L.A. is getting a taste of the raw foods craze where celebrities and regular food buffs alike pledge their palates to the uncooked meal--crunchy concoctions untouched by boiling, broiling or frying

Don't be thrown by Lesa Carlson's unofficial designation as L.A.'s "Raw Witch." She's just peddling uncooked fruits, vegetable and sprouted legumes the stuff that devotees will munch down by the plateful (usually under some new age guise), and skeptics will simply label as rabbit food.

Carlson is also looking for converts not just hippies, crash dieters and Zen seekers, but, well, you and me.

Raw food is going mainstream. At least in Los Angeles.

"You have to taste some of this stuff," says Los Angeles jewelry designer Anita Reichenberg, who spoke of her favorite breakfast dish: green coconuts from Thailand. "Chop off the top, put a straw in, drink the milk and eat the meat."

Carlson extols the nutritional benefits of going raw: "Raw foods offer stamina, strength, longevity the fountain of youth," she says. But her brand of raw food eating, she insists, is all about sensory indulgence, not sacrifice and mystical vibrations. Like a growing number of chefs embracing raw foods, Carlson uses words like "decadent," "rich," "creamy" and "beautiful" to describe her creations.

"It isn't just sprouts," she says. After all, the dessert that she fed Woody Harrelson, Alicia Silverstone, Herb Alpert and other glitterati at a summer dinner in Hollywood was a carob mint strawberry cake that stood eight inches tall. The "cake" of raw almonds and walnuts was layered with a macadamia nut frosting and doused with carob fudge.

Nothing rabbit-like about that. She also made a marinara sauce from sun-dried tomatoes, fresh garlic and onions, which were blended to a thick sauce.

"It's all about how you manipulate the food," says Carlson, whose primary tools are a food processor, a dehydrator, a juicer and a high-powered blender.

Carlson, who also is a jazz singer and actress, was raised a vegetarian and started experimenting with the raw foods culinary techniques about 10 years ago. As a private chef, she has been preparing raw foods dinners for private parties at various homes for a year and a half.

"It's pretty much full time. It takes me about a week to prepare a meal," she says.

Energized enzymes

The basic argument cited by raw foodists is that heating foods above 118 degrees kills enzymes that aid in digestion. The body must work to replace those enzymes to digest cooked foods, the thinking goes, and that process takes energy away from natural healing and cleansing processes.


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