The Best Vegan Thing I Ever Ate: The Christmas Edition Featuring Sarma Melngailis and her new puppy, Leon…with bonus gift ideas and recipe! This monthly feature on GirlieGirl Army is inspired by a show on the Food Network where “famous” chefs are interviewed about their favorite foods, including where to get it and in some cases, how to make it. In this feature, Kathryn Hostettler interviews awesome and influential vegans each month about their absolute favorite vegan dishes.
Meet Sarma Melngailis, the totally stunning and kick-ass proprietress of one of New York’s best restaurants, Pure Food and Wine and sister online and takeaway establishments, One Lucky Duck. Specializing in raw, organic, vegan cuisine, this isn’t your average salad and sprouts joint. This is innovative, exciting, exquisitely presented, mouth watering cuisine. When it comes to food, Sarma is a visionary. With a new One Lucky Duck outlet in Chelsea Market, she is methodically expanding the brand and spreading the word about raw, vegan cuisine. Recently, I spoke with Sarma about amazing food, fabulous Christmas presents, and the new love of her life, her rescued puppy, Leon.
KH: I heard you started out as a banker. Is that true and if so, what was your journey to Pure Food and Wine and One Lucky Duck?
SM: Yes, after college in ‘94 I went to work in investment banking at Bear Stearns, then to private equity, then to a hedge fund before I finally left (5 years in total) and went to culinary school. My mom was a professional restaurant chef so I think cooking was in my blood. After the French Culinary Institute, I worked on a cookbook with an established chef and then got involved in his restaurant business where I got more of an education than I’d bargained for. One summer we stumbled into raw food and everything changed. Pure Food and Wine opened a year later and then a year after that I launched the online store One Lucky Duck and rebranded our snacks and juice bar as One Lucky Duck.
KH: There is a One Lucky Duck outlet in the Chelsea Market now. That’s so exciting. How long until world domination?
SM: I’ve seen a lot of people expand too quickly and that’s not what I want to do. I’d love to grow more but with the restaurant, our snack line production, my books (and I’m supposed to be working on more!) and the online store, as well as a few other projects, I have a lot on my plate. I want to move carefully and methodically and also make sure to have the resources to do it all right. And also work with only the right partners who want to be involved for the right reasons. If you get burned in partnerships it makes you a lot wiser and warier, which I see as the bright side of some bad experiences.
KH: I understand you recently rescued a puppy! Tell me how this happened and how it’s changed your life?
SM: Yes! My favorite topic! I’m madly in love with my dog Leon.It’s a long story so I wrote a blog post about it on my website. I wanted to encourage other people who were also thinking (like me) that they’re way too busy to rescue a dog. What happened in my case is definitely one of those “the dog found me” versus me finding the dog. I came across his photo sort of by accident, but I was immediately smitten. It was a three-week process whereby the idea of adopting him went from a totally crazy and impossible fantasy to the realization that there was no decision, I just had to go get this particular dog. And I’m so happy for it. He’s amazing and fills my heart up in the best way. Having a dog also connects you to your community much more. Now instead of speed walking everywhere I go with my iPod blasting in my ears in my own world, I’m more engaged. People so often want to stop and talk to me about him or pet him or show me a photo of their dog, or they just smile when they go by. It’s really sweet. Now, if only the health department would reconsider pets in restaurants, I could bring him into Pure Food and Wine with me.
KH: I am quietly obsessed with Metallica (I am from New Jersey so metal is in my DNA!). I read that you are friends with the band – I am so jealous! Are they raw?
