August 4, 2014

Soul Food

As I get older and my body starts to crack and splutter and groan at me, especially on cold mornings, I figure that it is telling me it is yearning some clean fuel in the system.

This year has been a busy travel year, which means lots of hotel rooms and some strange changes to my standard diet of home cooked meals.
I am in no way a health nut, but as I get older and my body starts to crack and splutter and groan at me, especially on cold mornings, I figure that it is telling me it is yearning some clean fuel in the system.

By pure need I have started looking at healthy alternatives that are still tasty from my café selections. Gone are the days I can drink beer into the late hours of the night and get up and slap down a big breakfast. I have been going out of my way to discover cafés that serve good selections of fresh and whole foods.

My first enlightenment was when I stumbled upon Manna Foods café in Fremantle. My initial reaction was how come this large space of a café had such a long line up out the door on a weekday. I decided to check it out and was surprised at how this business operated so successfully. It was all about service and whole raw foods, not using processed food containing preservatives and other chemicals that were not there naturally. I am always very skeptical when I see the words, organic, vegan, raw and natural. In the past it has meant no flavour and a rumbling belly from too many beans leading to embarrassing gas. I was totally wrong; when my meal came out, it was beautifully crafted with amazing flavours to surprise the gourmet chef in me.

It is interesting how such a primitive approach to food service is making huge in roads into café food. People in third world countries have been surviving on a staple diet of mostly raw and unprocessed food.

What is raw food? This is the web definition: Raw foodism is a diet consisting of uncooked, unprocessed, and often organic foods or wild foods. Depending on the type of lifestyle and results desired, raw food diets may include a selection of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, meat, and non-pasteurised/non-homogenised dairy products.

This all sounds pretty boring, but when I asked a good mate and chef, Kenton Shaw, who owns the Dorrigo Wholefood Store and Café about how he approaches the flavour thing, he said, “Sean, come and taste it.” So I did. Kenton is a great chef, and he showed me first hand how he could bring the best out of fresh unprocessed food. Before he and his wife, Monique, purchased the businesses, he had cooked his way around traditional food service in restaurants, pubs and cafés, cooking the standard fare. Now he is excited each day when he comes to work and sees fresh produce on his doorstep, delivered by local organic farmers. He then combines flavours from the large collection of dry herbs and spices and oils from the shop. Kenton has enjoyed the challenge of being creative again and gets a kick out of seeing the non believers like me enjoy healthy, balanced good food with, I say, amazing flavours.

My research into this subject took me also to the port city of Newcastle, to a café I heard about on the grape vine that was also specialising in great wholefood. I met chef and owner of Soul Foods Café, Meg Garnham, whose passion has been creating great healthy foods from paddock to plate. Meg started her café in the old KFC building at the entrance of the Hunter Street Mall. Most definitely a healthier food offering now!

At Soul Foods, the majority of the ingredients that go into each dish are sourced from Meg and her husband, Mark’s, very own kitchen garden in Largs, near Maitland, NSW. Mark spends hours each week tending to the “Soul Garden”, which helps to supply the majority of the restaurant’s fruit and vegetable needs. What he can’t grow, Meg sources from local certified organic growers and suppliers, guaranteeing that even the breads are organic and eggs are free range. Meg’s focus is ensuring that everything you see on the Soul Foods menu is made on site – even the biscuits, slices and cakes. Soul Foods has become hugely popular with allergy sufferers and coeliacs, as well as people who just love the idea of fresh food. Meg has also combined a great café juice range topped off by well made coffee.

Well, I am converted and feeling much better with my healthy food choices. It may take a little more effort to get into the vibe of this culture, but the positive outcomes far outweigh the time saving of the rushed modern menu with some longevity in life.


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