Monday morning in New York City. It's a cold and windy start to the day and I'm deep in thought as I sip my organic green juice in Manhattan's Upper West Side. Usually post-travel, I find myself at Starbucks ordering coffee after coffee but this time is different. There has been a noticeable rise in juice bars and organic grocery stores and with one on almost every corner, is it true that the green juice has replaced the famous Starbucks cup?
I arrived to the concrete jungle on Saturday afternoon after what seemed like an incredibly long flight - well, it was only 8 hours so I'm exaggerating a little but I'm still jet lagged and exhausted & after numerous trips to Whole Foods at the weekend (my new favourite grocery store) - I'm amazed at how easy it is to eat organically in NYC and considering the crowds of the health-conscious consumers at the Columbus Circle store, I'm guessing this way of eating is becoming more popular by the moment.
Although I'm not vegan or vegetarian, this way of eating appeals to me and I've been experimenting with raw foods for the past month at home and I'm considering making the transition to a part-vegan lifestyle or at least incorporating more raw and organic foods into my diet. I find myself craving this food more and more recently and speaking of cravings, I have one now so I'm headed to raw & vegan restaurant Quintessence for a lunch time nibble!
I catch the 2 train at 96th street and make my way to Quintessence in New York's Lower East Side, typical Manhattan train traffic pushes me to get off at 14th Street and hail a cab to the restaurant. Quintessence has been around for 15 years and founders Mun & Dan pride themselves on serving up some of the most creative and delicious raw food dishes & I'm here to test some of them - how exciting!
On arrival, I'm welcomed by both Dan & Mun who I had been in contact with prior to my New York trip and who were kind enough to invite me for this special tasting - this may be the cure my jet lag has been looking for!
During my 2 hour visit, I experienced the tastes of Mexico, Japan & India. I started with the enchilada - a tapas style dish packed full of goodness.
My next dish was the Japanese inspired spicy fofu rolls which were absolutely delicious. Quintessence have come up with their own take on tofu, calling it fofu, which is made up of Irish moss, cashews & sea salt.
I fancied something a little more warming and decided upon the coconut curry quinoa pilaf - a satisfying flavour packed dish with quinoa, coconut oil, curry & yams, just to name a few of the ingredients!
As everyone knows, I also have a big sweet tooth so I took a look at the creative dessert menu and decided on the chia seed pudding, which was originally created by Quintessence and has been mocked by many brands today. The chia pudding was topped with strawberries and walnuts, the perfect dish to satisfy my sweet tooth. This was served up with a warming chai latte, made by Mike, one of the in-house servers.
The atmosphere at Quintessence is clean, calming & extremely well thought out. I sense that the relationship between Mun, Dan & the staff is warming and comforting. Quintessence is a real gem and I wanted to find out more so I sat down with the founders to discuss raw cuisine, a vegan lifestyle & the secret behind 15 years of successful business!
Quintessence was your concept, tell me about your past and where this idea sparked from.
In my mid thirties, my health was quickly going downhill. I was bloated, tired, and my immune system was very weak. After trying to rectify this health crisis by both conventional medication and holistic attempts, like Chinese herbal medicines, supplements, etc. Nothing worked. Then one of my co-workers told me how beneficial raw food can be and immediately I began my research. During this, I came across a raw food cook book written by David Jubb who is an NY based shaman and a holistic healer who uses fasting and raw food to cure illness. He put me on a 2-week raw soup and juice fast. After and even during the fast, I felt like I had a new body and became more aware of everything around me.
I started bringing raw food to work, which created a lot of curiosity & interest. Eventually one of my coworkers asked to buy my packed lunch! From there, the word spread around the whole office, I began to bring in bags of packed lunches and they sold like crazy. My partner and I were making food every night after work to satisfy the demand. That's when I first saw a want for delicious healthy raw food.
What are your thoughts on the rise in raw and vegan foods?
It's about time! This rise of awareness is not just about food, but also a positive sign that more people are becoming more aware of their body and their health. Though this is an important awareness, it is still not the whole picture of our totality. The next awareness I would like to bring to my customers are how emotions also play a part in our health, it is as important, if not more. It is not just what we EAT, but what we FEEL!
You originally started with 3 restaurants all in New York City but now have just one outlet in the Lower East Side, do you hope to expand again in the future?
Of course! We have plans already to expand! The market is more open now, and we already have the experience and model to do it. It is just a matter of finding an investor.
Tell me about your typical client.
Our clients are health conscious, like yogi, holistic practitioners, etc; body aware, like models, celebrities, dancers, etc; and health challenged. Ages range from 20 to 50. 60% female and 40% male.
Becoming raw is something many are attracted to, why do you think this is and do you believe it's an easy transition to make?
I think there are many reasons why Raw has became a trend now with celebrities embracing this lifestyle they have shown the public the dramatic difference they have made by introducing raw food into their diet. The number 1 tennis player in the world, Djorkavic, is a very good example.
Mun, what's the secret to 15 years of successful business?
Having a successful business is very similar to having a successful relationship...fall in love with the business, dedicate yourself, be open to change, stay focused during tough times. Listen to what your customers need and do your best to meet their requests. Gratitude....Be grateful to the customers no matter how much they spend.
You're the creative mind behind the delicious & unique dishes offered at Quintessence, how do you come up with each one?
Well first off I do the majority of the food creation but Mun also contributes and she is just as good at it as I am. The dishes we make are for the most part regular restaurant dishes, we just prepare them in a different way. The creativity is not in what the dish is but how we will represent that in a raw vegan form. There is nothing strange on the menu, but mock versions of typical dishes from Mexican burritos and toastada's to Ravioli or Spaghetti Korean Gochujang to Japan’s sesame spinach i.e. Gome ae. Mostly they are things I ate when I was not raw vegan.
What 3 ingredients would I find in every raw vegan's cupboard?
Cacoa, Flax Seeds, Coconut Oil
Tell me about your classes and the retreats you offer.
At this point I really only offer a 5 day raw chef certification course I call Raw Foods A to Z. This is everything from the raw foods concept to preparation techniques taught to students in a packed 5 day hands-on workshop. I take you from theory, to why raw, to tools of a raw kitchen, to making food to the students making food.
You have a history in the music industry, how did you transition to the food industry?
It's really the same to me, I do construction, design, music, food and it all falls under my producer/engineering type of mind. I see the final product then reverse engineer it to formulate a plan to create it.
What advice do you have for anyone new to raw making the transition?
Don't do it out of strict discipline; educate yourself, follow the teachers and learn why. If you work solely on discipline by just doing what others say then it will not last. Also you won't know when someone is telling to do something that is just hearsay or even potentially harmful.
Follow Fred Bisci, Gabriel Cousins, David Woulf, Dr Joel Furman, The Raw Food World, Danna Gates., and me of course... Educate yourself and learn every day.
They other thing is do the fasting and cleansing. Going only raw without cleaning out is like a nice coat of paint on a car that is rusting out from underneath. You will feel more alive and the effect & results from cleansing are highly motivational!
Thank you to Mun & Dan!
263 East 10th Street
New York, 10009