Cooking Is So Totally Over! New Yorkers Like It Raw

The neo-hippie movement, jump-started back in the 80′s by the announcement of the Harmonic Convergence–the beginning of the end of the world as we know it (I’m so sure!)–shows no signs of going away. In fact, it’s positively mushrooming, and every year new AbFabery is added to the mix. Last year, it was the infernal Bikram sweaty-yoga craze; this year, New Yorkers are still cooking their bodies–but they’ve stopped cooking their food altogether.

Yes, the raw food trend is, even as I write, sweeping the modishly spiritual bowels of Manhattan.

Designer John Bartlett is a proponent. (How come the most “spiritual” people in New York are always those with the most superficial occupations? Isn’t it always the makeup artists, stylists and fashion designers who are training to become shamans or ohm- ing and naval-gazing at ashrams?) I recently spoke to the genial Mr. Bartlett by phone at the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center and Health Practice in Patagonia, Ariz., where he’d gone to do battle with his toxic mucus buildup. “It accumulates in our intestines and colon, and then diseases get trapped,” explained Mr. Bartlett from the Center’s communal phone. “So I came here to eat raw and cleanse myself completely.” (Memo to me: In the event of intestinal problems, be sure to consult a doctor rather than a fashion designer.)

Mr. Bartlett started on the raw-food diet last January, after reading Dr. Richard Anderson’s account of his berry-munching wilderness experience, Cleanse and Purify Thyself . The raw food rage has two rules: eat a vegan (nothing from an animal) diet, and never cook. Cooking is evil because it destroys the food’s enzymes. Doesn’t this talented Midwesterner miss those hearty tuna melts? “No! The food here is so delicious,” said Mr. Bartlett. “Last night, we had cucumber lasagna–nothing was cooked. For breakfast, nut porridge with chopped apples.”

Mr. Bartlett denies any candy-bar lapses. He has, however–in a total Eddie and Patsy gesture–dived behind a rock for a few quick puffs on an American Spirit, the preferred cigarette of the woo-woo set.

American Spiritualists are often to be seen lighting up–and hacking up mucus–outside Quintessence. With two restaurants–one downtown (263 East 10th Street) and one uptown (566 Amsterdam Avenue)–and a catering service in Manhattan, the Quintessence mini-empire is the epicenter of the Manhattan raw lifestyle. I headed to the 10th Street branch and interviewed one of the regulars to find out what–other than a fear of disease-laden mucus–was behind this bizarre trend.

“It’s such a big movement– literally !” chuckled Calvin Klein and Ungaro fashion consultant Robert Forrest, while masticating a Quintessence sun bur-ger. “It’s made from sunflowers and flax seeds and other stuff,” raved the healthy-looking 50-ish fashion executive. “I never travel without them.”

All the talk about mucus having given me quite an appetite, I pondered the menu, which consists mostly of ingenious quote-swaddled facsimiles of regular cooked meals (e.g., “pasta” and “shrimp wonton”). I ordered the “burrito” and found it light and quite bearable, if a little heavy on the avocado. For dessert, Mr. Forrest and I tucked into a mudslide, a strange triple-decker fantasia consisting of pecan, carob, dates, mesquite powder, coconut and–natch–avocado.

I fired probing questions at the now-replete Mr. Forrest about the specific benefits of the diet. He mumbled something about “cleansing,” ordered a couple of sun burgers to go for his upcoming trip to the Calvin store in Dubai and left.

What’s it all about, alfalfa? I was still none the wiser.

I scrutinized the menu for clues and found the following screed: “We believe that by eating uncooked food long enough, we will regain the fifth element and the mystical powers of our ancestors.” Eh? I resolved to cut through the mucus once and for all and get the real story. I called the Quintessence H.Q.

I tracked down one of the three owners, a Chinese lady who goes by the Lord of the Rings -ish name of Tolentin Chan, and found her less than keen to talk about that “fifth element” or her ancestral mystical powers. She was, however, a lot clearer about the overall benefits of raw food than some of her Seventh Avenue clients. “I ate a standard American diet, and my health was terrible,” said Tolentin, who in her pre-raw days suffered from asthma, thyroid problems and continuous colds. “Starch and dairy had coated my lungs with mucus.” (As a non-dairy queen who rarely catches colds, I support Tolentin’s anti-dairy edict.)

Now, thanks to raw food, Tolentin enjoys an asthma-free life. Her health issues now are stress-related: running two restaurants without the profit margins from liquor sales is working her nerves. Why no booze? “Alcohol creates yeast, so we can’t sell it. We are not making a lot of money, but it’s O.K. My motive is to share my knowledge about enzymes.”

Enzymes? “A high-enzyme diet will rejuvenate the body, energize you and make you feel like a newborn.” Tolentin said that aging is synonymous with a reduction in metabolic and digestive enzymes, and that raw food replaces these enzymes.

Suddenly I realized why the fashion flock, whose Da Silvano-ish diets are already relatively healthy, are embracing the raw lifestyle. Mucus, schmucus ! The raw craze is nothing more than a smoke screen for the distinctly non-spiritual quest for eternal youth.

Now I remembered something John Bartlett said before hanging up that communal phone: “The guy who runs this place is 60 and looks 35!” No wonder Alicia Silverstone and the Playboy Barbi Twins have gone raw!

What the hell: As an anti-aging regimen, it sure beats tucks and lipo–and Arizona is a lot closer than Brazil. Save your money! Cancel that face lift! For a mere $139 per night, take a few years off at the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center and Health Practice (520-394-2520).

P.S.: Warning! There are no bananas, peanuts, carrots or beets in the raw lifestyle. “It’s like eating white sugar,” explained Tolentin, “because even the organic ones have been hybridized.”

Inbred bananas! How louche !