The first story below, which I wrote, appeared in The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine on 4/20/08. (By the way, those are the editor’s words, “petite brunette,” not mine. The only time I have ever used that phrase was when I referred to Napoleon as “A petite brunette.” Further, I hasten to add, I would never place a person’s marital status in a story unless it informed the narrative. As in, “Albert Desalvo, who is married, later became The Boston Strangler.” The good news? The check received for the story did not bounce.)
A raw-food chef turns nuts into cheese (and performs other delicious miracles).
The restaurant Grezzo, which, in Italian, means “rough or raw,” opened two months ago in the North End. Its owner, Alissa Cohen, a petite brunette who is married and who divides her time among three states, is the author of the cookbook Living on Live Food, which prescribes eating only fruits, vegetables, sprouted grains, and nuts, with nothing cooked to temperatures above 112 degrees – a little warmer than a baby’s bath water. Her restaurant does the same.
Yes, it sounds odd. But the food at Grezzo is complex and delicious. Using a dehydrator and an amped-up blender to create textures and deepen tastes, chef Leah Dubois and her kitchen staff manage to produce an ever-changing menu of imaginative and flavorful soups, “pastas,” and “cheeses.” (Though calling something “buffalo milk mozzarella” when it is, in fact, ground almonds or cashews is a lot like playing house.) Why bother? Cohen, who is 40, turned to a raw diet 20 years ago when, she says, she was suffering from “fibromyalgia, bone aches, and pains.” She was working in a health food store and learned about raw food there. This daughter of the Mel who ran Mel and Murray’s Deli in Lynn (closed in the late 1980s) believes that cooking food destroys natural enzymes that the body can use for healing. “Within six months of switching to an all-raw food diet, I was cured,” Cohen says. “And my eyesight was healed, too. I didn’t need glasses anymore.” (There isn’t much science behind these claims. “We don’t get our enzymes from food,” says Dr. Meir Stampfer, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Our bodies produce them.”)
But don’t let this – or the laminated brochure on each table outlining 40 more “reasons to eat raw” – bother you. The simple fact is, the food at Grezzo is wonderful, and isn’t that the best reason to go out to eat? Service here adds a lot, too: The staff all have a certain contented, healthy look about them and are well-informed and pleasant. Maybe it’s all that raw food they’re eating.
This story appeared today in the “G” section of The Boston Globe:
Living in the raw
The Boston native and author has been feeling fine for 20 years eating only living foods
Q. What is a raw food diet?
A. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, all raw. You can cook to 112 degrees. After that the enzymes begin to get destroyed. That’s why you don’t want to cook the food above that [temperature].
Q. How long have you been on it?
A. Over 20 years. I started when I was about 19.
Q. What prompted it?
A. I was a bodybuilder, and a vegetarian since I was 16. I had candida, which is a yeast infection (not everyone knew what it was back then), and headaches. I was moody, I was sensitive to light and sound, my skin broke out, I had fibromyalgia. I thought it was from years of bodybuilding and working out. I felt like I was 80. I had been dabbling with raw food and noticed that I felt better on the day when I ate just raw food. I decided to go 100 percent raw. I felt better within a week. You notice within days. People have been eating this way for thousands and thousands of years.
Q. Can you explain raw vs. living?
A. Raw food encompasses fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouted grains. To be considered a living food, it’s something that sprouts or is alive: fruits, vegetables, and sprouts are living.
Q. You used to own two Grezzo restaurants, which served raw food. Why did you close them?
A. It was a lot of work. It was getting to be too much.
Q. How do you make sure you’re getting enough protein?
A. There’s protein in sprouts and greens, small amounts of protein, but they’re easier to digest. Dark green leafies like kale and Swiss chard are high in amino acids, which are what create protein. There’s protein in fruits and nuts, but it’s the dark green leafies that are important.
Q. What is a favorite dark green leafy recipe?
A. I’ll put kale and Swiss chard in a fruit smoothie. It will turn the drink green if you use too much. Or for a Thai lettuce wrap, use collards or Swiss chard. You can marinate veggies and put them in the middle.
Q. If you’re traveling and looking for food or go to a restaurant, what do you do?
A. Even 7-Eleven has bananas or apples. Chefs like to be creative and you can call ahead. Sometimes they don’t understand and I have a huge salad. If I know I’m going out for the day or overnight, I’ll throw an avocado or some crackers in my pocketbook.
Q. As a kid, did you eat a regular diet?
A. I grew up in a deli, Mel & Murray’s in Lynn, then my brother opened a few in Boston. Mel is my father, Murray is my uncle. I never really liked meat. I sold corned beef sandwiches from the time I was little.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
Sheryl Julian can be reached at email@example.com.