DOWNTOWN — Soups served piping warm, kelp pasta covered in faux-cheese sauce made out of pulverized nuts. Are we in a world gone mad? No, just Santa Monica, at Planet Raw, a restaurant on Broadway that caters exclusively to raw food connoisseurs, who wouldn’t dare digest anything cooked over 118-degrees.
Chef Juliano Brotman, owner of Planet Raw, was raised in a family of traditional Italian restaurant operators, but became a vegan at 19. He opened a restaurant in San Francisco in 1991, and then moved it to Santa Monica in 2000.
“Santa Monica loves us, we love them, it’s really a great little city,” Brotman said. “Everybody’s health conscious, everybody’s green, clean air off the ocean. It was just a natural choice.”
Brotman had many reasons for turning to raw food from his meat-based roots. One reason was environmental.
“85 percent of landfill waste is packaged foods,” Brotman said. “There is no throwaway with raw food.”
Ultimately, Brotman says that raw food is just a healthier, more natural alternative to other diets. “You eat out of a factory, a slaughterhouse and a laboratory. We eat out of a garden.”
According to Emil Kalil, who has a doctorate in geochemistry, one of the primary purposes of the raw food diet is to preserve enzymes in food, which are thought to help people digest food. Cooking the food destroys these enzymes.
Kalil said that at 115 degrees, the enzymes start to degrade. Traditional cooking methods, such as boiling, kill the enzymes completely. For this reason, raw food dieters use dehydrators to prepare food, or just eat food that doesn’t need to be prepared.
Kalil said that some people are already on a raw diet and don’t even realize it, at least partially. “They’ll have a salad, a couple pieces of fruit. It depends on how you were brought up, if you snack on a Snickers bar or a carrot.”
Kalil admits that for some people, going fully raw is not possible. They may not be able to keep their diet diverse enough, or may not get all the nutrients they require.
Obtaining food can also be an issue.
“It’s too difficult,” Kalil said. “If you’re eating out and you’re on the go, you may not be able to get what you want.”
However, Kalil says that for people who want raw food, Santa Monica appears to be a virtual paradise.
“In this part of town, on the Westside, we are blessed to have such a wealth of stores that sell nutritious raw or organic food,” Kalil said.
Many stores and restaurants in and around Santa Monica offer raw food, including Rawvolution, the Co-opportunity, and of course, Planet Raw. Planet Raw’s Juliano Brotman in particular is known as a bit of a “raw-k” star.
“If you get into raw foods at all, you’re going to know about this place,” said Elizabeth Mars, Seattle resident. She was in Santa Monica to visit friends, but made time to eat at Planet Raw.
Mars eats a largely raw diet, something that began in 2008.
“I did it because I had Lyme disease, and I didn’t want to go on antibiotics. I decided to use food and herbs.”
Mars has said that the raw food diet has improved her condition, and she continues to eat mostly raw food. Unlike some other raw food connoisseurs, Mars adds meat to her diet. “I try to eat raw animal protein: sushi, tartars and raw eggs.”
Rita Johnson, Culver city resident, has been a vegan for over 6 years and frequents Planet Raw. Why? “For the nutritional value. I love what goes into the preparation and I also like the culture, I like to be a part of that culture.”
However, not everyone who eats at Planet Raw is on the raw food diet, or even a strict vegetarian. “I like to eat food that I feel is healthy and organic,” said Julie Mintz, Beachwood Canyon resident. “There’s a lot of good opportunities for that in L.A., even if you’re not vegan or on a raw food diet.”
And of course, for many people, items like the cheesy kelp pasta and the chocolate milkshake are as popular for their health benefits as they are for their flavor.
“You feel like it’s healthy and it tastes good,” Mintz said.