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In this episode, Laura-Jane The Rawtarian chats with Russell James, The Raw Food Chef.
Based in London, Russell James is the UK's leading raw food chef and has taught at culinary academies across the US. He is known for his beautiful presentation and expertise in the gourmet raw food world. Find him at www.therawchef.com.
On today's episode, Russell shares tips for incorporating gourmet dishes in your own kitchen, and you're going to enjoy the battle between Russell's beautiful gourmet style and Laura-Jane's "quick-and-dirty" approach to the raw food lifestyle. In this full-length episode, you'll learn valuable tips that you can incorporate into your own raw food lifestyle.
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Welcome to Episode #42 of the Raw Food Podcast. I am your host, Laura-Jane, the Rawtarian, and today I am honored to welcome Russell James, the Raw Food Chef, to be with me on the show. Based in London, Russell is the UK’s leading raw food chef and he’s taught at culinary academies across the US. He is known for his beautiful presentation and his expertise in the gourmet raw food world. On today’s episode, Russell shares tips for incorporating gourmet dishes in your own kitchen. I think you’re going to enjoy the battle between Russell’s beautiful gourmet style and my quick and dirty approach to the raw food lifestyle. Stay tuned, and Russell and I are going to be back with you shortly.
Laura-Jane: Russell, thank you so much for being here.
Russell James: Laura-Jane, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited. It’s been a while since I’ve done an interview like this. Great stuff.
Laura-Jane: I really appreciate you taking the time because, as we were talking about, at the beginning just before we hit record here, you’re gourmet, you’re known for beautiful dishes and presentation. I’m the polar opposite of that in that I’m really all about quick and dirty tips. At the same time, presentation does matter, so I really wanted to get you on the show so we could chat. I can pick your brain for some quick gourmet tips. But before we do that, I of course have been following you for years. I would love for you to tell our listeners a little bit more about your story and how you became the Raw Chef
Russell James: Absolutely. Back in my teenage years, I was working for a burger restaurant - about as far away from raw food as you can get, but I was just a teenager and didn’t know any better. When I was working at the burger restaurant, I developed acne. No one really fully understands acne or has a real answer for it. Whether that was hormones, eating that food everyday, being in that greasy environment every day - or a combination of all three on some level - I developed acne from that. I started there when I was seventeen and spent into my early twenties - probably seven or eight years - trying to get rid of my acne. I did that with horrible drugs like Acutane. There’s some horrible side effects and lots of documented really unfortunate stuff about kids who are taking this stuff and go into depression. I guess I got off kind of lately. I don’t remember. I felt like I was in depression anyway, because, being a young man, interested in girls - at that time you’re just starting to get interested in girls and I wanted to look good. It affected my confidence. I really couldn’t look anyone in the face when I was talking to them. I was worried about what they would think when they looked at my skin. That internal voice was so loud: “They’re looking at your skin.” I spent many years just cowering away from any kind of personal interaction - which is kind of difficult when you work at a burger restaurant.
Laura-Jane: Let me jump in there, because I had some acne quite a bit as well. As a girl, you can slather on the makeup, whereas you didn’t have that luxury.
Russell James: No, exactly. I did know a guy that used foundation to do that. He wasn’t even necessarily the kind of guy (we’re many years ahead now and there are guys who wear makeup, and that sort of thing) that would do that normally. He was just doing it for his acne. I played with that. Someone mentioned it where I’d put a little bit of foundation on one of my spots or pimples, and I just felt even worse. I was just going to have to go with it as it is. So I spent many years trying to do that, trying Acutane, antibiotics (with no knowledge that I needed to rebuild my internal flora afterwards). I’d go to the doctors and get know advice on nutrition. At least they would say drink plenty of water. Anyone who’s got bad acne knows that it’s beyond that. It’s frustrating when someone who hasn’t got that - just gets the odd pimple at a certain time in the month—
Laura-Jane: They don’t get it.
