True Confession: Until I met O2living’s Chef Tom Donnelly, I thought I couldn’t be satisfied by raw vegan food. While many people practice veganism for spiritual or ethical reasons, I’m interested in it as a way to lose weight and make my body healthier. As a devout Foodie, the notion of eating grass and drinking carrot juice has always struck me as a grim prospect, but there’s no denying it’s time for me to exercise and eat a more prudent diet.
Then I met Chef Tom, the wizard who can miraculously turn what I’d always thought of as appetizers and side dishes into delicious tasting meals. What I also love about this good natured chef, formerly of one of my favorite restaurants, “One If By Land, Two If By Sea,” is that he’s not a fanatic, and he doesn’t preach. So what is he doing at O2living, the celebrated live food café in Cross River, NY?
“I thought all this was for tree huggers and crazy people,” he laughed. “I was trained at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America); I had a job as the executive sous chef at the Intercontinental in New York. I worked the insane hours, and led the life. When I came down with Lyme disease, the doctor found that I also had high blood pressure and high cholesterol; I was overweight, too. It was suggested that I increase my dietary fiber to lower my cholesterol.”
“I went to California to learn how to make raw food tasty. Everything here is vegan, and we also offer food for gluten restricted diets. There are yoga classes here. The owner, Rosemary Devlin recruited me, and I’m so glad she did. It’s a great place to work, and I know I’m helping people to make healthier choices every day.”
I was relieved to learn that Tom is not a strict vegan himself, and doesn’t feel the need to insist that clients are 100% dedicated. “I have more energy without drinking coffee, but we do serve it here, and I have dairy available for those who want it. We work with local farmers as much as possible. Also, we’re macrobiotic, which means that our food is slow cooked and finished with something raw live.”
“People are trying different things for themselves. Raw live is a lot of work, and many people don’t have the time. I don’t find it satisfying to eat only what we provide here. The point is, we make it available; it’s here when people want it. We’ve had customers who’ve gone on a raw diet for sixty or ninety days to eliminate insulin problems. In that amount of time, you can reset your liver. My doctor is now a believer, and comes here for food!”
For me, the biggest criterion is still that it has to taste good. Chef Tom whipped up a Vanilla Almond Coconut smoothie ($4.95 for 12 oz., $7.95 for 16 oz.) so good it rivals anything you’d get at Baskin Robbins.
Chef Tom lived in Japan, and a lot of his dishes have an Asian flair. I thoroughly enjoyed the hand rolled Vegetarian Sushi (photo above); the tangy Ponzu dipping sauce was a combination of Teriyaki and citrus flavors.
While I was in the café, several chic women came in for takeout. The salads are a popular choice ($5.95 each), and I tried four: the most exceptional was the Red Quinoa with Lemon, Flax Oil and Almonds; Broccolini, Chick Peas, and Tomatoes was delightful; Slow Simmered Tuscan White Beans with Tomato was hardy fare; and Shaved Fennel and Snap Peas (photo above) was crunchy and flavorful.
The Cold Cantaloupe Soup with Watermelon was refreshing (photo above); and the Mixed Berries made a perfect dessert (below). There are plenty of selections on the menu, and Chef Tom also creates special dishes on the spot.
There’s a cleanse program which I vow to try someday. It features the much sought after O2living special juices ($7.95 for 16 oz.) They are thirst quenching, nourishing, and pretty.
The flavors are lively: Almond Delight, Red Beet Elixir, Lemon Ginger-Aid With Apple, and O2 Signature Green Drink. Donnelly advises that they be refrigerated, as they’re not pasteurized or homogenized.
Any simple tips for those of us who want to dip our toe in the raw food vegan pond? “Try to eat food at room temperature. And always start the day with a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon. It will help keep the calcium in your bones.”
There are several good paperback books on the market if you’d like to read up:
“Ani’s Raw Food Asia” by Ani Phyo
“Wildly Affordable Organic” by Linda Watson
“Vegan For Life” by Jack Morris, RD and Virginia Messian, MPH, RD
“Sinfully Vegan” by Lois Dieterly
“Gluten-Free on a Shoestring” by Nicole Hunn
To order any of the above books on Amazon, just click on the title.
O2living, 792 Route 35, Cross River, NY 10518; 914-763-6320, www.O2living.me
Photo credit: Kat McKee
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist, a confirmed Foodie, and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of National Book Critics Circle. www.michalljeffers.com