Special Feature and Editor Commentary
“It’s been an exciting journey learning to extract the essence of flavor from the veggies, herbs and spices, without having to cook meat. There was a major shift in focusing on the sauces and veggies that make a dish what it is. What are the flavors of lasagna anyway? Marinara, Pesto, Ricotta. Freed from using animal cheeses, or ground beef, you end up having a clean palate of animal free flavors, using a vegan palette of herbs, spices and vegetable oils. Your body will thank you for not greasing it up with animal cholesterol and making it toil to digest the meat and release it after 3-6 hours. Fruits and vegetables take as little as 2 minutes to 2 hours to digest, leaving a lot of time and nutritious vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients; fertilizer for the body to develop beautiful cells to replace the entire body in 10 to 12 years, which animals don’t have. Digestion is the main job of your body. This is important because if you want to be beautiful, it starts from the inside out. Your skin is a reflection of your health. ” -Sylvia Thompson
“Raw vegan is a movement, not a diet.” -Sylvia Thompson
Editor’s commentary: I first heard Sylvia’s statement, ‘Raw vegan is a movement, not a diet”, back in 2015 when I interviewed her for a feature in Vegan Health and Fitness Magazine. The article included many photos (also featured here) of her gorgeous dishes at Greens & Vines Raw Vegan Gourmet Restaurant in Honolulu which she sold to a Buddhist vegan chef in 2017. Her restaurant and food were my introduction not only to raw vegan food but also raw vegan gourmet food.
I recall when I first heard about Greens & Vines Raw Vegan Gourmet, I was intrigued but also, honestly, skeptical. I had only recently become vegan and so was interested in trying any and all vegan spots on Oahu, where I lived at the time, but the word “raw” initially put me off. A number of people had raved to me about the restaurant but my bias was in full force. I recall thinking- “Oh boy, both raw and vegan!??”.
Sylvia was there that first time I dined at her well known and beloved restaurant. I recall the experience of sitting there, one sunny afternoon early in 2015, and ordering coffee as I waited for my meal. When the waiter asked if I would like cream for my coffee, I remembered that I didn’t need to explain anything, the entire restaurant was vegan! It was really a very special feeling. I went on to enjoy my cup of coffee with in-house made creamer as my toddler son snoozed in his stroller next to me. All good.
At some point Sylvia appeared and joined me sitting at the table next to me. It was my first time meeting her and we immediately got to chatting. Soon my order arrived- her signature lasanga dish, ‘Living Lasagna’ , with a macadamia based ricotta and quite a spectacular reputation around the island.
I took my first bites and was blown away and hooked instantly.
The more food I experienced at Greens & Vines the more I craved it. I know this was completely connected to the freshness of the raw ingredients as well as her incredible culinary technique. The Zucchini Linguini dish also captured me, along with several other menu items. Creamy, fresh in the real and true meaning of the word- so unbelievably tangy, savory and rich. This was my introduction to raw vegan gourmet and it has left an incredible impact on not only my perception of raw food but my view of food in general.
I asked Sylvia to share her own thoughts on the stigma and prejudice people have to terms such as “raw” and “vegan” and what she think needs to often happen in terms of breaking it down and expanding awareness.
Sylvia: Regarding, “Raw?!” I too spat out the word that way before I went to Pure Food & Wine in New York. It sure helps to open people up when they smell Flax Seed Thins or Crimini “Escargot” dehydrating. That’s why I bought a 2′ x 2′ footprint fridge for people wanting to buy some Grab n Go or get a sample, whether it be at the restaurant or Farmers’ Market. That’s what brings in the customers. We call out “Sample…” and stick our gloved hands out. People need to smell, see and taste. The next time, they know what they want. They get hooked.
As it is with people you cross paths with who have a profound influence on you, Sylvia and I developed a connection and I knew with the founding of Pacific Roots Magazine that I would have to circle back to talk to her more ‘on the record’ to discuss her vegan raw gourmet philosophy and the ways her own perspective had developed in the years since we did that feature together.
Sylvia: Thank you so much for revitalizing our conversation on the vegan raw gourmet movement. I’ve arranged these four words (vegan raw gourmet movement) this way as this is how I had come to embrace what I started doing with health and food.
