If you’re someone who believes that eating raw food means settling for boring salads, seeds, nuts and fruits—think again! Thanks to the growing number of raw and vegan chefs who are creating delectable fare to please anyone’s taste buds, eating raw is going uptown, upscale and popping up on the menus of restaurants all over the country. With more people interested in wholesome raw, vegan, and local foods, events such as Conscious Bite Out in Miami strive to help people rediscover food and make wiser food choices that will be better for their health.
Recently we had an opportunity to attend a Tropical Raw/Vegan Feast with a five-course meal prepared by Chef Jonathan Gambino, formerly of Pure Food & Wine in New York and Sublime and Om Garden in Miami. Known for his expertise with tropical and Caribbean vegetables found in South Florida, we were eager to see what he had in store for us.
We knew we were being treated special right away when we were greeted by Conscious Bite’s founders, Veronica Menin and Marcela Andron. The ladies immediately served us large coconuts with holes drilled in the top so that we could sip coconut water from a straw. Later on, we laughed at the commitment of the chef when we were shown a video of him shimmying up a tree to retrieve over 50 coconuts for all of the dinner guests. After seeing to what lengths Jonathan Gambino would go to in order to get coconuts, we weren’t surprised to learn that he camped out in a tent at a Homestead farm near Miami for three days to gather all of the food for the tropical feast!
“I think the first time I cracked open a coconut right off the tree and let the water run down my face, I realized I loved Florida—and more importantly—the world!” said Gambino. “I eventually realized the need for more vegan and raw options everywhere, so I moved to New York for awhile and enrolled in the chef program at The Natural Gourmet Institute.”
Gambino landed as a chef at Pure Food & Wine, a popular raw restaurant in New York, but decided to return to Florida when he no longer wanted to cook meat. He advanced to sous chef at Sublime, a chic vegan restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, and was eventually hired as executive chef at Om Garden, a new raw/vegan restaurant on South Beach. The opportunity was exciting, but Gambino found himself yearning to reconnect with himself, food, and nature, so he left the restaurant industry and has been working for himself ever since.
“I just love feeding people and educating them about local, seasonal and organic ingredients that are delivered fresh from the farm to the table,” he said. “Right off the ground, right off the tree—food doesn’t get much better than this!”
Gambino wowed more than 50 guests by starting off with Tree-Ripe Ackee and Heirloom Tomato Crostini followed by a Green Papaya Salad. Slightly warmed Caribbean Corn Chowder whetted the appetites of everyone just enough to savor a main dish of Plantain Ravioli flavored with roasted red pepper, coconut, sour orange and cayenne. Of course all of the audible “oohs” and “ahhs” were reserved for dessert, which was a Warm Black Sapote Cake with Coconut Rose-Infused Ice Cream.
At the end of the meal, all of the guests were treated to goody bags which contained vegan cupcakes and a copy of Jordan Rubin’s latest book The Raw Truth, which features raw food recipes, a resource guide, coupons and profiles of prominent raw pioneers and trendsetters. Best of all, not one person was seen loosening his or her belt or complaining about being overly full—something we knew we’d see at a five-course dinner anywhere else.