Russell James: They don’t really have the problem as someone who has it every single day. It’s frustrating to just be told to drink more water because that’s what worked for the one person. They told me to give up dairy, which was a great thing. Topical skin creams, as well, that would make my skin itch and red and sore. Then I saw a program on TV where they sent six members of the public to a fasting retreat in Thailand. A couple of things about that fascinated me. The first one is that they were talking about clearer skin, so obviously my ears perked up and I thought, “Clearer skin. That’s interesting.” What also interested me was that they all came back to the UK and had really significant life change. There was one guy that didn’t actually. He was a DJ. His whole mission was to come back to the UK and purposefully retox. Everyone else changed their life. They changed careers, started losing weight - more than they had done even on the retreat. That was really fascinating to me. I found the retreat that they went to and I ended up going there two years later. I saved up and managed to find my way there. By this time, I’d still been doing the medical treatment. I’d also had some skin peels as well - glycolic skin peels, which can be fairly gentle. They measure it in terms of fruit acid. I had quite a severe regimen of that, so, again, it made my skin red. When I went on the retreat, I pretty much cleared up my skin in seven days by doing this fast. I found out about raw food while I was there. Obviously I was excited about my skin. I lost a lot of weight when I didn’t really need to, but that was fine compared to clearing my skin. I was working for a supermarket by this time as well. I came back to the UK and changed things and started getting into raw food and came up against the usual stuff around raw food around just being a little bit strange to everyone. I’d take in some raw burgers and tomato sauce and salads and stuff. I was kind of middle management at the supermarket by that time. My fellow managers were a bunch of what we would call in the UK ‘lads - laddish’. Smoking, drinking, girls, all that kind of stuff. So when I would drink herbal tea and eat a salad, they didn’t think that to be very manly. So I ended up eating out outside of the canteen. I’d get in my car and go down to the little bay close to the store. It made it worse, actually, because people were already asking was I eating enough, was I getting all the nutrition I needed. Which is kind of funny, actually, because I’m eating raw foods and they’re eating pizza and cans of fizzy drink.
Laura-Jane: And they’re worried about you, of course.
Russell James: Yeah, it’s weird. It really struck me as very strange. But they came around. They saw it wasn’t a fad. Quietly, one guy actually complimented me on my skin. That’s not something men generally do - in that environment at least. I got a little bit of respect after that. People could see I was doing it for a reason. I was getting results. I’m fortunate enough now that it’s my career. I don’t really get that stuff anymore because I’ve got some kind of proof in some way that what I’m doing is helping people. It’s my career. It’s not just me eating weird stuff. That’s how I got into it.
Laura-Jane: What are you doing in the raw food world today?
Russell James: That was me getting into eating raw food. I started a blog because that’s what everyone else was doing. Back then it was just an online diary. Some people even now might not know that blog is short for “web blog.” It’s an online log of what you did, like an online journal. Now as business owners in the raw food world, we use that to deliver great recipes and content. Back in the day I was just blogging about what happened to me that day. I was transitioning to be a driving instructor by that time, because it was the family business. I started my blog with the intention of charting my path to becoming a raw food chef. I had no idea - it’s gone way beyond my wildest dreams - where I would ever get to. Really, I just put up recipes and did a few ebooks. I did live classes and some catering stuff, traveling to work in New York for a couple of months with Matthew Kenny when he had his place in Brooklyn, which was his little break after he left Food & Wine. Now he’s in L.A. and Miami. I did that, and was still doing the driving, so I was treading both worlds. I ended up working with Matthew again in Oklahoma City at 105 degrees doing the level 1 chef training, which is a four week chef training. By that time I had DVDs and was just starting to do the online version of the home study courses. Now, as you said in the introduction, I’m in London. We focus mainly on the online classes. We’ve got the Raw Chef Academy. We teach everyone - people who’ve had some kind of health crisis and want to eat raw food day to day, with a high level of raw food, to people who are into the more gourmet side of it - people who just love to make food. They’re foodies, they love things to look nice. They might not be all raw. I’m attracting a really balanced group of people. It’s become a lot more mainstream, and as it does, it gets more available and more doable.
Laura-Jane: Definitely. On the subject of the idea of raw gourmet, as opposed to basic everyday stuff, I’d love to have a little chat about — Let me take a step back. We know I’m not overly gourmet. I’m not really into beautiful dishes. I want to just make the food, eat it, and have it taste delicious. But I have this idea that being a bit more gourmet is a little bit scary or overwhelming. I’m interested to know if you think there is a huge distinction between everyday food and gourmet. Or is it just really about plating and garnishing? What’s the difference? What is gourmet, and does it have to be complicated?
