Would you like to be inspired and gain some inside tips, techniques and maybe even try out some personal recipes from raw food chefs across the world? I’ve decided to start a series of interviews with amazing chefs who focus on creating raw, plant-based food just for you!
Our very first in the series is Sabrina Chu who is a certified raw food chef in Singapore. Way back in 2014, when I was doing my research on raw food and specifically the Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy, I came across her website and was totally wowed by her raw food creations, especially her Durian Bubble Bombe Alaska.
And then later I found her on Instagram, and started following her regularly. We would have conversations on her posts - me commenting on tempoyak or daun kadok or mangoes. I'd also try out her recipes such as her salad dressings or jicama rice.
So grateful that we’ve met twice during my trips to Singapore and most recently, she invited me into her home where we made a raw lunch together.
Learn more about Sabrina’s raw food journey, books she reads, how she’s benefitted from a high raw diet, suggestions on how to prepare raw food in advance, and advice to beginners who want to start including more high vitality foods into their lives.
1. How did you first embark on your journey into raw food?
I have been into healthy eating and been a passionate foodie since young, preparing oatmeal for breakfast everyday as a student and writing a (now defunct) food blog. It wasn’t until I arbitrarily attended an event called International Raw Food Day and watched the documentary ‘Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” that I was introduced into the concept of ‘raw living foods’. While I’d always been into healthy food, it was mostly cooked, as common to Asian cuisine, and I constantly experienced poor digestion, bloatedness and malabsorption. I started reading up on raw foods in books such as Living Foods Lifestyle by Ann Wigmore and with the gradual introduction of more raw foods into my diet, I felt my digestion improve, and felt better physically.
2. What's the best thing about raw food?
The clean fresh taste of plant goodness and how it makes you feel alive! The official definition of raw food is food that is not heated above 46°C. Most plant foods are naturally rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and enzymes. Many of these compounds are sensitive to heat and a significant amount can be lost in the process of cooking. The purpose of eating raw ‘living’ foods is to retain the integrity of the enzymes and maximise the digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Instead of spending energy on digestion of heavy food, the body can focus on repairing and healing instead. Some benefits of a high raw diet is increased energy, clarity of mind, and a positive, light-hearted outlook.
3. What do you find challenging being on a raw food diet, and how do you overcome that?
I find the most challenging aspect is time. Raw living foods emphasises on unlocking nutrients and enhancing digestibility of foods with methods of preparation such as juicing, blending, soaking, sprouting, fermentation, and low heat ‘cooking’ in the dehydrator. In that regard, much wait time is needed for the grains or legumes to sprout, bacteria to ferment, nuts and seeds to soften, and bread to ‘bake.’
The key is to plan ahead for the week, decide on the recipes and organise how to fit the required shopping, soaking, sprouting and dehydrating etc. into the schedule. The weekend is a good time to experiment with more complex recipes and to restock the pantry with activated nuts, seeds, wraps and raw bread. This way you can assemble a healthy raw and delicious meal during the busy weekday in a flash.
4. What would your advice be to those who are starting to embrace raw food?
When making dietary changes, it is a good idea to do a gradual change. Take small steps, such as swapping a soda for a cold-pressed juice or smoothie. Once you start adding more nutritious plant foods to your diet, you’ll find that you’ll crave less for the foods that do not make you feel good. Adjust at a comfortable rate, listen to the signals your body is sending and forgo the all-or-nothing mentality. This way, you are far more likely to make long-term and healthy changes. Also, there are some kitchen tools that make raw foods convenient and easy. I would recommend investing in a spiralizer, high-speed blender and masticating juicer.
5. Tell us more about your trip to the US where you trained at the Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy for Level III Professional Raw Applications. What skills did you bring back with you? How were the instructors? How different was it compared to learning online?
Going to the overseas academy in Venice, California was an unforgettable experience. Level III was focused on professional raw food applications, teaching molecular gastronomy and modernist techniques such as spherification, clarification, aeration, gums and gels as often demonstrated in the world’s leading restaurants. Working with the flavours and textures of plant-based and mostly raw ingredients is very challenging yet thrilling because it pushes creativity within constraints.
Secondly, each week we had to develop and present a dish using ingredients sourced from Santa Monica’s farmer’s market. Through these exercises, we learnt to work with seasonal and local ingredients. It was exciting as I got to work with some of the freshest ingredients possible, some of which I’d never seen before, such as zucchini blossoms, caviar limes, lobster mushrooms, and prickly pears. This ‘locavore’ approach is in line with ‘green’ food trends as it embraces environmental sustainability, better flavours and nutrients, and builds social communities.
