Live Food : A Cooking Class

Live Food : A Cooking Class

Last Saturday, I took a cooking class on live food at Pousse-Pousse, the little store where I buy my sprouting gear and collect my Campanier baskets.

It was taught by Pol Grégoire, a chef from Belgium. He started out his career in conventional cooking, but then he got interested in what he calls “alimentation vive” and low-temp cooking, and decided to start eating and cooking that way. He opened a restaurant in Brussels along those precepts, he has written a book that is just ready to get published, and he organizes conferences and cooking classes.

The class was held in the kitchen at the back of the Pousse-Pousse boutique : the students were sitting around a long and narrow table, at the end of which Pol stood, preparing the food, talking about the ingredients and the nutrition concepts, and answering the myriad of our questions. Among the twelve students, there were three guys, which I consider a pretty good ratio for a cooking class, and a nutrition-oriented one at that. Since Pol’s classes are organized in cycles of five, some people knew each other and the chef already, and the general atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, with a little teasing thrown in the mix.

I won’t go into the details because I don’t know nearly enough, but here’s the rundown of the theory on live food. Micro-nutrients are vitamins, enzyms, oligo-elements and minerals – as opposed to macro-nutrients (the usual trio of carb, protein and fat). Live food refers to those food items which still retain all of their micro-nutrients : especially sprouted seeds, sprouts, fresh pollen, royal jelly, edible flowers, seaweed, and aromatic herbs. The idea is that anything cooked at too high a temperature looses its virtues and even starts in some cases to get toxic. So raw food is the way to go, and low-temp baking or steaming are the preferred hypotoxic methods to transform anything that’s not edible raw. All this I gathered from previous readings and from what Pol explained. He also personally advocates avoiding dairy products, cereals that contain gluten, and any kind of animal fat (apart from that which comes from fish).

During the course of that four-hour class, Pol prepared three dishes, which were then served to and gobbled down by us lucky students. The first course was a Tartare d’Espadon à la Mayonnaise Verte : raw swordfish, chopped and mixed to an avocado eggless mayonnaise, topped with sundried tomatoes and served with watercress, leek sprouts, fennel sprouts and pea sprouts. The tartare was absolutely delicious, sort of a swordfish guacamole. In my very humble opinion it would have been even nicer with a little bread or something to mop in, but hey, who am I to say.

Then came a Mille-Feuille de Pommes de Terre et Jeunes Orties, Crème d’Oignon Rouge au Thym Frais, in which a thick layer of nettle (from Pol’s garden – he had to handle them with gloves) and endive was stacked between two layers made of ultra-thin slices of potatoes. The whole thing was cooked into a sort of cake in the steamer. After about 50 minutes, the cake was shared among us, sprinkled with seaweed flakes and soy sprouts, and surrounded by a smooth red onion sauce with fresh thyme. This was excellent too : I had never had nettle before and it has a really subtle flavor, the slight bitterness of which was compensated by the sweetly fragrant sauce.

And, finally, dessert! Pol made a luscious eggless and creamless version of Lemon Posset, a lemon custard, which gained its smooth richness from cashews, soaked and ground. The gelatinizing agent was a Japanese seaweed called agar-agar, commonly found in organic stores. The custard was poured in molds on top of a layer of chopped lemon peel and dry cashews, so that it bore a crunchy and zesty topping when unmolded.

I found it fascinating to see how a pretty strict diet can still lead to delicious food, if you’re creative and talented enough. I don’t really plan on following the rules of live food, but I learned many things, and some of the ideas and ingredients can certainly be integrated into the way I cook and eat. I am also very likely to repeat each of the three recipes he made.

I have to say though, when I asked about chocolate and discovered that chocolate beans are roasted at such a high temperature that a toxic substance called theobromide develops, making a staple of my diet a big no no – well, I was pretty much lost to the cause from that moment on. I mean, really.

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  • vanessa_parody

    visit shazzie at – she went raw in 2000, and reading her journals of that whole period is just facinating.
    It’s far too restrictive for me to do it all the time, but I try to follow some of the principles during the summer months, when fresh veg and fruit are much more plentiful locally, and it does make me feel fantastic…

  • glovefox

    Agar agar is actually Southeast Asian as well. The word itself is a Malay word.

  • How interesting. And also, after seeing the restrictive cooking and eating practices to which some people adhere, it makes you feel terribly reckless (and relieved) to do something as simple as have a sip of milk…maybe even with a square of chocolate.

  • kitten

    Yes, it the lack of good substitute for bread and chocolate (my staff of life :) that make it impossible to me to consider this way of eating on any committed level. Did you happen to have a chance to get to Roxanne’s up in Marin before you went back to France Clotilde? It is an entirely raw, organic and vegan restaurant (no swordfish there!), very gourmet-their site is, if I go soon, which I’m planning too, I’ll let you know how it goes!

  • Vanessa – Thanks for the link, I’ll have to explore the site, it looks really interesting!

    Glovefox – Oh, I didn’t know that! After a little research, it seems that there are in fact three different varieties : Japanese, Ceylon and Macassar…

    Jackie – I quite agree! I’m not a milk sipper myself, but the square of chocolate speaks to me! :)

    Kitten – No, I had never heard of it! The website and the sample menus are promising, and inspiring too! And yes, please, I would love for you to report back if you go!

  • Patrick

    Agar agar is indeed a Malay word, and it simply means “jelly”, according to the Brunei Malay Dictionary.