Russell James: Good question. I think gourmet is different to everyone. We’re different eaters, aren’t we? Some of us are very functional eaters. My friend Karen (last name) is of your personality type. There’s people that go so far down the functional route that you could just give them a tablet for nutrition and they’d do that rather than eat. There’s people like me - and probably like you, because, even though you like to make things quick and easy, I can tell from having seen the stuff on your site, you like to make things look really nice and you're into flavors and colors. People like us enjoy making food look nice, and you couldn’t imagine not ever eating, from a taste perspective. Then that’s the type of person that can get your head around going the more gourmet route. I think that’s the type of person that it’s really for dinner parties and doing something special for yourself or your family or partner. I say this to beginners a lot: it’s not like we’re using our dehydrators as ovens and we’re cooking up pizzas in there every night. It’s a multi-step thing. There’s some work to do. There’s another point in there. You can’t really buy that type of food yet. If you're making that type of food, it’s all about making it yourself, whether it’s gourmet or easy. If you want to eat raw food, you’re pretty much making it yourself, unless you live next to a restaurant or you’ve got a delivery service. We’ve got a raw delivery service here in London called Raw Fairies. If I want a few days off, there’s a price for that. It doesn’t have to be scary to do the raw gourmet thing because you’re not doing it all the time.
Laura-Jane: For me, I think about it in two different ways: as you said, it’s making something with a lot of steps like a raw pizza with dehydrating and sauces. For me, I tend to use, ingredient-wise, a very small basket of ingredients. I don’t tend to use a ton of fresh herbs or coconuts or mangos - those gourmet ingredients. That is another layer. I know you tend to use a beautiful selection of ingredients. I think you can still be quick and easy about stuff, but it might be opening up the food that you bring into your house that makes something gourmet. Do you know what I mean?
Russell James: Yeah, totally. Some of those ingredients - it’s interesting, isn’t it? Fresh herbs and mangos I wouldn’t consider as being gourmet.
Laura-Jane: I would.
Russell James: So exactly. Neither of us are right or wrong. It’s just how we feel about the ingredients. I think young coconuts everyone could kind of agree— well, it depends where you’re at. If you’re in Hawaii and someone’s cracking them for you…
Laura-Jane: It could be about the accessibility, too. I live in Canada in quite a remote area. We’ve got a few feet of snow on the ground and there’s not a lot of fresh produce in the winter. It could be, as you say, gourmet is different for everybody depending on where they’re at.
Russell James: Exactly. The location is definitely a thing. In London, I just went out and got some fresh coriander, cilantro, because I want to do away with metals that I’ve got in my body. For me, going out and getting organic cilantro is just very easy. It’s a five minute trip down the road. But that’s London. In other parts of the UK even though I might see organic herbs as a barrier. We can either see these as barriers, or we can see them as… I guess that’s one of the main questions I get: What do I swap in a recipe if I haven’t got this? Often times it’s not a really key ingredient. My answer is just leave it out.
Laura-Jane: Yes. I agree too. One of my main answers to that is, “Well, if you don’t have any of these ingredients, make a different recipe.” People go too crazy with substitutions.
Russell James: Yeah. We talked about the young coconut thing. Actually when I first started out as a raw chef, I was living in the south of England. I could not get young coconuts for love nor money. I’d have to come to London, and even then it was very seasonal. I avoided using young coconuts, even though a lot of the recipes I was seeing had them in. When I worked with Matthew in New York, they had huge numbers of young coconuts, and he’s a real fan of young coconut. You’ve got to make this distinction. He’s doing gourmet food, making the most gourmet food you could possibly do to push the boundaries to serve at a restaurant. I think all those recipes are wonderful to look at to inspire your creativity, but, in terms of getting a really complicated raw food recipe book and thinking it’s gourmet and you’re going to do all those recipes at home, and if you can’t do one because you haven’t got the ingredients, then raw food is going to be difficult — that’s just not the case.
Laura-Jane: I agree completely. I think it depends just where you’re at. If you’ve never made any raw recipe before, it’s good to start with something easy and get that quick success. I did want to ask you: let’s pretend I was having a couple over for dinner to my house. I wanted to have something that looked gourmet and tastes gourmet but was quite easy. I know you have your weekday raw course which focuses more on the basics, and then you do have a lot of gourmet, but is there a nice example of a recipe or meal that would be straddling the two that isn’t too complicated but still has a huge impact in terms of a dinner?