I think six or seven years of my vegan journey had passed before I met you. My husband had a heart attack back in 2003 and the powerful drugs prescribed for him by his cardiologist, “for the rest of his life,” opened our eyes to “taking our health in our own hands,” and becoming vegans to reverse his heart disease with Fork & Knife. We became students of the Fork & Knife remedy, attending Hans Diehl’s (the late Pritikin’s lead researcher) month long seminar Coronary Health Improvement Project (CHIP) twice. Within 18 months of the seminar (and our Vegan Journey) he was able to get off all his medications except for the very lowest amount of Lipitor. When his cardiologist notified us that he was no longer seeing patients in his office and we needed to find a replacement cardiologist, I felt it was meant to be. I knew of a vegan Cardiologist, Dr. Kristofich, and after a thorough check-up, Pete was off the Lipitor as well in a few months.
Our vegan journey began January 1, 2004. While in the hospital, Pete received a gift of Dean Ornish’s book ‘Reversing Heart Disease’ from our friend, Rebecca Woodland who also gifted us her vegan recipe book, The Blonde Vegetarian. She was a breast cancer survivor. Ornish’s book was the catalyst.
We were fortunate to have a an Ohana of friends from way back in the 80’s who we shared a jazz potluck table with twice a week- Tuesday evenings at Studio Six from 6-9 pm at the musician’s union (almost next door to where Greens & Vines would eventually be located starting in 2012). Sunday afternoons we’d meet up from 3-6 pm at our potluck table as Jackie Ward would host various local and/or traveling jazz players on the third floor of her home, known as Ward’s Rafters.
Pete was a stock broker and I was a realtor and we would bring some food from top chefs, as well as fabulous champagne, white wines, and Burgundies since we didn’t have time to cook. After Pete’s heart attack, they were very supportive and would taste my vegan foods as well as Becky’s. For instance, once I got a recipe for Kung Pao Chicken in the newspaper from a restaurant that was closing where Whole Foods in Kahala now stands. It took me several tries till I “nailed it.”
Fast forward to 2004 and the beginning of our vegan journey. I went shopping for vegan cookbooks. But nothing. There were vegetarian books that included dairy and seafood. So I started using those books replacing dairy with olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, or just water and the condensation of veggies. I refused to eat bland overcooked food,. We were the consummate foodies and wine connoisseurs.
I started making stir-fried food including at least 5 different colored veggies in each pot, with a small tablespoon of olive oil, and garlic at the bottom of the Kraft stainless steel charcoal insulated pot. I’d put the tougher stems of the lettuce or chard on the bottom and the more delicate veggies on the top, cover, the pot on the stove set on high. I could hear the sizzling after about 4-5 minutes. I’d turn it off, open it a crack to stir a splash of soy sauce quickly, and cover immediately to keep the condensation as the sauce. That was super easy and flavorful on Jasmine rice or Thai brown rice.
It wasn’t until I discovered the amazing flavors of Raw Foods on the mainland that I knew I found gourmet tasting food. I took the cooked recipes and changed them to raw, resulting in less oil, less salt, and less garlic. I also came home with about ten Raw recipe books. In the beginning, I’d bring new concoctions to Chef Alan Wong to get his opinion, and eventually, to John Heckathorn and Nadine Kam, our favorite food critics. When they expressed their appreciation, I decided to go to school, then open up Licious Dishes making meal plans for pick-up first, then Greens & Vines, a restaurant. Paring wines with dishes made me push the envelope to prepare Italian, French and Japanese dishes. I became more conscious of plating, and believed that you “eat with your eyes first.”
On Vegan Gardening
Sylvia: Regarding vegan gardening. I learned to dig a hole deep enough to hold the plant soil level and a little wider, bowl-like around. I get rid of the clay as it gets very hard and there isn’t any nutrition in the it. Sprinkle some fertilizer in the hole, add organic garden soil half way up and mix with the fertilizer. Then place the plant from the pot onto the fertilized soil and add more garden soil. Press down on the plant firmly. Water
I started a garden planting stuff I like to eat, veggies for salads like Swiss chard, arugula, curly kale, green lettuces, collard greens, shiso red and green, spearmint, chocolate mint, garlic and onion chives, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, myer lemon tree, dwarf apple banana tree, two lilikoi (passion fruit) vines, jalapeno and long peppers, tomatoes, two red rose bushes and one white, elder flower tree, long squash & zucchini, both of which have not fruited.
On the ground level of the lanai there are round and long eggplants, Thai and sweet basil, a Pirie Mango tree and 4 Pirie mango trees I had sprouted from seed 3 years ago. More recently 2 avocado trees in the upper tier of an almost 10,000 square foot yard (shy 1 foot). I’ve planted veggies and flowers I like using in my recipes. I’ll make a nightly salad for us, mostly from my garden, but since living with Andy, we’ve been going out eating more stuff from the Farmers’ Market and vegan restaurants. I was surprised to see quite a few restaurants either entirely vegan or offering a good amount of vegan dishes.
