Sarma Melngailis brought haute raw cuisine to Manhattan with her fine dining restaurant Pure Food & Wine and takeaway/online store One Lucky Duck. Sarma herself is the picture of radiant health and vitality and her books Raw Food Real World and Living Raw Food are staples in many healthy homes across the world. She has created a unique niche in the restaurant industry; raw, organic, vegan cuisine has been made chic at Pure Food & Wine.
From raw macaroons and almond buttercup ice cream at the take away to Sunchoke Gratin with Vanilla Poached Pear in the dining room, PFW is a gastronomic delight. The crowd inside the restaurant are a mix of uptown and downtown, as well as guests who cross the globe to experience fine raw dining. If you’re lucky enough to make it to Pure during the warmer months, make sure to dine al fresco on the garden patio – it’s a magical experience. The Chalkboard asked Sarma to share a glimpse of her everyday grind with us and to learn what new projects this raw entrepreneur has on the horizon.
TCM: What is your favorite part of being a restaurant owner?
SM: “Good question. I love that we expose people to the reality that healthy food can be really good. I also love that we create memories. We get a lot of engagements, so it’s cool that we’re part of people’s history. This restaurant and everyone in it are so special to me. We’ve been through a lot together and it feels very magical.”
TCM: You create so many amazing dishes at Pure Food and Wine. Which is your favorite?
SM: “Our menu is always changing, so my favorite dish is always changing. We print our menus in-house, so we change the menu depending on what ingredients are available during the seasons and just to bring in new ideas. One of our current dishes that I’m loving right now is Cauliflower Cous Cous with Cumin Scented Persimmon Dolmas, Pistachio, Almond, Dried Fruits, Mint and Morcoccan Tomato Jus. It’s a long name, I know, but that’s how it’s printed on our menu. I love it because it’s exploding with flavor yet it’s a relatively light dish.”
TCM: Everyone knows the desserts at PFW and One Lucky Duck are incredible; are you partial to one in particular?
SM: “From the One Lucky Duck takeaway menu, definitely the Mallomars are my favorite: A big pillow of our vanilla cream on a salty sweet cookie all covered in chocolate. They’ll always be my favorite. From what we ship online, I love the chocolate macaroons and cinnamon stripe cookies the best. At Pure Food and Wine, our desserts are changing all the time but we always have our two sundaes available, if you ask for them. There’s a Mint Sundae and a Classic Sundae and I love them equally. Off the menu right now my favorite is the Dark Chocolate Semifreddo with Chocolate Cake, Passion Fruit Gelee, Coconut Cream and Passion Fruit Sorbet. I love chocolate with passion fruit.”
TCM: When customers come to Pure Food and Wine for the first time and perhaps are not familiar with raw food, what kind of feedback do you hear?
SM: “They’re surprised they like it so much, that it’s so varied and flavorful and that they’re filled up, yet energized. Also, they can never understand how we make an ice cream sundae taste so good with no dairy. I love it when we’ve been able to show people how good healthy clean food can be, and leave them inspired. It’s the best.”
TCM: What’s your favorite thing to do in the city?
SM: “I love walking to the pier over the Hudson River with my dog or taking him to the Madison Square dog park (when it’s nice out). I also really love going to nice new restaurants. Some people come to New York for Broadway shows or concerts, but I just love nice restaurants. Preferably ones I haven’t been to before. I notice everything, all the details of the space and service – it’s my entertainment. I don’t do it that often because I’m pretty busy but going to a nice restaurant is my ideal night out. I’ll skip the musicals.”
TCM: What are some of your favorite NYC markets?
SM: “Union Square Greenmarket, or any green market.”
TCM: Describe your current diet and fitness routine.
SM: “When I wake up I always have a big glass of water with a whole lemon squeezed into it. That’s about where the ‘routine’ part of it ends! After that, everything else varies, aside from being mostly raw-vegan. I go through phases with food. I’ll eat chia pudding with hemp protein and blueberries for breakfast for two weeks, then I’ll eat salad for breakfast for a week. Or if I’m in a hurry, it will be a green juice and one of our fig bars. Or sometimes even a few of my dog’s biscuits (they’re vegan, but not raw). My schedule tends to be irregular but I do my best to see my trainer at the gym at least twice a week, and doing sprints on the treadmill is my favorite endorphin rush. I have a rebounder at home that is pretty much the most fun way to exercise ever. And I walk my dog a lot. Exercise keeps me sane.”
TCM: In your opinion, what is key to looking and feeling your best?
SM: “Not caring (about how you look) is definitely part of not only looking your best but more importantly, feeling your best. I don’t mean completely not caring, just letting go of any excessive concern. I think lots of women my age (almost 40) and over say that they wished they’d been more relaxed and appreciated themselves more early on. I’m in agreement, and still working on it. Of course, eating only really clean food also does wonders for how you look and feel. And exercise.”
TCM: How often do you cleanse?
SM: “I don’t! A few years ago I went away for a week to a place in Ithaca for a juice cleanse, and I loved it. I’d go again for sure (especially because they said I could bring my dog, now that I have one). I’d like to juice cleanse more often, but I think it’s not ideal during stressful times and therefore, I don’t really have much opportunity. Plus I’m surrounded by food all the time and would find it really hard not to try something new at the restaurant. Who knows, maybe I’ll do another one soon. But I live pretty clean most of the time so I don’t really feel the need to cleanse, at least not from a food standpoint. Maybe I need to cleanse my soul.”
TCM: Do you have a role model?
SM: “Richard Branson.”
TCM: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who have a passion for health?
SM: “Follow your heart. Also, make sure any partners you take on truly understand and are aligned with your passion. If they’re just interested for other potential gains, it likely won’t work out.”
TCM: We know you love animals – do you have any food brands you can recommend for pet owners?
SM: “I understand it’s possible to keep dogs healthy on a vegan diet if you do it right, but apparently cats absolutely can’t be vegan. Cats and dogs like tigers and wolves are predators and have different digestion systems than we do (which is why they won’t get salmonella from raw chicken or eggs the way we could, or e-coli from beef). My dog Leon and my cat Sydney both get Nature’s Variety organic raw chicken pet food. It comes frozen — my freezer is always full of it. I also give Leon baked sweet potatoes, fresh parsley and blueberries, sometimes rice and beans, and when they’re lucky, I get them both fresh smoked trout from the greenmarket. Leon get’s lots of Bocce’s Bakery treats and Sydney adores freeze dried wild salmon treats, and we carry both on my site. I really want to expand the ‘pets’ section of my business.”
TCM: Are you working on any exciting projects or another book?
SM: “I recently signed a lease for a big production space in Brooklyn. We’ll move all the production of our One Lucky Duck packaged cookies and snacks from the back kitchens of Pure Food and Wine to this new space, which will allow us to do so much more all around. It will also enable us to think about opening another One Lucky Duck Juice and Takeaway. We’ll be moving our online operations there too, so we’ll be able to further expand the inventory of what we carry online. Right now we can’t add any more to the site because we have no more space for inventory! Oh, and we’re also totally rebuilding our website. And yes, I really ought to be working on another book but haven’t had time. I hope to get one out before long, since we have more than enough new recipes to fill a new book.”