Russell James: Yeah, well now you’re asking. What springs to mind when you say that is, as I look at the way I eat day to day, and what we were saying before we started the interview is, if I’m doing a live class or recipe testing, then I’ve got lots of really cool little bits and pieces sitting around. It’s very easy to make something that you would call gourmet. In fact, a lot of people would look at me and - I’ve had these comments on Instagram before when I’ve posted something and said I’m just eating leftovers. They’re like, that’s the most extravagant selection of leftovers I’ve ever seen. That’s just kind of the way it is for me. It’s not always like that. Sometimes if there’s a long break in recipe testing, if I’m doing a lot of computer work or I’m away, no classes, then I’m in the same boat as everyone else. With the weekday raw stuff, we’re developing now all the time. My tendency with that is I’m thinking maybe we should go even simpler on that because there is a balance, isn’t there? You can take quite a simple recipe and plate it in a way that makes it look gourmet. My awareness is I want to make this look nice, but I don’t want to make it look unattainable. I think if you see a picture of a recipe and it’s plated in a certain way, even if it’s quite simple, it might seem unattainable. So what springs to mind is we do raw cheeses. I love raw cheeses as a whole world of raw tree nuts and cheeses — plant-based cheeses, obviously; no dairy. It’s actually a very simple thing to do to culture a couple of cups of macadamia nuts overnight in a warm place, flavor it with a little bit of lemon juice or nutritional yeast, and then you’ve got it in the fridge as a base and you can add some fresh herbs to that, dried spices, bits of pepper, and there’s so much you can do. For me, that’s an easy thing. I’ve usually got cheese around. Some people might look at that and think it’s a little bit gourmet — even someone who doesn’t know what nutritional yeast is, starting out, it feels like a barrier.
Laura-Jane: Even just the aspect of soaking and waiting, as opposed to using the cheddar cheese you can pick up at the grocery store. I think what you’ve said is something so key, and I find it is that if you have these things — if you have the habit of keeping raw cheese in the fridge and keeping that going, then it does make using that cheese easier. It’s all about those habits and having stuff in your fridge, so that when you need to have dinner, you already have some resources in your fridge that are ready to go.
Russell James: Yeah. It’s that whole thing, isn’t it, whether it’s raw food or not? Whether you’re trying to change the way you eat and be healthier — which usually means making food yourself — if you’re staring into the fridge and you desperately want to eat something healthy but you just can’t pull it together, it’s already too late by that point, unless you’ve got something. A really simple meal for me is just sauerkraut.
Laura-Jane: That’s not that simple.
Russell James: It seems so simple to me. Just some sauerkraut mixed in with some avocado and some spices. It depends if you make your sauerkraut with some cumin seeds in there. You can make a curried sauerkraut, put some spice in there and nutritional yeast with the avocado and some apple cider vinegar. You can make a really nice meal just out of that. That seems simple to me. That’s funny that sauerkraut doesn’t seem simple to you.
Laura-Jane: Because when I think of really simple, it’s like you’re starting from scratch right now — but I’m kind of going against what I just said. It would be awesome if we all had sauerkraut and cheese and nut pate and stuff in our fridge already. If we don’t - because everybody’s busy with life and kids and all that stuff - I think, for me, I tend to think of simple as something that requires no prep. And we can have a duel about this: I don’t know where you stand on the soaking issue. I know sometimes people get overwhelmed just with the idea of soaking the nuts beforehand. A lot of times in my recipes I will say you don’t need to soak. You can just make this from scratch right now and eat it in five minutes and be done. I don’t know. That’s why I wanted to talk to you, because I love the differences.
Russell James: There are so many aspects of this. For me - and I was just saying this in my class this weekend - even ten years in, I’m just starting to realize that my success eating raw is greatly improved by soaking nuts. But I still think you’re making it better for people by saying it would be better for you to eat unsoaked nuts than it would be to go and eat a processed meal.