Regarding “Raw Vegan is a Movement.”
Sylvia: Coining this was in response to the Slow Food Movement. Author and opportunist, Michael Pollan, led the Slow Food Movement at the height of the popular use of the word “Sustainable.” When my membership expired, they notified that I should re-up for another year. They said to scroll down on their website to check out what they’ve been doing. So I saw, “Gardens in the schools.” That’s good, I thought. I scrolled down and saw, “Sustainable Meat” (grass fed, cows are cut into pieces and you can order & pick-up pieces). I looked at that and yelled on line, “SUSTAINABLE MEAT? NOPE! Eating meat is NOT SUSTAINABLE. I will NOT continue my membership and in fact, I will expose you.” Laurie Carlson who used to be the owner and editor of the Honolulu Weekly, called me as she was the rep here in Hawaii, and said, “Sylvie Babyyyy. Don’t you know you can’t expect people to change so quickly?” I responded, “Meat is not sustainable due to all the Methane and Nitrous Oxide the cows release in their burps and stool, which create 100’s of times more green house gasses when compared to carbon. I immediately signed up with the Vegetarian Society in April 2013 to do power point presentations presentations “SUSTAINABLE MEAT? NOPE!” You can see it on VSH.ORG, April 2013.
On vegan eats during recent world travels
Sylvia: Whenever I travel, I take numerous photos of the food I eat. I think about the dishes I most appreciate and they seem to be the ones that are raw or almost with the dish not being so cluttered. On a recent trip to Sydney, Australia, there was a restaurant called Bodhi, and we went twice to enjoy their vegan, gluten free dumplings. There was a great cafe in the Hunter Valley, vineyards that made great vegan meals too.
Old habits, new habits, health & gluten
Sylvia: Eating animal products is an experience many people fear they will miss when going vegan. I wondered about it 3 months after having gone vegan. I wondered how butter would taste since I’d replaced all butter with olive oil, or other oils. I sautéed a couple pieces of broccoli with butter. It smelled good as I was cooking it. I stabbed a piece of broccoli with a fork and bit it. Ewww. So greasy!
Several months later, at a potluck, I wondered if I missed eating fried chicken, which was a favorite of our family growing up. We’d come home hungry from a day at the beach to our mom’s fried chicken. So, I checked out a bucket of fried chicken at the potluck and picked out the crispiest piece. I chose a thigh. I didn’t know my reaction would be so immediate. That first bite would be my last as I had bitten into a bloody vein. Ewwww! I spat it out. Never again.
Recently, at a spinning class, a guy set up his bike next to me at least 2 spinning bikes away. Gosh he smelled like he ate a whole pizza. It was intoxicating- the smell of parmesan cheese reeked from his body. I was so glad when he left half way into the class. Now days, there are many great vegan cheeses to replace the animal ones, that are easily digested, with the cheese flavor we love, but don’t reek like the animal ones. Start treating your body like a garden rather than a graveyard. Too severe? Well it is plants versus flesh you’re choosing to eat.
Way back in my twenties, I used to stack up a week’s worth of tortillas with grated cheddar cheese on top in the freezer. I’d have Bud Light in the fridge, so when I got home, I’d bring out the tortilla filled cheese and make an enchilada folding the tortilla over the cheese and flip on stove. Then pull out a Bud Light pour into a glass and pour salsa over the enchilada. That was my quick dinner. That’s when my eczema started. Too much gluten from the flour tortilla, and in the beer. I never knew anything about gluten.
I’ve found a Gluten-Free baker at the Sunday Kailua Farmers’ Market and I load up with at least 4 of her pizza rolls. I also get 3-4 ume musubi. I’ll eat a lot of arugula, parsley, and basil with each bite of the pizza or musubi. I also enjoy Gluten-free rice beers.
More on Raw Vegan Gourmet….
“I recall sitting there and taking the first bites of the lasagna and just being simply blown away. I was hooked instantly!! The more food I experienced at Greens & Vines the more I craved it and I know this was completely connected to the freshness of the raw ingredients as well as your incredible culinary technique.” -Annika
Sylvia: I appreciate those two sentences above because that is exactly how I felt eating at Pure Food & Wine. I recall that same doubtful attitude before going to the restaurant. And I’ll never forget experiencing the first few bites and the happiness of finally finding the vegan food I wanted to make not only for myself, but to share with as many people as I could. I mean, I was eating “scallops,” vegan lasagna, sushi, Triple Decadence Chocolate Cake that made me ask, “Is this vegan?!”
