Sarma MeIngailis is one of the country’s leading proponents of raw food. After graduating from UPenn and beginning a successful career in finance, Sarma decided she just wasn’t having enough fun. Making a radical shift, she enrolled in New York’s French Culinary Institute, but it was after a brush with raw food that her career began to take shape. She is the co-founder and owner of Pure Food & Wine, and the founder and CEO of One Lucky Duck in NYC, and the author of Raw Food/Real World and Living Raw Food. She is currently a self-described “mostly raw food eater,” and her ever-endearing tweets can be followed @sarma (complete with adorable dog photos).
Lily Bellow: How and when did you become a raw foodist?
Sarma MeIngailis: I first heard about raw in the summer of 2003. I was reluctantly brought to a small raw café thinking it was going to completely suck. I was bummed out that we weren’t going to the fancy new Jean-Georges restaurant instead. Everything changed in that dinner. The philosophy/rationale (whatever you’d call it) behind eating raw was being explained to me while I was eating (a lot) of yummy food that was so much better than I thought it was going to be, and I felt really good—a noticeable contrast vs. the heavy, want-to-take-a-nap-now feeling that I normally felt after a big restaurant dinner. I was completely intrigued and excited.
LB: Why did you decide raw food was right for you?
SM: There are a ton of health benefits to eating more raw foods every day. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh clean food keeps you clean inside, full of energy, and your immune system strong. Once you see how good you feel eating much more fresh foods, it’s hard to go back. Right away I noticed having more energy, and much more clarity. I just felt so much better and happier.
LB: What was your favorite food as a child?
SM: I’m not sure of my favorite… actually, I used to love lamb chops. We’d cook them in the fireplace at my dad’s house. And oddly my Mom says I ate sardines all the time, with my hands, and I’d let the oil run down my arms, and I refused to eat them if they were broken. She also says I would chew on chicken bones and try to eat egg shells? Seriously. Maybe I had a calcium deficiency (egg shells, bones, bone-in sardines?).
LB: If you were a food, what would you be?
SM: A kumquat. I just like how that sounds.
LB: What is your favorite snack food?
SM: It depends on what I’m in the mood for. I just snacked on a handful of goldenberries, I love them. They’re ridiculously good for you, and really tart and sweet, so they’re good for sweet cravings. But I also tend to love salty, so I go for these cheesy crackers we make, they’re actually called “Cheezy Quackers” since they’re made by us at One Lucky Duck.
LB: What was the last thing you ate?
SM: Above-mentioned goldenberries. When I got up I had one of our green juices, it’s called Swan Greens (made with cucumber, spinach, dandelion greens, grapefruit, pear, spearmint, tarragon, yuzu), and I add in a packet of chlorella granules, some green tea extract, spirulina, aloe vera juice, and stevia. It’s my morning cocktail.
LB:What was the last thing you cooked?
SM: I ran out of the frozen raw food that I buy for my dog and I usually give him raw eggs from the greenmarket and I felt bad about running out of his usual food so I cooked him an omelette this morning, with parsley, blueberries, pumpkin puree, and kelp flakes. Mmmmmm.
LB: Do you have a signature dish?
SM: At my restaurant our signature dish is a lasagna, the recipe is in my first book. It’s Heirloom Tomato and Zucchini Lasanga with Pigoli Ricotta, Basil-Pistachio Pesto, and Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce. It’s the most accessible and crowd pleasing thing we have on our menu and it’s also not that hard for people to make at home.
LB:What’s your guilty pleasure food?
SM: Good question. Probably really good pizza. Or, something I never eat but fantasize about is movie theater popcorn, with the disgusting artificial evil “butter flavor”… I live near a couple of theaters and the smell sort of drives me crazy.
LB: What is/was your dining hall go-to?
SM: When I was in college, I wasn’t remotely vegetarian but I’d always go eat from the vegan stations because it was just healthier. Brown rice, quinoa, beans, that kind of thing. Actually, I don’t know if they had quinoa back then but it’s my favorite cooked staple food. So good for you.
LB: What is your drink order when you go to a bar?
SM: My go to drink used to always be a greyhound… grapefruit juice and vodka. Grapefruit juice always feels healthy. That’s what I’d always drink in college (when it wasn’t keg beer). But since switching to mostly raw, hard alcohol seems to affect me differently. I’m much more sensitive to it now. So I don’t drink it anymore… when I do, bad things happen! At my restaurant we make sake cocktails… they’re amazing and sake gets you really tipsy with less of a hangover and it makes amazing cocktails. My favorite is Purple Haze, where we mix it with fresh concord grape juice. We only have it in the Fall when concord grapes are in season. Our cocktail menu changes a lot but year round we have a mojito made with sake, lime, tons of mint, topped off with a splash of prosecco.
LB: Best hangover cure?
SM: Coconut water! We have the unpasteurized, fresh coconut water at my shops, so I drink that. Plus green juice. And oddly I love to eat our Caesar salad with avocado when I’m hungover, or our big taco salad with guacamole. I think I crave the fatty avocado.
LB: What’s the best dinner party or party party you’ve ever hosted?
SM: Once when I was married and I was in cooking school I made an epic multi-course dinner for my husband’s bosses. It was a total wifey thing to do. But I nailed it… it was an amazing dinner. I remember the main course was lobster risotto with corn and basil. And for dessert I made hazelnut ice cream and Mexican chocolate soufflé cakes. Having a restaurant for the last 7 years I do all my hosting there, so I can’t really take credit for making the food since it’s now all my talented chefs who do it. But it’s always fun hosting people who are skeptical about raw food since luckily they’re always blown away (in a good way of course!).
LB: Your go-to date night meal?
SM: When I used to date and cook for guys it was always always risotto… wild mushroom risotto. But I don’t do that anymore. I’m at my restaurant so much of the time, or out at other restaurants, and I don’t have a kitchen or dining room table at home so there’s no entertaining going on there. (I share my home with my office, so there are a lot of cluttered desks, no tables!)
LB: What’s your biggest early cooking disaster?
SM: Once my Mom (a professional chef) came to visit when I was living in NYC and I was still in cooking school. I was making her dinner and steaming something (or trying to) and I nervously forgot to put water in the bottom of the pan under the steamer basket and ruined the pan. It was such an amateur silly move, I grew up cooking with my Mom but oddly was nervous once I’d been in school for it.
LB: Do you use recipes when you cook?
SM: I don’t cook very much anymore but usually don’t use recipes. I like making things up as I go.
LB: Cake or pie? (Are there raw cakes and pies?)
SM: Cake. And yes we have raw cakes and pies… really good stuff. But I’m a cake girl for sure. In college, I had an amazing sour cream chocolate cake recipe that I made anytime it was someone’s birthday.
Photos courtesy Sarma MeIngailis
Lily Bellow graduated in 2009 from Harvard University with a degree in English Literature. While in college, she bartended and cooked at the campus pub, and as a result has a difficult time eating chicken wings. She is currently the Assistant Managing Editor for Small Kitchen College.