Mathieu Gallant and David Cote started Crudessence half a dozen years ago. The business, which employs about 70 people, focuses on "living" food and boasts two restaurants and three juice bars — as well as raw food preparation classes.
After travelling in California and learning about raw food about eight years ago, the pair realized the movement hadn't yet found a foothold in Montreal. Concerned about the impact the conventional food industry was having on the environment — with fertilizers, overuse of water on huge fields and the use of petroleum-based ingredients — they decided to take their mission one step further to "living" food.
While raw food is generally defined as an uncooked vegan diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts and other dense nutritional food, their living diet is a philosophy and lifestyle that also embraces eating organic and local food, thereby promoting the local economy, and respecting the environment.
"At the beginning we were doing food to share the perspective of life, perspective of energy and happiness and environment and some sensibility of the environment," Gallant, 35, said from Montreal.
"As it grew we figured out that our deepest mission in Crudessence was to help people to shift their perspective about what they eat so that they can do better choices for themselves and for the planet. It's not just about feeding the body. It's about feeding the mind."
Two years ago Gallant and Cote, 31, published the cookbook "Crudessence," which has sold 25,000 copes. An English translation, called "RawEssence: 180 Delicious Recipes for Raw Living" (Robert Rose), has recently been issued. The original book has also been translated into Italian and Portuguese.
"The most important thing about getting the point on living food is eating lots of energy and enzymes and amino acids and vitamins and minerals that we find in the green-leafed vegetables," Gallant explained.
Those with an intolerance to gluten, milk or sugar benefit from raw food while followers tout weight loss and increased nutrition, since nutrients aren't cooked out of food.
Gallant said he hasn't eaten meat for more than 10 years.
"In the mainstream perspective, we need protein from the meat and beans, but we get it from the greens, so this is a kind of paradigm shift about protein. We have to think a bit to eat like a big monkey," he explained.
"If we put ourselves on the understanding that our body is pretty much like a monkey and if we look at a monkey in the wild and what he is eating, we should try to imitate the big monkey's dinner so we're going to eat a lot of green leaves and we're going to eat some fruits and just a bit of nuts and some roots and sprouts and that's all that we need."
Foods are often soaked to make them more digestible. The hummus in their cookbook, for example, is made with sprouted almonds.
Recipes run the gamut from smoothies, soups and salads to noodles made with vegetables and lentil loaf along with delicious desserts.
In a primer, Cote and Gallant describe and show the seeds, grains and nuts they recommend, sweeteners such as coconut, figs and dried fruit, agave and stevia, and such super foods as goji berries, bee pollen and spirulina, a micro algae high in protein and chlorophyll.
They also explain techniques used in preparing raw food, like sprouting, dehydrating and fermenting. Recommended equipment includes a blender, food processor, dehydrator, juice extractor and spiral cut machine.
"It's like learning a different language. When you know the basics you can have fun," said Gallant.