SM: Quietly? Why quietly? I’ve loved them for years… definitely more of their older original albums like Ride the Lightning and Kill ‘Em All, those are the best two. I wouldn’t say I’m friends with them, just have met Rob Trujillo a few times at the restaurant and he was lovely enough to invite me to their last NYC show. It was my fourth time seeing them. Our bar manager Joey showed him the photo of me in my last cookbook Living Raw Food where I’m wearing a Ride the Lightning t-shirt, and I think that convinced him I’m a true fan. He’s ridiculously cool and sweet. I’m pretty sure he’s raw, or at least vegan and I know the band very often will go raw while on tour. I even partially named my dog after Rob (because I have a giant metal crush on him). My puppy has a long name: Leon Quinn Trujillo Sterling Britt. I’ve also met him through Rodrigo y Gabriela, who are good friends with Rob and amazing musicians (and very outspoken about being vegan which is cool). They’re too amazing not to mention here, and Rob played on stage with them at their last NYC show. Their cover of Metallica’s Orion is an amazing song.
KH: You are throwing the dinner party of the decade. Who’s invited? What’s on the menu?
SM: Oh my god… this is always fun to think about. Who’s invited? Good lord, I need a people limit. Okay, well definitely now all of Metallica. I want to invite Jason Newsted too because I miss him. And Bill Clinton. He came for dinner years ago, but now I want him back since he went vegan (yay!). Um, who else?! I answered this question in another interview a while ago and replied that I wanted Anthony Bourdain, Marco Pierre White, and Jeffrey Steingarten who are all in the food business and the opposite of vegan. I still really want to have dinner with Anthony Bourdain (he’s known for calling vegans the “Hezbollah of vegetarians”). Not that I want to argue with him, I just love the opportunity to show someone that raw vegan can be good, and an interesting option from a culinary perspective. And no matter his views, he’s very funny and entertaining. Oh, I also just read Portia de Rossi’s beautiful new book so now I really want to invite her and Ellen to the party too. And you and Chloé Jo are invited too of course. It’ll be at Pure Food and Wine, we’ll be sitting on all newly upholstered red hemp fabric chairs (I’m obsessed with our needing new chairs – dinner party too embarrassing without them). And we’ll be eating the best of what’s on the menu. Oh, Sting, he can come to the party too. And Steven Colbert.
KH: We need to make that dinner happen somehow! So about the food…What’s The Best Vegan Thing you have ever eaten and why?
SM: Oh this is going to be really hard to answer without shamelessly promoting my own business, because I rarely get out to other places. If I had to pick one thing it would be the Mallomar from One Lucky Duck. Hands down my favorite sweet thing. A salty crunchy nutty cookie topped with a puffy could of vanilla cream and then rich chocolate. Yum! And our Mint Sundae and Classic Sundae too! My other favorite dessert is the Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart. It’s a dark chocolate ganache tart with pecan caramel, Maldon sea salt and vanilla cream. I love salt on chocolate. On the savory side, I loooove the Hazelnut Crostini with Caper Béarnaise, Crimini Mushrooms, Caraway Sauerkraut and Local Apple Cider Reduction. It’s elegant, yummy, and flavorful. Also, a few times our sous chef Daniel made raw vegan gnocchi one night that was mind blowing, but it’s complicated how he makes it so it’s not on our menu. It was lighter, fluffier and more “pillowy” than a lot of normal gnocchi. He’s so talented. I’d force him to make it the night of our fantasy dinner party. From One Lucky Duck, our falafel salad is one of my all time favorites. Though, for falafel, I will also give an honorable mention to the original yummy cooked version at Taim. My boyfriend came back from walking my dog yesterday with two falafels from the Taim truck and they were amaaaaaazing. Not raw, but vegan. I rarely eat stuff like that so I really appreciated it. (You can follow them on twitter: @TaimMobile.)
Raw Falafel Salad
Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart
My favorite shake from One Lucky Duck is the Strawberry Blonde. Add to a blender a cup each of frozen strawberries and frozen banana, three cups fresh coconut water, agave nectar or stevia to taste, two teaspoons vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, and a heaping tablespoon of really good quality coconut butter. Those quantities are total guesses, I’m terrible at measuring when I make shakes, I just do it all to taste. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little to get the taste you like.
KH: I have had that shake and it’s amazing! Can you share any more recipes with our readers?
