Monday, October 12, 2009
le cru: Creating a Better Way
This article appears in Issue 3 Winter 2009 of Living Raw Magazine, on sale now at select stockists and online.
In opening le cru, Melbourne's first raw restaurant, Carolyn Trewin's inspiration didn't come from the exploding raw scene in Australia.
When I pointed out that the interest in raw foods in our corner of the world has grown astronomically over the past few years, she did agree that perhaps the timing of her restaurant’s birth was auspicious. But she’s not the type of person to be motivated by trends. Rather, she follows her subconscious instincts on her quest to create a healthier society.
At the heart of the le cru project is Carolyn’s belief that vibrant health is achievable, but not through the channels that mainstream western medicine have provided us. She is a questioner; she wants to know why doctors receive one semester of nutrition at best while every supermarket in Australia contains multiple aisles of refined, heated products and carbonated water that induce ill health. “There’s got to be a better way,” she states emphatically.
I know she’s right, because I’m sitting in the middle of it. The restaurant, the physical manifestation of Carolyn's vision, occupies a beautiful space. It is lovingly furnished with warm wooden chairs and tables, tapestries and metal objects that create an opulent eastern vibe. Everything seems to have been carefully selected to create an aura of calm, a peaceful oasis from the dizzying Melbourne dining scene. Yet there’s a buzz in the air that reminds me that I’m in a restaurant, and I’m excited. I peruse a menu full of dishes that not only sound appealing, but are created out of nourishing, plant-based, living ingredients. I want to try everything.
But it’s only 10:30 a.m., so I forgo the rest of the menu (for now) for chef Nush’s offering of tiramisu and a cup of lukewarm brazil nut milk coffee and retreat with Carolyn to her upstairs office. As I settle myself into a deep armchair, pondering how to simultaneously take notes and enjoy my generous gourmet breakfast, Carolyn transitions from the flurry of morning preparations – getting change, taking bookings, cleaning, consulting with the kitchen – into a more pensive mode. She’s flipping through the first issue of Living Raw curiously.
“Training tips for raw vegans,” she muses aloud. “Why doesn’t it say anything about humility?” Carolyn’s question about vegan morality disarms me, as a vegan inclination is often taken for granted among raw enthusiasts. Turns out, she’s become more than a little wary of the term. In fact she wonders why some vegans flaunt their veganism like it’s a medal of honour.
“I dislike the word ‘vegan’,” Carolyn laments, describing a run in with a couple of haughty customers who short changed their account, another who complained that her budget had been blown, and yet another who trashed the restaurant with incorrect facts on an online message board. It’s a common problem for a young restaurant – attracting a clientele that understands what the establishment is about and embraces it joyfully. The difficulty for le cru is even more pronounced because there is a certain eagerness among the vegan and raw populations to adopt the place as their own, yet expectations for what a raw vegan restaurant ought to be vary widely.
Melbourne has a trend towards vegetarian restaurants that offer large portions at cheap prices but le cru is more on the casual fine dining end of the scale. Dishes are moderately portioned, and prices reflect organic ingredients and the labour intensive preparations that gourmet raw food entails. Furthermore, not all dishes are vegan as the restaurant uses honey in many recipes, which has caused a stir among some potential customers. But le cru stands by their decision to include honey, citing its health benefits and noting that all of the restaurants at which Carolyn and Nush trained in America (including Pure Food and Wine, Quintessence, and Café Gratitude) also use honey. They strive to keep their prices accessible despite demanding the very best organic and local ingredients.
Le cru certainly strives to be all embracing, and sees itself as a space to include everybody. They’re not about labelling people or lifestlyle; rather, the intention is to create a space for healing that brings wellness to the community. For these reasons, they deliberately reject the “vegan” moniker and opt for the all-inclusive “plant-based” title instead. It’s a viewpoint that focuses on the bounty of nourishing ingredients available rather than defining itself by what it excludes – a rather uplifting and liberating way of thinking about a high-raw lifestyle.
Carolyn is sure that embracing such a positive mode of thinking is the basis of health, happiness and success. She draws upon lessons learned from a background in psychology in asserting that the brain is our most powerful tool, and keeping this tool in working order requires clean fuel: “A clean body leads to a clean brain, which provides clear answers.”
