Food in the nude craze hits Houston: Get your rocket shot
“Food in the nude.” Although the landlords of Houstonian raw veganista Elizabeth Harris’ new Art of Pure Food restaurant near Memorial and Dairy Ashford rejected the tagline — due to a somewhat literal insinuation of a nudie bar — there is something naughty, sexy, flirty and darn right seductive with a dash of taboo about Harris’ approach that makes one say “feed me.”
I conjure thoughts of bitting into a crisp yet fuzzy peach as it forcefully sprays its juice, peeling a robust and virile banana and feasting on a array of colorful berries, all without worry of additional calories or acquiring the latest sexually transmitted disease.
But food in the nude really refers to food in its most natural state: raw. And as Harris reminds me, the consumption of raw foods is the oldest eating philosophy and is, by any means, a new movement. Wise, all-knowing, sensible and super healthy, raw cuisine is also decadent in the hands of the right uncooking savant.
But the beginning of Harris’ journey to master the art of gourmet raw vegan techniques cannot be described as sexy, alluring, decadent or even pleasant. Rather, it was a search and an attempt to heal herself and her family physically, psychologically and spiritually.
An unlikely journey
In what could almost be described as post-dramatic stress trauma, Harris found herself trapped in the basement of her urban New York apartment. Living across from the World Trade Center, Harris was planning on taking her youngest son to his first day of preschool only to be be interrupted by the vision of a collapsing building and an otherwise sunny day turned instantly ominous gray from imploding debris and soot.
Running down 14 flights of stairs with her kids, the garage had already been roped off leaving them no choice but to find shelter in the basement with nine other people, none of which she recognized.
Harris recollection is vivid and tragically descriptive, making it difficult to just listen without internalizing the unimaginable.
“One man in a suit had lost his shoes, jacket and dress shirt,” Harris remembers. “Later, I learned it was because he had come down 81 flights of stairs in hopes of saving his life. Another woman, as if she was in a state of trance, kept on repeating herself. ‘Today was my day off.’ She was supposed to be in the building. A French couple with two young kids had just arrived in the country. They told stories to keep them and my kids calm.”
Realizing that she had cell phone reception, Harris suggested sharing her phone allotting a two-minute call per person.
“No one called for help. We all dialed our families to say our final goodbyes. We bonded while sharing the food and water we had on hand.”
Switching between feelings of helplessness and surreal normalcy, after a few hours, a firefighter found them. “He told us they knew we were here, but needed two hours to clear a path to get to us and allow us to escape.”
Covered in soot and wearing gas masks, Harris helped her children navigate through mountains of debris piled with shoes, purses and unrecognizable objects while office documents seem to settle on the ground like snowflakes.
Climbing onto the back of a truck filled with tools and without ventilation or light, she hitchhiked to the Upper West Side near Lincoln Center where it was just another regular day: No sign of turmoil, crisis or concern.
Living in a hotel room for the next two months surviving solely on room service and television, Harris searched for a way to detox that did not include the prescription pills that turned her cold, numb and zombie-like.
Healing through lifestyle and nutrition
“I tried many forms of homeopathic medicine and healing practices including yoga and Thai massage," Harris says. "But through my work at Travis Medical Center (an outpatient facility specializing in diabetes education, cardiac rehab, pain management, occupational therapy and physical therapy owned by renowned heart surgeon Denton Cooley, M.D.) I learned I could also rely on foods to help me heal psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. I turned to a raw vegan diet, learning over a period of two years, regaining a sense of self.”
Harris knew she had to return to Houston and open Art of Pure Food, making her dream a reality just last month. Her clients and supporting community have grown exponentially, now hosting the West Houston Living Raw Vegan Meet-up on Sunday afternoons.
Today, Harris is energetic and sassy and wears a constant smile and delicious Hermès scarf. I feel rather inadequate with my generic red bandana.
The wheatgrass lady
“My clients know me as a wheatgrass lady,” Harris chuckles. “Scientifically, chlorophyll is the closest thing to hemoglobin, allowing your system to quickly ingest all the wonderful nutrients found in it.”
Mixing wheatgrass with organic black sunflower sprout juice, a “rocket shot” is sweeter with a lot more protein. I admit, my palate has not been particularly fond of wheatgrass, but the rocket shot leaves me smiling. And if Harris insists one of the best things I can do is to have one daily, I’m listening.
Thankfully, if you are not inclined to purchase a juicer and wheatgrass, you can purchase frozen shots at Art of Pure Food, which retain their vibrancy and are much more potent that their dried counterparts.
I’m doing it.
But what about the rest of the food? Can I be a raw foodist?
Harris winks while she serves me a creamy corn chowder. Her food is not just raw: it’s gourmet and artfully raw. Art is important to Harris. She is saving her walls for local artists and recently finished decorating an upstairs lounge with a metro-urban feel to host an array of local entertainers.
Elegantly presented with a cilantro garnish, I am in love with the chowder when I taste the gentle play between the corn and organic homemade almond milk infused with a touch of jalapeno and notes of red pepper.
“This does not taste raw,” I think, castigating myself for again, thinking that raw or healthy means unpalatable. It’s delicious.
While sampling a little bit of the mock salmon pate and raw kale salad, I begin to admit that I could easily increase my intake of raw foods.
“What about protein?” I ask Harris.
“Sunflower seeds have the highest amount of protein of any plant-based food,” Harris explains. An ounce yields 7 grams. “Sprouting them multiplies their nutritional value from 300 to 1,200 percent giving you lots of iron, which can combat anemia, and chlorophyll, which helps detoxify the liver and blood. They are an excellent source of phytosterols, which reduce cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease the risk of certain cancers.”
Her raw lasagna starts with a base of sprouted sunflower seed cheese with a thin layer of marinated artichokes to simulate the noodles, topped with basil tomatoes and olive tapenade. The texture is exquisite, the taste is well balanced and the presentation is lovely.
“I am working on a raw barbecue dish. We are in Texas after all,” she says. I am intrigued.
While sampling an array of sexy and indulgent desserts including decadent banana tiramisu, chocolate truffles and chocolate-coconut-almond candy bars, I consider taking a class with her. She can tell I am a chocoholic.
So, Harris takes me behind and counter and teaches me how to make her raw rich chocolate mousse with coconut using avocado and soaked dates as a base.
Now I have it for breakfast regularly. Chocolate pudding for breakfast. I can handle raw foods. Can you?