SM: Sure, I’d be happy to. Most of the dishes can be found in my book, Living Raw Food, by the way.
KH: Christmas is right around the corner. What are your top 5 gift ideas?
SM: Yay! I love holidays even though for years I’ve been so busy I’ve skipped out on the whole gift part. But we’re doing a lot of gift wrapping at One Lucky Duck this year so I get that part out of my system.
1. First, we’re doing a “gifts that give back” program from now through the holidays this year. 10% of the sales of any of our pet products will get donated to animal shelters. We have lots of cute things for dogs, like eco-toys, biodegradable “business bags” and more. Plus some bamboo dog/cat beds, and some treats for cats (not vegan for kitties, but made from greenmarket ingredients).
2. Also in the “gifts that give back” we’re giving 5% of some of our snack sales to Wellness in the Schools, which is working to improve NYC school lunch programs and increasing the organic and vegan options.
3. Gift wrapped bundles like chocolates and other pre selected groups of products that we’re doing this year. Or, you can always get someone one of our gift cards, or I’ll sign my books to anyone.
4. My favorite stocking stuffer is the brand new Rawtella, it’s like nutella but vegan and raw. SO good!
5. Finally… while I’m not doing much shopping, I am doing a lot of dog walking and it’s getting colder and colder so I just got myself a pair of these fluffy vegan boots from Alternative Outfitters. If you know someone’s shoe size, they’d be a great gift. I got them in black and they look cute with the tops folded down. Love them!
Sprout Gift Set
Leon with Eco-Toy
Simply Fido Moose Eco-Toy
Hazelnut Crostini with Caper Béarnaise, Choucroute and Pomegranate Reduction
Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until well blended. Spread the batter onto a Teflex-lined dehydrator tray. Using an offset spatula, spread to about ¼ inch thick. With a paring knife, score the crostini batter into triangles, or any other shape, so that you have about 40 crackers. Dehydrate for 2-3 hours. Flip the crostini over and peel away the Teflex. Continue dehydrating on the mesh screens for 8-12 more hours, or until crispy.
Directions: In a high-speed blender, blend the macadamia nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, shallot and water until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. In a food processor, pulse the capers, scallion, parsley, tarragon, and lemon until roughly chopped, leaving the mixture somewhat chunky. Add to the macadamia mixture and combine well. Season to taste with salt.
Directions: In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and massage with your hands until the cabbage starts to seep water. Transfer the mixture, including all of the liquid, into a salad press and apply pressure. If the cabbage water does not rise to cover the cabbage within ½ hour of sitting, add a small amount of water to make sure all of the cabbage is covered with liquid. Place in a cool dry place (do not refrigerate) allowing to ferment doe 1-2 weeks. Once it is fermented, store in the refrigerator. NOTE: You can also buy raw sauerkraut since this takes some time to ferment.
Directions: In a medium bowl, toss the mushrooms with the oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the mushrooms onto a Teflex-lined dehydrator tray and dehydrate for about 1-2 hours or until chewy.
Directions: Cut the pomegranates into quarters. Using a wooden spoon, tap the sections on the skin side over a bowl to pop out seeds. In a blender, blend the seeds lightly to loosen the juice. Strain the seeds through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Pour the juice into a shallow flat pan and place it at the bottom of a dehydrator. Dehydrate for 1-2 days until the liquid has reduced to a syrupy consistency. Store covered in the refrigerator. NOTE: You can also use bottled pomegranate molasses (though it’s not raw) or a good quality, aged balsamic vinegar.
To assemble, spread the crostini with a generous spoonful of the béarnaise. Place a small spoonful of the choucroute on top, followed by a bit of mushroom. Place 3-5 crostini on each plate and drizzle with the pomegranate reduction (or balsamic vinegar). Garnish with chopped chives or microherbs.
Kathryn Hostettler is a social work graduate student, pet nanny, animal advocate, wannabe raw foodist, and Metallica fanatic. She volunteers for Rogers’ Rescues, a virtual dog rescue group located in NJ and PA.
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