This is the basic idea around which Carolyn bases her detox and nutrition programs, and what led her to explore a raw foods path in the first place. It’s a story that began with her initial diagnosis of breast cancer in 1994 and has been a complete journey since.
A recurring tumor in 1998 followed by extremely painful metastatic cancer in her ribs led her to “have a chat with her higher being.” At that point she had two young adopted daughters who had already lost their first mother, and Carolyn couldn’t see any reason that they ought to lose a second. “I had a job to do,” she explains earnestly, “and I hadn’t completed it.” From this experience she learned that she had to take not only her health, but her life, her very existence, into her own hands.
Since then she’s adamantly insisted against the contemporary inclination to hand over one’s entire being to a doctor. She doesn’t understand why the modern medical profession effectively hands out death sentences, and encourages people to instead decide for themselves whether or not they feel as though they will live or die.
In working with others on healing and detoxification, Carolyn strives to provide another mental picture – the option of choosing life. She has helped several people clear themselves of cancer, and another to lose 30 kilograms and rid himself of diabetes. Her technique? Detoxification through alkaline water, foods and green smoothies, for a start.
She teaches her clients to remove the acidity from their bodies, thereby changing their physical terrain to make it unsupportive of disease. She derides the fact that western doctors are provided with one semester of nutrition at most, yet at the same time echoes the disclaimer that spouts from the lips of so many raw food educators that she’s not a doctor. She doesn’t want her clients placing their lives in her hands any more than they’d sign themselves over to a doctor. Rather, she insists that each person’s health is up to him or herself, and what she strives to offer is education and support for each journey.
For local Melbournians seeking such support, le cru’s Tuesday night programs offer a great starting point. In May they offered a series of detoxification and nutrition classes, and in June followed up with a number of workshops focusing on raw food preparation. They have also hosted evenings featuring Scott Fry’s Loving Earth chocolate, Jemma Gawned’s Naked mineral makeup, organic food and wine matching, authors and other local enterprises that they see as being in line with their principles. Setting aside Tuesday evenings to focus on education and community support is telling about the intentions of the le cru team.
One of these intentions is, of course, to share a passion for food. That passion is embodied in the bundle of energy, creativity, generosity and hard work that is chef Nush. In my interactions with her, I’ve gotten the impression that she is so obviously meant to be a chef. She has a way of owning the kitchen, which I’ve rarely seen her leave unless it’s to check on her customers to make sure they’re enjoying their meal, or to offer a little nourishing treat to hungry visitors.
Carolyn has clearly passed on a nurturing instinct to her daughter, through it’s fascinating to see how differently they express it. With Nush, that innate quality that makes a chef a chef shines through constantly. An appreciation for good food can be traced to her childhood, when she and Carolyn would cook together. But as Carolyn says, this was simply family bonding – she had no idea that she was grooming a young chef. Yet clearly something about food – and even more, about her mother’s experiences with raw food – sparked her attention. She trained in the culinary arts and worked as a pastry chef before embarking on raw food preparation skills. She went to New York to study with Dr. David Jubb, then travelled around the US with Carolyn observing the way that different raw restaurants operate.
The resulting restaurant is a true collaboration between mother and daughter. While Carolyn manages the front of house, accounts and events, Nush’s domain is the kitchen. Carolyn tells me that Nush spends at least twelve hours a day in the kitchen; my impression that she rarely leaves turns out be grounded in reality. Carolyn and Nush work on menu development together, creating daily specials and updating menus to reflect seasonality and ongoing inspiration. They’ve recently added warming soups, dehydrator-heated items, and heartier dishes such as an apple crumble and an essene bread to reflect the desires of customers through the winter months. They constantly seek out opportunities to further their knowledge and spark their creativity, such as working with chef Felix Schoener during his recent visit to Australia.
Ultimately the message that le cru sends out is that there is an alternative to sickness, and that is vibrant well-being. There is an alternative to food-as-commodity, and that is food as physical and spiritual nourishment. There is an alternative to business as either large commercial enterprise or struggling independent endeavours and that is a community created through a supportive network of like-minded people.
By embracing ideals of gratitude and generosity and placing them at the heart of le cru’s operations, Carolyn, Nush and the rest of the team embody the “better sharing and caring way” that they envision.
le cru restaurant
137 Victoria Avenue, Albert Park, VIC 3206