Raw food has been dubbed as a revolution, a movement, a diet, a trend. But chef Christopher Slawson is so dedicated to eating raw foods -- or, as he calls them, "living foods" -- that he has opened a raw foods eatery, Christopher's Kitchen, in Palm Beach Gardens.
Clean Plate Charlie: Has the menu changed since you've opened?
Christopher Slawson: What we want to do for our customers is have a variety of small plates. A lot of our dishes are so nutrient-dense, and with raw food, it's not really about how much you eat; it's about the density of nutrients within what you are eating. That's what's so unique about this cuisine. You can come in and have a small salad with a side of our falafel and be completely nourished because of the vitamins and proteins in the foods. The inspiration to the menu is to create small, fun, light dishes for the summer. The weather's changed, it's hotter, and I, personally, don't feel like eating lots of heavy foods. It's hot out. I want clean, fresh, enzyme-rich, simple dishes. Keeping what's been popular, keeping those things that work. We have an aged cheese plate which is a cashew cheese with probiotics, so it's good for the digestive system. We are doing the sun-dried tomato cheese and our classic cheese with raw honey, candied walnuts, and apples. Couple of new smoothies that''ll feature some of the superfoods we have.
I have to know how you make a carmel truffle without cooking sugar for carmel.
It's pretty simple. We use pecan butter, yacon syrup, a little coconut oil, cashew butter, coconut butter, Himalayan salt, and dark-blue agave. We blend those components together, and it's very nutrient-rich and amazing. It's really good.
How long have you been raw?
I have been eating raw foods for about five years. Obviously, being involved within the cuisine in different restaurants and now having my own restaurant, I've become 100 percent raw over that time. It's very easy for me.
How would one embark on a raw lifestyle?
I think one of the biggest things is that it's very important for people to incorporate in their lifestyle, even if they are eating cooked food, is refreshing green juices. Things like celery, parsley, kale, lemon, ginger, then juicing that in a juicer. That's full of enzymes, and it helps move toxins in your body while keeping you hydrated and refreshed. That's the key for someone wanting to dive into raw foods.
Really, the whole idea behind eating plants is having a more alkaline body. People don't really realize how dehydrated, malnourished they really are because they've never been on a plant-based diet. I think the biggest thing to suggest is start with having green juice and then transition into eating more fresh vegetables, salads. There's really so many amazing salads here. We have spinach, kale, sunflower sprouts, avocado, cucumber, beets. Then throw in the protein aspect is very misleading to a lot of people because they feel like they have to have animals to have protein. On the flip side -- when you are talking about plant-based protein, 100 percent of it is being absorded in your body. Animal protein is around 30 to 40 percent. It's hard to digest. It's cooked, so immediately it's harder for your system to process and use. That's the key, alkaline foods.
I kind of oversee everything that goes on here because it's an exposed kitchen. On a busy night, a lot of people now know me, and I've built a rapport with people. They want to talk to me and say hi. It's part of the experience of them coming here. I'm kind of overseeing the food being made, the juice bar, the desserts, communicating. Then making sure the food looks beautiful, making sure it looks the way it's supposed to. If they get into a jam, I'll hop back there and work through it. I think we are going to continue to get people that come here for their first time. I mean, we get people ever single day for their first raw-food experience. It's really important they have a great experience.
Do you find you are a destination restaurant for raw foodies?
The majority of the business we get are people who just want to eat clean food. We happen to be vegan and a plant-based establishment, but we are not marketing ourselves to raw foodists. We market that we are a clean, living foods restaurant. We focus on fresh ingredients that make you feel great. That's what food should be for people. So we are a destination for the health-conscious of South Florida but also for people looking for quality. It's hard, outside of here, for me to find a place to have an organic salad that would put hemp seed or wild seaweed or beautiful organice heirloom tomato or sunflower sprouts. That's our goal: to serve this community clean ingredients that come from a place of consciousness.
How has location affected your business?
I think the only problem with this location is people want it closer to them. People come from Boca or Delray, and they say, "We want one of these near us." The location has been pretty outstanding, to be honest. People feel like it's convenient, it's right off 95, it's in an open environment. It's been really nice. I haven't really heard any complaints about location.
Do you feel your menu is competitive compared to a standard restaurant? Considering pricing, food cost, labor?
Yes, I really do. What's important to understand about raw food is the labor that goes into creating these dishes. We aren't opening cans; we are making things and creating everything by hand with passion. To make our toritillas for our tacos, we take different herbs and spices and vegetables, blend it, and then spread it on dehydrator trays. Then dehydrate it overnight; then we have to cut them. If you think about it at a cost perspective, to do that takes a lot of time, and that's why price points have to factor the labor that's involved in it all. When I worked as a private chef, it was because people didn't have the time to make this food. Who has time to go to the store, buy all these high-end, expensive ingredients, come home, and spend three hours prepping a meal that takes maybe 30 minutes to eat. I think it's hard to compare our food to other restaurants in that sense. You compare the quality of our ingredients to let's say III Forks or Ruth's Chris or Capital Grill -- these are beautiful restaurants. I'm sure their meat is quality, but are they serving organic ingredients? We are competitive that we are serving a great product for a reasonable price. We are here for the long run to support this community. I continue to work every day to figure out ways to cut back in costs and make it more affordable. It's very tricky. We opened this place because we love the food and wanted to share it with our friends and this community. We'll continue to work on it. It's expensive. It is, but the cost of eating organic is expensive. Sometimes I get complaints -- "I'd never spend $13 on a sandwich" -- but you would go to Subway and spend $10 on chips and a sandwich? Well for $3 more, you get organic, raw, nutrient-dense, beautiful food. This food isn't for you then. It's different for some people. We just have to keep working on it.
How has Palm Beach Gardens received the menu thus far?
At first, they didn't really connect. It's an education for them. A lot of people come in here have never heard of this type of food. They're in their 50s and 60s and ask "What is raw?" Then they eat a meal and, honestly, it takes an experience to get the full understanding. If you are going to be eating this way and say we are going to make a lasagna or my people tell them that the ice cream is vegan, they are like, "Well, what do you mean? Is there sugar in this?" You have to tell them over and over again. I think it's important to explain the food as plant-based, living foods. That's key.
Raw food is not necessarily health food or sugar-free like some would assume.
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Yeah, it's like anything else -- you do have to have a balance. You can be a very unhealthy raw foodist where you to eat a ton of nuts, ton of chocolate, and foods that are high in citric acid. You have to have that balance. That's why I try to help people come in who ask "What should I get?" I tell them to start with one of our salads, have a juice, you can finish with a little lasagne or something, to keep it balanced. We do a falafel salad that's awesome. It has chopped romaine, taboule, hemp seed, cucumber, red-pepper hot sauce, and falafel balls. It has enough nuts and greens, so it's a really enjoyable dish.