Laura-Jane: Exactly. And what I do find, too, is I like to start with people where they’re at. If they’re eating McDonald’s everyday and they’re trying to get started, then doing that kind of thing is good but then they might come to me and say, “I’ve been eating this way, but sometimes nuts make me feel funny.” I’ll say, “Maybe you should consider soaking them.” It’s almost like a ladder of steps and overwhelm. But I think also it just depends on where someone is at. If they’re retired and able to go full swing into it with a lot of time and finances to back them up — everybody’s got to play around and see what works for them. But back to my dinner party with my friends: we’ve got the cheese…
Russell James: It was about a dish that treads the line between simple and gourmet. And I do think it’s about how you plate it. In weekday raw we’ve got this ravioli dish, which is a kind of classic raw dish: beet roots, or beet sliced thin on a mandolin with the cheese in the middle; two bits of square or round beet root. And then you can plate that up nicely. If you’ve got greens, you can pop that on top there, and serve that with a salad on the side. That would be a more gourmet presentation. You’re probably thinking, “That sounds like a lot of work.”
Laura-Jane: No, that was doable! Good job.
Russell James: Okay, good. To make that simpler — or even to look simpler — it’s funny because what I’m about to say will make it look simpler or feel simpler, but it’s actually not any less prep involved. You could grate the beet and do a little bit of oil and vinegar on there and little bit of salt. I love buddha bowls — and buddha bowls aren’t necessarily even Asian themed. I keep meaning to buy myself a really nice deep wooden bowl that I just love eating out of. The idea of a buddha bowl is gratitude. It’s gratitude for the food you eat, and you can have lots of different things in there: grated beet root, salad, cheese. That just looks and feels like it’s easier than making little raviolis. Yes, plating ravioli does have an extra element to it.
Laura-Jane: But that’s what would take it to be more exciting for people who are new to raw. The ravioli that you explained seems like a very perfect example in that it is almost as simple as the salad. If you have the cheese, it’s just a tiny bit more effort with the plating. I was also thinking about myself and what I would do in that case. I think it really is just taking your basic stuff and plating it or garnishing.
Russell James: Yeah, absolutely. And having those garnishes available. I find that when I’m garnishing, if I do big to small — and I’ll explain that in a second — but if I do big to small, then have two or three elements for garnish. What I mean by that is if I’m garnishing a lasagna — which is a fairly gourmet thing by anyone’s standards — it’s funny about raw lasagna and how much time that takes to make. If you’ve ever made a cooked lasagna, that is quite an operation.
Laura-Jane: That’s way longer, yeah.
Russell James: So just garnishing the top of a lasagna — for anyone who doesn’t know, you put your three strips of zucchini on top of the lasagna. You’ve laid it out with a little bit of the cheese and sauce and pesto and maybe tomatoes, maybe some wilted spinach. You’ve done a few layers; you’ve put the final top layer on it — which is your zucchini pieces — and what do you put on top of that, because it looks kind of bare? If I’ve got two or three different things, I’ll start with the biggest one. If I can get a big beefsteak tomato, put that on top, and arrange that in a nice way, that’s the biggest element. The next smallest element is some basil leaves, so I put those on top. If I want then still smaller, I can go with some black pepper, which is the smallest you’re going to go — just grating over some black pepper — or some dried Italian herbs, which, technically are a little bit bigger than the black pepper pieces. So I get the dried Italian herbs and then the smallest, which is the black pepper pieces. So fairly simple. It’s tomato, dried basil leaves, Italian herbs, and black pepper. Not crazy ingredients, but just having those four things available and building big to small, you’ll find that it really finishes that dish off nicely.
Laura-Jane: I love that example. It’s really easy to envision that. I’ve been trying to improve my food photography over the past few years. I know you’re a perfectionist type, and even my photos, in the early days, used to be like, “Here’s the slop. Who cares?” But now I am doing more garnishing in photography, because I find that camera finds it easier to focus on something like you suggested like sliced basil and stuff like that. I don’t really garnish my food unless I’m taking photos. I’m going to try to do that more in real life. It is all about having the stuff to garnish in your house. I don’t know if you do herbs in your house, but I always have one little plant in my whole house, which is a little basil plant in my kitchen. That works really well for a lot of the green garnish.
