While it can’t exactly be said that raw food is a new food craze – it does have a long history, but within New Zealand has been mostly synonymous with “weird hippy living” – it most certainly has become much more mainstream, with even your fiercest anti-health food individuals now being forced to admit that raw food can be absolutely, fabulously delicious.
For proof of that you need look no further than Megan May’s two ultra-successful “Little Bird” cafés, located in trendy suburbs of Auckland. Grown from May’s desire to find food in New Zealand that was fresh, healthy and did not aggravate her allergies to gluten, dairy and sugar, “Little Bird” started with her recipes for a breakfast cereal “Grawnola”, which was soon followed by the “Little Bird” macaroons. To her surprise, May found that people responded to her gluten, dairy and sugar free concoctions, and with the acquisition of a small factory in Kingsland the production grew until May realised her dream of opening a raw food café. A year later a much bigger space was turned into the now enormously popular “Little Bird Café” in Ponsonby, and with this, Auckland’s raw food revolution had begun.
In The Unbakery – Raw Organic Goodness, May shares the recipes that Little Bird has become renowned for – the magic of the delicious (yet sugarless!) cakes, slices, and other treats, as well as enough dinners, breakfasts and lunches to make you convinced you need never eat cooked food again. As a vegetarian who (while not exactly allergic) does not react well to diary and gluten, I was immensely excited by the arrival of The Unbakery cookbook, imagining myself whipping up healthy cheesecakes, chocolate brownies and more, and serving them to my astonished guests with a smug and knowing smile, while they murmured disbelieving statements like “are you sure this has not got cream in it?”, and “what? No sugar” between happy mouthfuls.
The reality, alas, was somewhat different. Being bewildered by some of the ingredients was nothing compared to the realisation that I would need to upgrade and invest in some serious kitchen appliances in order to make the raw-food magic happen. A decent blender is obviously a must, while a juicer and a mandolin (as it turns out not a musical instrument but a slicing device) are also desirable. But the thing that really stumped me was the necessity of a food dehydrator, which is used to “tenderise” or process the raw ingredients in lieu of a cooker of some sort. Although the book says that it is not necessary to buy a dehydrator straight away, most of the recipes do require the food to be dehydrated, which meant that if I was committed to the cause of raw food un-cooking I would need to be buying a dehydrator on the double.
This means that commitment is indeed a firm pre-requisite for the re-creation of the Little Bird delicacies. The recipes I did try out were, at best, constructed with some very healthy ingredients, and at worst fairly un-appetising. While Megan May makes it clear that she would be the last one to be pushy about becoming a complete raw-food devotee (i.e. espousing any kind of cooked food from here on), instead advocating that it should fit into a generally healthy life-style as much as is practical, the truth is that this is either a cookbook for the very dedicated (i.e. the mandolin buyers), or for those like me, who will make a “special occasion” big effort to assemble the many raw and fresh ingredients as best as I can, hold my breath and hope it does some kind justice to what the author of The Unbakery had in mind. In the meantime – and in the name of research, of course – I will continue to go to Little Bird Bakery for inspiration on how it should be done.