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‘Raw Food Chef’ Is No Oxymoron

We Southern Californians love our enchiladas--rolled, stacked, low-fat, meaty, vegetarian, green, red, suiza and mole. Oh, yeah, and raw.

Chef Lesa Carlson is a raw food advocate who whips up tasty enchiladas without actually cooking a single ingredient--not to mention pizza, pasta, burgers and desserts. For at least a decade, Carlson has eaten only food that’s “raw,” a strict diet whose proponents eschew all cooking over 120 degrees Fahrenheit (“warm” range), claiming it kills nutrients and enzymes and diminishes food’s value as an energy source. The benefits of eating raw include increased health and stamina, proponents say.

“Raw foods have the same structure as your body,” claims Carlson, who was raised vegetarian by a “hippie” mother. “It’s an energy exchange. If you’re eating something that’s dead and heavy, it’s harder for your body to deal with.”

Though “raw food” conjures up images of cold sprouts and lettuce, Carlson elevates taste and presentation to a rarefied culinary experience. Twice a month she hosts intimate five-course dinners at the Rooibos Tea House on Fairfax, featuring all-raw dishes with descriptions such as “macadamia nut cream ravioli placed delicately on a rich red sauce, laced with Brazil-walnut pesto” and “squash blossoms stuffed with a sun-dried tomato-pineapple sage-macadamia nut cream cheese, resting on sweet yams.”

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Though some raw food adherents consume unseared meats such as sashimi, Carlson’s menus are 100% vegan (containing no animal products). Each meal takes a full week to prepare, with Carlson carefully fabricating faux cheese from macadamia nuts and tortillas out of raw buckwheat and flax seed. “It’s another art form,” says Carlson, who also sings with the extemporaneous jazz quartet Lesa Carlson Off Blue. “It’s all about improvising.” But even Carlson will occasionally indulge in a cooked goodie, albeit one that still puts most diets to shame. “Every once in a while,” she says, “I’ll want some tofu.”

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The Rooibos Tea House, 503 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 906-0101. By reservation only. $100 per person.


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