Some like it hot. Not rawists. Raw-diet proponents believe food is best eaten as nature made it. That's not boiled, not sauteed, not baked or broiled or braised or steamed or grilled. Sadly, it's not even fried. Anything that takes the temperature of food beyond 118 degrees, or just a few degrees warmer than the warmth of your tongue, is verboten for the raw, or living, foodist.
Though science tends to suppose otherwise, raw-ists, typically more extreme vegetarians, believe fire saps food of its vital nutrients, the vitamins and minerals that make it worth eating in the first place.
"Whenever you cook food, you make it a little less nutritious," says Robert Alan Ross, who's been a raw foodist for 15 years and runs the Raw Food Live Web site out of south Florida. "When I eat raw food, it's amazingly satisfying."
The diet has gotten a degree of traction in the celebrity world. Carol Alt, Demi Moore, Alicia Silverstone, Woody Harrelson and David Bowie reportedly have at least tried it.
Some chefs - even Chicago's noted Charlie Trotter - have given raw food a second glance. Daniela Troia, chef at Towson's Zia's Cafe, who's been trying to eat raw for more than a year, has incorporated a few live dishes into the menu.
She's making Zucchini Alfredo, not with pasta and cream sauce, but with zucchini, peas, red peppers and celery root. Then there's her lasagna: not with noodles, cheese and sausage, but with zucchini, tomato, walnut pesto, sun-dried tomato "marinara" and cashew "ricotta."
Embracing the raw-food lifestyle means two things. First, one must forsake pasta, rice, bread and meat - because they have been or need to be cooked - and most of the processed foods that line grocery shelves. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, in lieu of those ingredients, one must be willing to add generous helpings of imagination to almost every dish.
Ross, for instance, says he's not missing out on anything by eating raw. Just the opposite.
The other day he ate "spaghetti and meatballs." Of course, the spaghetti was cucumber sliced into ribbons, the sauce was tomatoes blended with garlic and herbs, and the meatballs? They were "neatballs" - little morsels of, mainly, crushed nuts.
Troia's Live Orange-Chocolate Ganache Torte, one of her rotating live desserts, tastes essentially like any decadent pie except the crust is made of chopped, unroasted nuts and the filling, though it tastes like a rich mousse, contains no eggs or cream.
Though some of the ingredients are things that most people won't have in their pantries - lecithin granules and raw coconut butter, to name two - making the cake is really about technique and the aforementioned imagination.
Like any serious raw foodist, Troia swears by her blender and food processor. They're critical in changing the fundamental texture of certain ingredients to make them seem as if they're something else.
Walnuts - the same nuts that become Ross' neatballs, or the pesto for Troia's lasagna - are crushed with dates and become a dense, cookielike crust.
But she utterly pulverizes cashews to give substance to her "cream" filling and mixes the nuts with lecithin granules, which help hold the filling together almost as an egg would. Troia keeps the ingredients whirling in the food processor not for seconds but for long minutes - until the machine actually heats up. Only that kind of time will give it the smooth, chocolaty texture people would expect.
Fruit and agave nectar provide natural sweetness.
Since she's been following a raw diet, Troia says her energy has soared, she's lost weight and her skin seems clearer.
Though the Spartan diet seems like it would be an anathema for someone who grew up in Baltimore's Italian restaurant-owning, fettuccine-loving Troia family, for her it isn't. As much as she loves her family's food, she says all of the pasta and bread was just weighing her down. "I was exhausted," she says. "I could fall asleep standing up."
But like many raw enthusiasts, Troia hasn't committed to a 100 percent uncooked diet. Even Ross, who says he thinks someone can call himself a rawist if about 75 percent of his diet is raw, guesses his is about 90 percent.