Like so many people, Dina Lauro wasn't satisfied working the 9-to-5 grind in a boring, dead-end career. At 38 years old, she decided to quit and pursue her dreams. And, lucky for us, her dreams produced something most of us wish for daily: junk food that's actually good for you.
A Pennsylvania native, Lauro -- now owner of the Raw Vegan Gourmet in Palm Beach Gardens -- came to South Florida several years ago. Although she attended Pennsylvania State University and graduated with a degree in hotel management and later lived in cities like San Diego and Charleston, the career she'd landed wasn't about passion.
For Lauro, healthy food offered a higher calling. On weekends, she began taking classes at a culinary school at the National Gourmet Institute in Manhattan. The move suited Lauro, who always considered herself an "outcast health nut who didn't belong," growing up on a diet of whole, unprocessed foods.
"I had always been interested in healthy eating and wanted to learn more about preparing raw food -- we had only one day of instruction in school. I also needed to fulfill an internship, so I was calling all these places that focused on vegan and vegetarian cooking and was getting turned down. And then I called Hippocrates [Health Institute]," Lauro told Clean Plate Charlie during a recent interview.
The rest is history. Not only did Lauro complete her internship with the West Palm Beach-based natural health care institute in 2010 but she stayed, working with clients to help them learn how to follow Hippocrates' raw vegan diet plan at home.
"I was only supposed to go down for six weeks for the internship, and I was going to return home afterwards, but I loved it so much here," said Lauro, who is now a certified natural health educator through Hippocrates. "There were so many ways I could make healthy snacks, and one of them was a recipe I had for chocolate chip cookies. So I started experimenting and came up with dozens of flavor combinations."
A line of several soy-, dairy-, cholesterol- and gluten-free variations of her cookies appeared in 2011, and Lauro named them for their chunky appearance. You've probably spotted Chunkie Dunkies at your local green markets, natural grocers -- even Whole Foods. Packaged in clear plastic containers of four or eight chunky "cookies," these tiny lumps of goodness are actually nutrient-rich. Made using whole foods like sprouted buckwheat groats, gluten-free rolled oats, raw nuts, whole vanilla bean, chia seeds, and shredded raw coconut, they're dehydrated (never baked), allowing them to retain all the nutritional value of each ingredient. They also contain no preservatives and are made with low-glycemic sugars like raw agave, maple syrup -- or no sugar at all, with several "sugar free" recipes that call for Stevia.
Lauro currently offers ten flavors, including a traditional chocolate chip, chocolate mint, carrot cake, and oatmeal raisin walnut. For more information on where to find Chunkie Dunkies or how to prepare raw vegan meals at home, visit the Chunkie Dunkies website and Facebook page.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.