A wise man once said “Oh baby I like it raw. Yeah baby, I like it rawwwww.” That man was Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Since I’m neither old nor dirty, I don’t share his sentiments. I’ve never been much of a fan of the raw movement. Sure, I like a good salad every now and then but a low-temperature meatless world is not a world in which I’d like to live. So when I was invited to M.A.K.E., the new home of all things raw in the LA area, I was more than a little skeptical. In fact, I scoffed. Audibly. I know there’s a ton of health benefits to eating raw, but I couldn’t get past the nagging question that kept popping up in my head: Can raw food actually taste good?
M.A.K.E. comes from Matthew Kenney, who’s made his name on raw cuisine with a Food & Wine Best New Chef award and some Beard nominations along the way. Now’s he got both restaurants and cooking schools in Chicago, Oklahoma City and Santa Monica, with more on the way. Unfortunately, the menu looks like an Onion parody of a raw food menu. The first thing listed is a dish centered around “tree nut cheeses,” and after that you get crunchy word combos like “sous-vide portobello” and “cashew yogurt.” As you can imagine, I was ready to hate it. Then something weird happened – I tasted the food. And I liked it.
The turning point came when they set an order of kimchi dumplings in front of me. Traditionally, you can’t make dumplings with raw food because you have to cook the dumpling skins to make then, um, edible. M.A.K.E. doesn’t cook anything so they had to come up with an alternate, and their substitution is pretty genius. They use a super-pliable wrapper made with dehydrated coconut. I honestly didn’t care what it was made out of. I just wanted more. The only thing that matters to me is whether or not something tastes good and these dumplings, my friends, tasted great.
In retrospect, I haven’t had a lot of experience with raw food. I’ve gone down the vegan path far too often and I’ve had issues with vegan food for years. I never understood why anyone who consciously eschews meat would want to dine on products made to taste and look like meat. Seitan, tempeh and the rest of those meatstitutes (that’s the mash-up of meat and substitute, not meat and prostitute) are heavily processed and always end up making me feel like I’ve consumed a bowling ball. It’s amazing that in our new gluten-averse culture, vegan restaurants are peddling gluten like it’s the second coming of pork. Realistically, if you’ve decided not to eat meat, why are you pretending that you’re eating meat? All those vegan “buffalo wings” and “sausages” and whatever else you can put into quotation marks are just poseurs.
Raw food doesn’t have that problem. Sure, it pretends to be dishes you know and love. The “lasagna” on the M.A.K.E. menu is really just a stack of sliced vegetables with some pesto, but at least all the ingredients can legitimately be classified as food. As the meal came to a close, I found myself with a new attitude towards going raw. Can raw food actually taste good? You bet it can and, oh baby, I like it raw. Yeah baby, I like it rawwwww.
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