Russell James: Basil is great, actually, because you’ve got different sizes of leaves. You can get the real young leaves that come out right at the tip of the stalk, and they’re great for just popping on there whole, or learning a few basic knife skills, getting your large basil leaves and rolling them up into a cigar, and doing a nice fine chiffonade on there — which is just a straight cut once it’s been rolled up. I don’t always even have basil around. I guess, you know, I’m always thinking about photography. With Instagram or Facebook, every meal is an opportunity to create something I can post. On the salad I had for lunch a while ago, I almost left it in the bowl I made it in. I do do that. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it, so I had to put it in a plate. I just sprinkled — there are these amazing spirulina flakes that are available in the UK; I’m not sure you’ve got them over there yet — but they’re called Gourmet Spirulina. They’re flakes, and they’re crispy, and they’re raw. I don’t know how they do it. They must dry it out and it’s just spirulina. It’s really sweet and it’s in flakes. It makes a great little garnish.
Laura-Jane: That sounds delicious. I haven’t seen those. I’ll have to check those out. So we’re talking gourmet. I’m trying to use up my last remaining time. I do know that some people will want to hear us talk about equipment. If somebody just has one very cheap junky blender, what would you suggest being their next purchase?
Russell James: Well I would go back to basics. No matter what stage anyone is at, I’m always like if you’ve got the foundations — a really good chopping board and a good knife. I think I say that because that’s where you’re going to spend most of your time. It makes such a difference in the kitchen if you’ve got somewhere that you really enjoy working. Even if you’ve got a really small kitchen or a kitchen you’d love to renovate and you don’t like it, or if you’ve got a great kitchen, if you buy yourself a really nice, fairly large chopping board, it transforms things. It transforms your experience. I’ve got a really nice dark wood chopping board. Bamboo is great in terms of sustainability, if that’s important to you. I intend to have my chopping board forever — I’m going to make good use of it — so I like to keep it oiled up. I keep too much water off of it so it doesn’t crack. And then a knife — a really nice sharp knife and some kind of sharpening steel, like a steel rod. I’ve actually got a diamond sharpener, which is not that expensive in culinary shops and online, to keep my knife honed and sharp. Knives are really just a personal thing. It really comes down to how it feels. Some people like a heavy knife. Some people like a nice, light knife. And then there’s a balance between the two. Some people like a heavy blade and a heavy handle, or the other way around. A lot of chefs actually don’t have a huge selection of knives. They have a couple of knives that they use all the time. Chefs with a lot of knives — I’ve got a few knives — but it’s really too much like a hobby to collect them; it’s not a necessity. Using a new knife and making it yours is a nice thing to do if you're into that and if you’re cheffy. But if it’s really just functional, about a six to eight inch chef knife would be great. It’s what most people use. There’s lots of makes out there: Wusthof, which is a German make; Henckels, which is a German make; MAC, which I think is an American make but in a Japanese style. The Japanese blades are forged and they’ve got the little dimples in — not the dimples that are put in there on purpose to make the blade lighter or to make the stuff slip off the knife when you cut it — but the dimples that come from putting it in the fire and then bringing it out and hammering it. The Japanese come from a tradition of making Samurai swords. When Samurai swords were no more, those skills got passed down to their knife makers. If you’re into the history of that kind of stuff, you can look into where your knife’s been made and the history of it. It can be a really sacred thing.
Laura-Jane: You’re so cheffy.
Russell James: I know.
Laura-Jane: I love it. All the time that you’re talking about this, I’m thinking about my cutting board and my thirty terrible knives and no one good knife.
Russell James: That’s so common, I think — thirty horrible knives and not one good one. My girlfriend actually, Natasha, all she’s got in her flat — it’s kind of a horrible Christmas present; I’ll have to just buy her one that’s not Christmas or birthday — to buy her a nice chopping board. She’s got one of those glass chopping boards. It just makes my teeth itch every time I cut something on it. It’s not a nice experience in the kitchen if you’re not set up with those basics.
Laura-Jane: But I really like the way you took my question — which was “What would be the next equipment” — and I was expecting you to say a food processor or a better blender. I really love the way you answered that question in that I think it’s really true: if you have something that you really love, like a beautiful cutting board or something that feels a bit luxurious or exciting to use, I really like that idea, because I think you are really doing the chopping and that kind of thing more than anything else. I actually really like that idea. Just a quick question about cutting boards — I know a lot of people struggle with this. If you’ve just made a big salad and used your cutting board, what is the proper way to clean it? What’s a quick and dirty explanation of what you do next? Do you oil it every time? Could you share a little bit about that?