It’s been an exciting journey learning to extract the essence of flavor from the veggies, herbs and spices, without having to cook meat. There was a major shift in focusing on the sauces and veggies that make a dish what it is. What are the flavors of lasagna anyway? Marinara, Pesto, Ricotta. Freed from using animal cheeses, or ground beef, you end up having a clean palate of animal free flavors using a vegan palette of herbs, spices and vegetable oils. Your body will thank you for not greasing it up with animal cholesterol and making it toil to digest the meat and release it after 3-6 hours. Fruits and vegetables take as little as 2 minutes to 2 hours to digest, leaving a lot of time and nutritious vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients; fertilizer for the body to develop beautiful cells to replace the entire body in 10 to 12 years, which animals don’t have. Digestion is the main job of your body. This is important because if you want to be beautiful, it starts from the inside out. Your skin is a reflection of your health.
Early into my recipe experience, I thought I needed to replicate meat in flavor and texture, so I included mushrooms in many of my recipes. Several customers complained about it and so I realized I should break free from the meat and fish flavors. As long as the food was super flavorful, it should past muster. First on the chopping block was the burger. I replaced mushrooms with celery, frozen zucchini “noodles” left-over from lasagna making, carrots, sunflower seeds, brown flax seeds, red onions, scallions, parsley, thyme, miso, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic. Then I made a date mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise. I used an Onion Bread to replace the buns and 2 pieces of lettuce. It was Killer! All that time to perfect the mustard paid off. I remembered a class from Cheri Soria, that sweets offset spicy to moderate the heat and in this case I used organic brown mustard seeds.
Another recipe I changed was the Kaffir Miso Pad Thai. At first, I tried too hard to make it fishy. Then one day I got turned on to the Kaffir Lime Leaf flavor. OMG! If I ever make a perfume, I’ll use that first. It’s an alluring flavor and smell. You just want to smell and eat it. It was a top seller. Once, I used the Kaffir lime leaf mixed with mango spread thin on a dehydrator tray and cut it and rolled it as a “Sweet Surprise” for our Meal Bags. Someone took it to the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute (the Raw school I had gone to with Cherie Soria as instructor/owner). When they tasted it, someone told the friend who had brought it there to “Get the Recipe!”
Often, the recipe that takes the longest to perfect is a sauce. One summer, my late husband, Pete and I decided to create special meals paired with our wines. We realized we had a lot of Italian wines, so we could have 3 1/2 weeks of different wines paired with different Italian dishes. Luckily, there was a preponderance of Italian dishes. The following month, we went Japanese since we had 4 sakes and a Belgium Beer. The final month was a paring of French dishes with Burgundies because it would be featuring the wine makers in the movie A Year in Burgundy. As there were seven wine makers, we needed to make seven dishes. And, since we were pairing it with Burgundies, we were charging $260 per person. So, it wasn’t a ratatouille type of dinner. Anyway, one of the meals was Crimini Mushroom Escargot with MacNut Garlic Butter. Dang that Butter! It was the last thing I had to perfect that night before the event. I was tired and tried every which way to perfect it, but it was too thick, or to oily, or too salty, or to garlicky. When I finally nailed it, I was almost in tears.
Working with Lexi on the menu, was the best! She was making the Bon Bons for the dessert. It happened to be one of our waiter’s birthday and she was outside with her boyfriend. Lexi cut a leftover piece of a dehydrated mango sheet and stuffed it with the chocolate Bon Bon filling to make a cigar. I laughed and suggested using dried coconut for ashes and put it on a ramekin as an ashtray. Lexi cut a small Greens & Vines logo out of an old menu to use as a cigar label. It was so much fun, we decided to add that to the menu as the after-dinner Cigar. Lexi got a couple of cigar boxes from a cigar shop after buying a couple of cigars. I brought these square ashtrays I had bought at a fair, thinking I’d use them with food. The cigar box fit 2 cigars with ashtrays which we delivered, opening the box to each person, saying, “Cigar?” One of the customers asked, “How do you keep it lit?” I answered, “Eat it from the back. We were sailing into high-end plating, service and tapas creations in 2013.
We’d come a long way from when Pete and I became vegans on January 1st, 2004, to reverse his heart disease. We were such foodies, and I refused to eat “hospital food.”
When his first cardiologist said he’d have to take 6 powerful drugs for the rest of his life, we knew we had to take his/our health in our own hands. Each of those drugs had side effects that would call for more drugs to cure. Pete was able to stop taking those drugs within 18 months of being a vegan, after having changed to a vegan cardiologist. But, that’s another story; learning to use food as medicine.
Feature & Interview by Pacific Roots Magazine Editorial Desk