition from nut or seed to vegetable.

Alix: Oh, so this is similar to what Michael Pollan said in his book, In Defense of Food - our population's transition from eating seeds (like wheat) instead of leaves left us with a diet heavy in omega-6s that promote fat storage and inflammation but deficient in Omega-3s which aid our nervous system and act as anti-inflammatories.

James: That's right - sprouting makes nuts and seeds much more healthy.

Alix: Some of this sounds complicated. What kitchen tools do you need to get started making raw foods?

James: It's actually pretty easy once you learn how to prepare food this way. If you want to make it so it's easier to stay with a raw food diet, then I would have a Dehydrator (Excalibur), a good quality blender (Blendtec or Vita-Mix), and a food processor.

Alix: What are some of your favorite raw dishes?

James: I hate to say this because it sounds so vain, but I love my raw preparation the best. Then there is Pure Food and Wine in NYC. They do a great job, as does "Alive" in San Francisco. Cafe Gratitude does wonderful grain bowls with quinoa that are just outstanding.

Alix: Any raw food recipe books you recommend?

James: I would recommend 3 books. However, once you get into preparing raw food, you can look at a regular cook book and say, "I can do that recipe raw." Most of my repertoire comes from non raw books.
Angel Food by Cherie Soria. Very basic book. Gives recipes for sprouting and fermenting foods.
Pure Food and Wine by Matthew Kenny and Sarma Melngailis. Starting to move up the gourmet food chain, but still fairly easy.
"Raw" by Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein. High end gourmet raw cook book. Not for the easily intimidated.

Alix: Any special ingredients you normally would not have around the kitchen?

James: Not really. When you really get into putting a raw kitchen together, you'll find things that you are replacing things with. For example. Most people use cornstarch as a thickener for sauces. Well in a raw kitchen I would use "agar agar." It works just like cornstarch, but it doesn't have to be heated very much, just a bit of warm water to dissolve it. It's made out of sea kelp.

Alix: Is there anything else you want people to know about raw foods?

James: The exciting thing about doing things raw, is rethinking what we've done in the past. Can we make it taste just as good, and have it be great for us? Yes you can!


Lorena said...

What a fabulous article! Jimmi is certainly an engaging expert and his commentary encourages and demystifies the raw food experience. Certainly, my curiosity to try out raw foods and especially, to learn how to prepare them is peaked. So, when is he planning to open his new restaurant and where? Please keep us posted.

Alix said...

Thanks for your comment. It was really fun to get to interview James - he is a charismatic, generous, and talented guy!

I'll let James share more info about his restaurant here if he wants to. Hopefully he'll open it sooner rather than later!

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Stefania said...

Two of my favorite cookbooks are raw! (And are both "gourmet" as opposed to hippie/crunchy (which is okay, but raw food doesnt have to be all sprouts etc.) I will have to show them to you next time you come over.

I have been thinking about incorporating more raw dishes into our meals but lots of the interesting recipes require a food dehydrator...wonder if an oven will serve the same purpose...

Alix said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog. Yes, an oven on the lowest setting with the door open will work. The food just can't heat up past 118 degrees. The downside of the oven is that it's expensive to run a whole oven for a day or half day versus the dehydrator which is pennies per hour, according to James.

I have great news about James - a film producer contacted him after reading this story and will film him next month for a pilot for a major cable network!

Alix said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog. I tried to read yours but Kanji is not a strength of mine! Good luck to you.

Loree said...

Great interview! This was really informative and interesting. I'm excited to learn more about raw foods and I can't wait for James' restaurant to open.
You're an excellent interviewer!

Jeremy said...

In one aspect, I agree with James (Raw Daddy): I think any amount of raw food will help most Americans. When I started eating raw food, it was very easy to get caught up in the "competition" of "being 100% raw". All that does is create negative dogma and complicates what should be a simple thing.

But over a long term, I would disagree that one should just "dabble" in it. I think the modern American diet causes SO MANY health issues that are difficult to overcome. And just eating a raw meal here and there is not going to help reverse the tide of all the damage that's continually being done to your body because of the food we eat. That would be like trying to put a band-aid on severed limb from which you are bleeding to death.

I think numbers like "50%, 70%, 90% raw" are given as guides to represent therapeutic amounts of raw food that people need to help overcome disease and overall bad health. And why not error on the high side, since there is so much that we still don't know about the mechanics of health, disease, and nutrition.

So the premise is that natural, raw vegan food is far superior than processed, cooked foods. If you want just a glimpse of how vastly processed and cooked American food is: Try eating 100% raw for a week and marvel at how many isles in the supermarket that you cannot eat from while on your temporary raw vegan diet. That's the moment people panic and say to themselves, "I can't do this, I can't eat salads for the rest of my life."

But "salads" is the naive view of raw food. The definition of salad changes when you become raw vegan.

I appreciate Raw Daddy's commitment to provide fun, great tasting food that "happens to be raw". You aren't going to reach America otherwise.

Lavern Taylor said...

Hi Alix, I'm Lavern Taylor. This article has a lot of information, very interesting. Thanks for posting it, great interview with James. Hope to hear more from you guys. :)

modmom said...

RawDaddy is a genius :)
Grateful you got us details of his delightful + health giving masterpieces :)