To start with, Soria is respectfully known as 'The Mother of Gourmet Raw Vegan Cuisine'. She has been teaching this cuisine for 20 years (and vegetarian culinary for 40) now! She became vegetarian at a very young age in a survival fight when diabetes, high cholesterol, and other related health problems claimed the lives of many of her immediate loved ones. In 1992, she turned to veganism and raw foods after a life-changing visit to the Ann Wigmore Natural Health Institute in Puerto Rico.
Ann Wigmore was the founder of the Hippocrates Health Institute - the face of alternative health care movement in the US for over 25 years. This is the place that many "terminally-ill" patients visit, as a last-ditch effort, in a hope to reverse their health. The raw food regimen has cured and resuscitated countless lives there! It's a pure coincidence that soon after listening to Cherie Soria, I also got to listen to Dr. Brian Clement, the co-director of the Institute, at another event; stay tuned for an article on that.
Inspired by her visit to the Ann Wigmore Institute, Soria brought the gourmet raw vegan cuisine home. Starting with teaching classes around the country and authoring several books, she founded the Living Light Culinary Art Institute in Northern California in 1998. This institute has since trained many top chefs around the world and offers a variety of culinary courses and certifications along with an in-depth science of raw food nutrition program. Together with husband Ladermann, she owns 3 other eco-friendly, raw vegan businesses - the Living Light Inn, Cafe, and Marketplace. Here is her Youtube channel.
What I found most exhilarating about Soria that evening was her strive to empower every individual by disseminating her knowledge and sharing her personal experience with the raw vegan food philosophy. Her staunch belief that each one of us in her audience had the potential to steer our own small communities towards a healthier lifestyle, and thereby reverse the health crises of our nation, was quite encouraging. She put in words my unspoken intentions behind authoring this blog. Still running marathons and practicing skills from her three black belts in karate at the age of more than 60 - that few in her family even lived to see(!) - it was a marvel to listen to the accomplishments, ambitions, and hopes of this petite woman.
Moving on to healthy eating habits, Cherie started with the general advice from all raw foodists:
- Avoid cooking foods at very high temperatures as that renders the food essentially dead. See my earlier post for details on this.
- Avoid eating foods devoid of all nutrition (e.g., fried foods or even those that have a lot of oil in them, like roasted nuts, chips, etc., pasta, white flour and other products containing gluten that causes inflammation).
- Avoid eating late at night as the body tends to disturb sleep while working to digest the food.
- Filter tap water before drinking as well as cooking as it contains chemicals that kill the essential bacteria in our digestive tract. It was interesting to learn that the Living Light Institute has a full in-house water filteration system at both the Institute and the Inn. They recycle their water and have all eco-friendly rooms - showers, beds and everything.
- Get enough fluids in the form of water, green smoothies and juices, soups, fresh produce, etc., to keep the body hydrated. She strongly recommended drinking warm water with a few drops of lemon in it, first thing in the morning. Here I can take partial pride in saying I've been drinking water everyday right after getting out of bed for about 10 years now and stomach problems don't even dare to come anywhere close to me =).
Coming to nutrition, needless to say, Soria is a huge believer in Nature's wisdom in meeting all our nutritional needs. She recommends eating all the colors of the rainbow as they have a rich assortment of the plant compounds called phytochecmicals. Usually, the darker the color, the richer the nutrient profile. Go for beets, red cabbage, eggplant, purple kale and many more. Phytochemicals do a great job assisting the anti-oxidants in fighting the free radicals. Additionally, greens are a great source of natural protein, the kind that our bodies know how to breakdown and process. Cherie likes to limit her avocado intake to half a fruit a day.
Like many other nutritionists, she strongly warns us from using rancid oils and other food products. Rancid ingredients, when consumed, enable free radicals that do the exact opposite of anti-oxidants! This is why it is recommended that flax seeds be ground to flax meal just before use. Flax is rich in Omega 3s but low in anti-oxidants; flax meal goes rancid pretty quickly. On the other hand, chia seed is rich in both Omega 3s and anti-oxidants.
In contrast to many, Soria shuns the use of vinegar - even apple cider vinegar! According to her, it causes bloating; she recommends using it only for medicinal purposes. It is somewhat baffling to read Ani Phyo refer to apple cider vinegar as a power packed ingredient that is rich in potassium and calcium and fights cholesterol and controls insulin - she uses it quite a bit in her 15-day fat blast plan. I'd love to know what my readers have to say about the edible properties of vinegar. Please write comments below if you have an opinion.
Fermented foods and nut and seed cheeses are great, advocates Soria. Between kombucha and kefir, she's more experienced with kefir. For cheeses, she recommends making them with rejuvelac while admitting that making rejuvelac itself takes 5 days. On that note, Heather Haxo Phillips uses probiotic powder to accelerate fermentation in nut and seed cheeses. These cheeses usually keep in the fridge for upto 3 days and are uncannily similar to dairy cheeses! This comes from sampling a variety of these in one of Heather's classes a few weeks back. Yes, I'm going crazy keeping on top of all these local raw food events!
Soria also believes in adding nutritional supplements to further enrich one's dietary intake. She recommends 2000IU of vitamin B12 once a week and taking vitamins D/D2/D3 from vegan sources. (There is quite a controversy on a possible B12 deficiency in a predominantly plant-based diet. I will write another blog post on that later.) Her favorite brands for supplements are HeathForce and E3. She takes E3 Renew Me and E3Live Frozen Blue-Green Algae. To that end, here is Heather's shopping resource on food supplements.
Before moving to the recipe demo, Cherie touched very briefly upon what it takes to be a good chef and create new recipes. There are four primary flavors that we taste and discern - sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. In order to come up with scrumptious recipes, it's important to know how to balance these flavors and play with the ingredients to accentuate or downplay any given flavor. Generally speaking, all greens are bitter and garlic, pepper, ginger, and onion are considered pungent.
Finally, it was time to impress us with her culinary prowess of 40 years. She demo-ed a raw recipe - sweet red pepper and zucchini hummus. The red peppers were peeled for a smoother texture (the thick bell pepper skin does not blend well and leaves tiny red traces in food). Raw tahini from Artisan was optionally used for more smoothness. Cherie made it spicy by adding chipotle powder and used both smoked and regular paprika. Crinkled cucumber slices were then decorated with this hummus, for us to sample it. Using a pastry decorator to give a wafer-like appearance to the icing was exciting; I'm looking forward to experimenting with it.