  • boreal

    Theobromide is most toxic to dogs, cats, birds, which is why veterinarians tell you no chocolate for those pets! (They also don’t have enzymes for lactose so technically shouldn’t be getting dairy products either.) Some people do feel its toxic to humans but just not on a noticable/obvious level. But its absolutely toxic to our pets, absolutely, so no chocolate for them! (More for us! :) )

    I like to counter with recent studies showing the high flavanoids in dark chocolates and how that is suppose to be good for us in moderation. :)

    There used to be a great raw food restauarant here, their nut milk shakes (with nut milk and soy and natural flavors, no dairy,) were out of this world incredible. They unfortunately went out of business. Their whole menu was delicious and super creative. Anyone who uses nettles is thumbs up in my book, those are suppose to be incredibly nutritious too, lots of minerals they supposedly pull up with their deep roots.

    What a wonderful entry, thanks for sharing.

  • Renee

    the 3 ‘live foods’ recipes sound really good… but, yeah, life completely without bread, chocolates and cereal? well, I’m just not sure life would be worth the prolonging under those circumstances! ; p

    and oh, btw, agar-agar… in S E Asia, it is most commonly made into a simple jelly dessert… along the lines of jello in the West. a firm favorite among kids. it can also be mixed with milk for a creamier texture.
    : )

  • Renee

    oops, sorry… agar-agar is not quite like jello… which is soft and jiggly, whilst agar-agar is firmer and slightly crunchy.

  • Papa – Thanks for the translation!

    Boreal – I quite agree : a lot of times, people point out only the bad or only the good in certain foods, when it’s the whole picture that’s interesting. And anyway, in my book, anything eaten with pleasure is bound to be good for you!

    It’s a pity that the raw food restaurant in your area went out of business. Sometimes a cool concept just isn’t enough to attract the masses! Maybe if they had just added cheese steak and fries to the menu… :)

    Renee – Slightly crunchy? How interesting! Do you happen to have an idea of the recipe to make this dessert?

  • Clothilde:

    In Malaysia, accomplished cooks such as my mother and her sisters can make several impressive variations of it, often using the essence of screwpine leaves, coconut milk, evaporated milk and palm sugar to flavor it, as well as an impressive array of food coloring to create heavenly-looking concoctions for parties and special meals. A bonus is that it is completely vegan and can stand in for jelly, making it an easy, unusual and elegant dessert for strict vegetarians. This recipe is one of the most basic ones in my family’s repertoire.

    3/4 cup agar-agar strands that have been soaked and softened in cold water
    2 1/2 cups water
    1 1/2 cups thick coconut milk from 1 grated coconut
    1/2 cup of white sugar or palm sugar
    Pinch of salt.
    A few drops of food colouring (usually green or red)

    Put agar-agar and the water in a deep pan and boil over low heat till agar-agar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar and salt and then the coconut milk. Stir until mixture just boils.

    Strain through fine wire sieve into a wide-mouthed jug and add a drop or two of the food colouring. Stir well before pouring mixture into small individual jelly moulds.

    Let the mixture cool and set, before covering it to prevent it from drying out and putting it into refrigerator to turn refreshingly cold.

    Un-mould the agar-agar onto a plate before serving as dessert.

  • phew! am back from singapore.

    salt in agar2? first time i heard of it.

    it’s actually gelatin but more bland and no preservative after taste. nowadays, most people back in SE Asia buy them in powdered form rather than in the stringy version whereby the hot chunks need to be filtered out.

    it’s not crunchy unless it’s the dried up version. even then, the dried-up version is still stringy, similar to licourice.

    i think i have some pictures of the various different colours used to get the finished product. have to dig it out from home later tonite.


  • Glovefox – Thanks for the recipe! I’ll have to try it out!

    Wena – How does your granny make it? :)

  • Yes, my mom and her family use a pinch of salt to bring out the flavour of the pandan and santan (coconut cream). Again Wena, different families do things differently.

    Clothilde: The recipe above uses the traditional agar-agar strands, hence the straining. I agree with Wena: these days, most people use it in its powdered form.

  • By the way Clothilde:

    My experience with agar-agar is different from Wena’s as I found that there is no difference in texture between the desserts made from the traditional strands and those made from the powdered form.

    And Renee is right: it isn’t gelatine. I suppose you could say it’s a vegan form of gelatine but it is crunchy and lovely! And it sets way WAAAAAY faster than gelatine in my experience.

  • Renee

    wow, what a lot of discussion on the humble agar-agar! : )

    yeah, Wena is right that most people use the powdered form nowadays, as it’s way more convenient.
    but from personal experience, there isn’t any difference in the resultant texture – just a matter of choosing greater ease or extra steps to take that’s all.

    yeah, glovefox is right. it’s a vegan alternative to gelatine (which, if I’m not wrong, is usually of animal origin??).

    for making it into jelly-like desserts, the basic would be to dissolve the agar-agar (powder or strands) with sugar in water. it is important to allow the water to come to a boil, otherwise the agar-agar will not set subsequently. however, avoid overcooking – once it boils, remove from heat.

    (I’ve never added salt before, but I suppose there is no harm… much like adding a pinch of salt when baking cookies, cakes etc I suppose)

    the next steps would be up to your desires/imagination… add colors, add flavors, add milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, perhaps even yogurt etc for creamier texture… one could also add cut fruit, or chunks of different colored already-solid agar-agar etc into the molds after the agar-agar solution has been poured in to create interesting effects… different colored agar-agar could also be layered to create rainbow effects (this takes more patience, as each layer has to start solidifying before the next is added)… and so on
    it’s very versatile and flexible.

    it can of course also be used in making other desserts, as a natural thickener – much like how gelatine is used.

    sorry, long comment…
    hope it is of help : )

  • All – Thanks for the glimpse into the fantastic world of agar-agar! I know my organic grocery store carries it, I’ll have to buy some, you guys have made me very curious!

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