Russell James: No, you shouldn’t need to oil it every time. I just use a sponge with a natural orange essential oil cleaner. It’s an antibacterial, naturally-based thing. I’ll spray that and wipe it off a few times. I’ve got cats walking around my house. Who knows what they’re walking over when I’m not here, so I will clean it before I start working as well — pretty thoroughly. But the more thoroughly you clean it, you start to wipe off that oil. I maybe oil mine once a week at the moment. If you notice it getting lighter in color, you can oil it. I used to oil it up with coconut oil, but coconut oil doesn’t really seep into the wood like others do. Some kind of linseed oil or something that’s food-grade. Any of the good kind of oils that are specifically for food-grade surfaces are great. I pour a little bit onto the center of the board, work it around the board with a cloth, and maybe leave it for a while. Depending on how much it needs oiling, I’ll come back to it and wipe off a little bit of excess. Or if it really needed oiling, there won’t be any excess.
Laura-Jane: As we round off towards the end of this call, do you think there’s anything that I should have asked you in terms of raw gourmet at home? Any superstar tip that would turn the home chef into a Russell James?
Russell James: I’m not sure that’s everybody’s goal, or whether it should be. I guess if you want to be a little bit more gourmet in the kitchen, you’ve probably already tried that to some extent. I think if it comes down to a question of confidence, then a little bit of what we’ve talked about in practicing a little bit of plating in a different way. I’ve actually got a course coming out that we’re going to produce in the next few months called Raw Food Styling, which is going to be a raw food styling course that will show you how to plate and take pictures for social media and that sort of stuff. So I would start with something like learning how to plate it. And set yourself up with a bit of time, as well. You’re now out of the realm of functional eating, for sure, if you’re looking to do the gourmet stuff. Give yourself enough time to do everything that you need to do, and then just enjoy that process — to soak the nuts and do all the stages. If you want to make a pizza, I’ve got plenty of recipes on my site that are free where you can try that out. Just follow the recipe, try that stuff out, and take it from there. I think it’s a whole world out there that you can really get into without feeling like you’re spending hours in the kitchen. If it’s your passion, if you’ve got that “I want to feed people” gene that chefs tend to have, you can do that before you invite people over to have a dinner party. It’s funny how many people — I don’t know if you have it over there, but we’ve got a show called Come Dine with Me here. They take four members of the public to each others’ houses on consecutive nights of the week and they do a dinner party for each other. They score each other, and they win a thousand pounds at the end of the week. It’s always so funny because they have a really sarcastic voice over, and they film them doing their dinner party. It always surprises me that there are people on there that are making something for the first time at their dinner party. Talk about a way to really stress yourself out. I think that’s got to be the key, doesn’t it? Even when I’m doing classes and events, I’m always aware that I want to prep things ahead of time and make things enjoyable for myself. If I feel like at any stage I’m getting behind, it’s when the anxiety starts to set in. You’ll probably have that. You might even have that if you're fully prepped. But at least you’ll pull it off.
Laura-Jane: Yes. Definitely. On a personal note, I would love to hear you say what is your favorite part of everything that you do? Is it making the food or teaching? What’s one of your favorite things of what you do?
Russell James: One of my highest values — the thing I’m most passionate about — is creation. I just love creation. That can be everything from creating a new recipe to photographing it, which I think is currently my favorite of that creation process: photographing it and then putting it up online and getting feedback. It’s a journey of idea to that idea really helping someone do something — whether that’s helping them to have a meal that was healthy that day that they otherwise wouldn’t have had; or spark some creativity in someone when they see it on my website; or they’ve made it for someone else, and that someone else who’s not normally into raw food, then that sparks something in them and they think, “Actually, I could eat healthy. I don’t want to be ‘a raw foodist,’ but I could do this.” The thought that something I’ve created in my kitchen can go through that process of being created, put out into public, shared, eaten, and then the ripples of that continue on to places I’ll never know — I’ll never know how —it’s that kind of chaos effect that when a butterfly flaps its wings in Hawaii, it can cause a storm in New York — it’s an ever-increasing circle. That creative process is really the reason I do it.
Laura-Jane: It absolutely shows through in what you’re doing. So I’ve absolutely loved everything about this conversation. If our listeners want to find out more about you, Russell James, the raw chef, tell us where they can find you and any upcoming books or projects that are coming up in your world.