Our final project was a student-led pop-up lunch. We learnt skills such as how to host a pop-up, craft a seamless multi-course menu that tantilises – but not tires – the palate; effective menu writing; plate styling; and most importantly teamwork, working with other chefs in exchanging creative ideas to deliver the dining experience.
This time the class was small, just three students and one instructor (Brooks McCarty). Brooks has been working in the restaurant industry for many years and has taught several classes at the Academy. He was clear, helpful and competent, especially with his beautiful platings.
Having taken the Level I and II courses online, heading to Venice in the US for Level III was simply exhilarating. You are immersed in an environment full of creative energy and like-minded people from the students and instructors; online learning can be a little lonely. Recipes can be prepared as a class batch so there is little wastage. You have access to powerful and commercial culinary tools such as blenders and the Pacojet. The only downside of learning onsite is the cost, which is more expensive than online courses. But the overall experience is definitely worth it.
6. How can the readers learn more about you? Any social media channels that they should follow you on?
My byname is Vitality Rawr. Readers can follow my culinary journey on Instagram or Facebook. Vitality Rawr's mission is to cre-educate (create + educate), connect people and celebrate cultures through delicious, plant-based, high vitality foods.
Below is a Far East Sprouted Buckwhat, Goji & Ginkgo Salad recipe that Chef Sabrina Chu has very kindly shared with us:
A nutritious and grounding salad with flavors of the Far East. Sprouted grains (or pseudograins in this case of buckwheat) offers a more easily digestible and nutritious alternative than regular cooked grains, as the sprouting process transforms the dormant grain into a vegetable, and along with it, increased levels of enzymes, vitamins and protein. Their crunchy texture and fresh earthy flavor, when paired with sweet goji, chewy ginkgo, umami-rich shiitake and greens, makes for a delightful salad with a symphony of tastes and textures. The tahini-ginger dressing provides grounding energies and is also rich calcium and iron. This salad is easy to assemble but you will need to plan ahead as soaking and sprouting will take about 2-3 days.
Far East Sprouted Buckwhat, Goji & Ginkgo Salad
Makes 4 servings
For the Salad
- 2 cups (248 g) sprouted buckwheat
- 24 shelled ginkgo nuts, blanched; set aside some to garnish
- 1 medium (100 g) Japanese cucumber, small dice
- 8 bunches baby bok choy, chiffonade
- ½ cup (75 g) thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushroom (or reconstitute 5 dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water, drain and slice)
- ¼ cup (32 g) dried goji berries, soaked in filtered water until plump; set aside some to garnish
- ½ cup (20 g) pea sprouts, plucked
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tahini Ginger Dressing (makes ½ cup or 120 g)
- 4 tablespoon (64 g) raw tahini (use regular if not available)
- 4 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon (15 g) lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon (12 g) brown rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (12 g) tamari
- ½ tablespoon (4 g) coconut palm sugar
- 1 tablespoon (10 g) untoasted cold-pressed sesame oil
- 2-3 tablespoon (30-45 g) filtered water
- To sprout buckwheat, soak 1 cup raw buckwheat groats overnight; it will expand to about 2 cups. Drain and rinse thoroughly as they let off a mucilaginous substance. Place the soaked buckwheat in a colander over a bowl covered with a dish towel, or in sprouting jars with lids. Rinse well 3 times a day for 2 days or until the buckwheat sprouts are ¼-inch (6 mm) long. Store fresh sprouts in the refrigerator or dehydrate for longer storage.
- Blanch the shelled ginkgo nuts in a small amount of water for 2 minutes. Cooking is advised as raw ginkgo nuts contain a toxin. Prepare the remaining vegetables as instructed.
- To prepare the dressing, combine all ingredients except for the oil in a blender and blend on high for 30 seconds until smooth. Turn the blender speed down to medium and slowly drizzle in the sesame oil until fully emulsified. Use immediately or keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
- To assemble the salad, in a large mixing bowl, toss together the ingredients for the salad with a few tablespoons of the Tahini Ginger Dressing.
- To plate, spoon or splatter some Tahini Ginger Dressing on serving plates. Top with the salad and garnish reserved ginkgo nuts, goji berries, sea salt and black pepper.