You woke up late this morning, with just enough time to grab a Pop-Tart on the way out the door. By noon you're starving, ready to hit up the barbecue buffet. Back at the office, you lose focus and get distracted on the internet, stuffed with pork and pudding and unable to concentrate. "Food coma" — sound familiar?
Most of the meals we eat in the U.S. require lots of energy to digest. Food is our energy source, but we're lucky to break even between what we take in and what we use. When eating makes us tired, our bodies are on the losing side of that ratio.
Caroline and Mickey Brennan believe that food ought to be an energy boost (some can even give us a buzz!), but that modern methods of food preparation destroy the healthy digestive enzymes we need to properly digest. They've recently opened The Sprout — South Carolina's first raw foods restaurant — at 627 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. in Mt. Pleasant, with hopes that the good word about how great food can make you feel will spread.
Those unfamiliar with raw foods may immediately imagine sushi, steak tartare, and even foie gras. Although some fish can be incorporated into a healthy raw foods diet, The Sprout is a wholly vegetarian and organic establishment.
After running a family restaurant in Ohio for 11 years, the Brennans moved to San Francisco for Mickey to attend culinary school, where he worked at the raw food Café Gratitude. "I fell in love with the food," says Mickey. "I love the chemistry of live enzymes, and making desserts without baking them."
The couple traveled the country for four months, searching for a location where a raw food restaurant would thrive, finally settling on Charleston. A tour of their kitchen shows just how radically different their restaurant is from others. There's no grill, no heat lights, and (gasp) no fryer. Instead, they've got a huge dehydrator named "Excalibur" ("the largest dehydrator east of the Mississippi," jokes Mickey), filled to the brim with almonds, pizza "dough," and fruits and vegetables.
Raw enthusiasts maintain that heat over 116 degrees Fahrenheit kills the enzymes in food that help us digest. "We spend 70 percent of our energy every day digesting food," says Caroline. "It's because our body has to make the enzymes to break the food down." The theory goes that by leaving the natural digesters in our food, we have more energy to spare.
At the base of a raw food diet are fruits and vegetables, but nuts and seeds play an integral role as well. To activate the "dormant" enzymes in a raw almond or walnut, they are soaked overnight, releasing "inhibitors" and bringing them back to life. A raw food diet could just as easily be called a "living" food diet.
For a restaurant with no meat and no heat, The Sprout's breakfast through dinner menu is packed with delicious treats. In the morning they offer crepes of pear, walnut, and pine nuts pureed together into a pancake batter-like consistency and then dehydrated, stuffed with apples, agave nector, raisins, and maple syrup. At lunch, squash and zucchini are run through a noodle maker, creating raw "pasta" that's served with "meatballs" of seasoned walnut, portabello, and ginger doused in a heavily herbed sauce. Irresistible treats like lemon brûlèe, nut brittle, and almond hummus line the shelves next to the lasagna or pizza of the day, on a bed of greens topped with parmesan "cheese" made from macadamia nuts, lemon, and garlic.
Because of the soaking and dehydrating process, preparing raw foods is an extensive process. Home dehydrators and juicers are available, but even for those convinced of the benefits of raw foods, getting started requires more time in the kitchen than is feasible for most. At The Sprout, a veggie burger patty takes 12 hours to prepare, almond milk closer to 24. "Just about everything we serve has been loved on for two days," says Caroline.
The devotion The Sprout puts into its food carries over into their service and attitude about their role in the community. They built the restaurant using recycled materials, natural paints and stains, and bamboo countertops. Even the corn oil containers, sugar cane hot cups, and potato starch flatware emanate sustainability. "Anything we can do to be better to the world, that's our intention," says Mickey. "We had a yoga instructor in here the other day who ate the tip of one of our forks. He said it was pretty good."
For people with major food allergies, The Sprout may be a godsend. Wheat-gluten and lactose-intolerant people can eat anything on the menu. Because most items are low-glycemic, with natural sugars, even diabetics can find respite at The Sprout.
Those without special needs can still benefit from eating "living" meals. Detox plans often utilize raw food because of their cleansing effect on our bodies. "When you're eating food with 100 percent of its enzymes, you end up with extra energy, you need less sleep, your skin heals, and your eyes get whiter," says Caroline. "You just feel really good."