Russell James: Thanks for having me on, first of all. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve really enjoyed connecting with you and your listeners. If you’re listening to this and you’d like to get some free recipes, you can head over to my site at therawchef.com. Just anywhere on that website, up in the top, there’s a sign-up for my ten most popular free recipes. I’d love to send that to you. If you pop your email address in there, we’ll send you that ebook, and you’ll be signed up for regular recipe updates and videos and all that good stuff. You can obviously unsubscribe at any time if you want to. But my hope is that I’ll deliver you lots of goodies, that you’ll stay around so I can do that. If you're on that list, you’ll hear about all the stuff we’re up to, whether it’s a live class here in London or I’m tempted to venture out — maybe not this year — but I’ll be coming back to the U.S., maybe Canada and Australia, to do some classes. It takes me a lot to get me out of my little London haven, because I’ve got everything set up. So you’ll hear about that. There’s a few things on the horizon. A book has been on the horizon for so long now I feel like I’m the unpublished author with the most amount of book contract offerings. But for whatever reason it just hasn’t been right, but I am creating the book this year, and, in some format, it will be out at some point next year — probably spring-summer next year. Whether I self-publish that or go with a publisher, that is definitely coming up because creating a book is really an exciting thing for me, despite the fact that I haven’t done it yet.
Laura-Jane: But you have done tons of ebooks. You are amazingly epic with your high production value creating — so you’re creating. I think it’s all unfolding as it should.
Russell James: I think I’m suffering a little bit from that perfectionist syndrome. Publishing with an author would be the first thing that I’ve really let go, that is not mine.
Laura-Jane: Control! Yes!
Russell James: I want to make sure that it is really beautiful, but at the same time I don’t want to let that stop me. I feel like I’m at a really good place now with my work and what I’m eating and health and all that stuff. It feels like a good time to write a book.
Laura-Jane: Maybe what you need to do is take a page from my — what’s my favorite quote? I’m coming up blank. But about my anti-perfectionism and my “It’s good enough.” So if I will incorporate more gourmet, maybe you can let loose a little and become a little sloppier.
Russell James: Yeah, maybe. But when you said, “It’s good enough,” I immediately thought of a quote I heard, which is, “Good enough rarely is.”
Laura-Jane: Oh no! That’s not the quote I was thinking of.
Russell James: Obviously. That’s a horrible thing to say. We all do things differently.
Laura-Jane: I think I also just want to end, too, with this piece: I know that you’re doing amazing things and there’s a huge raw community out there. Even if you’re listening to his and feel like you could have a raw food business or a raw blog — everybody has their own unique voice and unique twist. There’s room for all of us. When Russell is doing good things and spreading the word, all it does is elevate everybody in this world and make the whole world a healthier place to be. Everybody has a unique twist, and I know you do too. There’s room for all of us and everybody’s voice. That’s what is so amazing about all of this stuff. Russell, I should let you get on with your day. I’ve absolutely loved this episode. Thank you so much. Any last words?
Russell James: Just thanks very much. We’d love to have you over at therawchef.com. Sign up for those recipes. I’d love to talk to all you guys further. You’re absolutely right — what you say about “Everyone’s got their own unique voice.” It’s definitely something when you start to eat healthier and you start to eat raw, I think it’s the energy that’s created with the food. The raw food bunch are a very entrepreneurial and passionate lot. When I first started out, there were very few people blogging and doing all that stuff, and there’s so many people out there now doing that sort of thing. The more the merrier, definitely. There’s absolutely space for more, because we’re taking on all the bad food habits and food producers in the world. We need numbers.
Laura-Jane: Well thank you so much, Russell. I’m sure we’ll be talking again soon.
You have been listening to the Raw Food Podcast with your host, The Rawtarian. Be sure to visit me at therawtarian.com where you can browse over 100 of my absolute favorite simple, satisfying raw vegan recipes that you’ll find pretty quick to make and with just a few ingredients and that taste amazing. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and once you’ve signed up for that, you’ll automatically get a PDF copy of eleven of my most favorite, most satisfying, most delicious recipes, including raw vegan alfredo sauce, raw brownies, and a whole host of other delicious recipes that you can make at home that are raw and taste amazing. Thank you so much for joining me and I hope to hear from you very soon. Until next time, enjoy your raw adventure.
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