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08/19/14 Raw Food Chef Mona Lisa Neuboeck

Popular culture often paints us a very skewed picture of veganism: tree hugging, bland food, and terrible hygiene. But former model Mona Lisa Neuboeck, one of the few raw food chefs in the Philippines, easily defies conventional views on this lifestyle. Since she started three and a half years ago, Neuboeck has dedicated herself to concocting raw food dishes that strike a delicate balance between nutrition and taste. Her uncooked versions of tiramisu, lasagnas, and bread have become extremely sought after among local vegans and raw food enthusiasts. 

Growing up with a father who came from a long line of Austrian butchers meant that there was often a slab of protein on the dinner table. It was Neuboeck’s Filipina mother, insisting that each steak come accompanied by a salad, that turned Neuboeck into the “raw food nerd” she is today.

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After studying live food science under renowned homeopath Gabriel Cousens and earning her gourmet raw food certificate at the Living Light Culinary Institute in Bali, Neuboeck eventually put up Mona Lisa Raw, where she is not only a certified raw food chef and coach, but also a holistic health advocate.

Today Neuboeck lives in Subic, Zambales where superfoods grow wild and forgotten ingredients inspire much of her cuisine. In between meal preparation, she chats with NOUS about the concept of ‘uncooking,’ the trickiest raw ingredients to work with, and the temptations of switching back to an omnivorous diet.

If I understand this correctly, being a raw chef means all the food you make does not go through any cooking.

Although raw food cuisine can be quite elaborate–especially gourmet raw food–it is still considered “uncooked” because the temperature during preparation never exceeds 118 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the crucial temperature at which the enzymes begin to break down and the overall nutrient density is significantly decreased.

The art of preparing food below the critical temperature was first coined “uncorking” by raw food pioneers in the US and is now the actual term that’s used worldwide.

There are numerous methods of preparing gourmet raw dishes that do not look or taste “raw” at all, such as blending, pureeing, marinating and dehydrating. The outcome is very deceiving! I use the dehydrator mostly for my raw versions of bread, crackers, cookies, pizzas, tacos, falafel, meatless balls, and raw lasagnas, just to name a few.

What makes cooking food—even vegetables—less healthful than serving them raw?

Aside from the damage done to the vital enzymes, the quality of the natural fats and sugars is severely diminished when exposed to high temperatures as those common in conventional cooking methods. Most fats, including healthy fats such as high quality olive oil, become molecularly deranged and turn into so-called trans-fats, which the human body cannot recognize and therefore not metabolize correctly. This can lead not only to weight gain but also increases the risk of autoimmune diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

You weren’t always a vegan. How have things different since that lifestyle change?

I wasn’t yet very well-informed on the topic of nutrition when I first became vegan. In fact, I ended up with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) caused by the increased amount of dietary phytoestrogen from soy products. I was also consuming lots of gluten-rich faux meat products at that time which resulted in chronic constipation and skin issues such as dermatitis and acne.

After two weeks of “cleansing” on a diet of raw vegetables, fruit, sprouts, seeds, nuts, seaweeds and superfoods, all those symptoms vanished, seemingly miraculously. I then began experimenting with my diet just to see what would happen and even reintroduced specific foods that I suspected caused my physiological disease to begin with. And sure enough, the same symptoms would reoccur.

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This realization led me to an empowering insight. I had to accept the fact that my health and wellbeing were the outcome of choices I had to make on a daily basis. Based on my personal experience, living off a high-raw, plant-based diet gives me the energy I’ve been looking for. It is a subtle, less stimulating kind of energy that is slowly and evenly released throughout the day.

Are there ever any temptations to switch back?

As for the omnivorous diet, no, I simply do not crave animal products, except for the occasional dab of honey. Veganism is really no big deal to me. But in terms of sticking to a 100% raw food diet—just to get the record straight—I am not fully raw but currently rather on a 70% raw and 30% cooked vegan diet. However, the exact ratio has fluctuated a lot over the past three and a half years. There are times I crave more cooked vegan whole foods and there are times I eat only raw food, and again other times when I do not eat any at all.

What ingredient is the trickiest to work with when done raw? 

Perhaps tubers such as kamote, ube, and gabi. They contain anti-nutrients such as oxalates which become neutralized through the cooking process. The preparation of tubers for raw food recipes has to be done with great care in order to remove those naturally occurring chemicals. The same problem applies to certain mushrooms and plants such as gabi leaves.

My motivation as a raw food chef is to utilize local, widely forgotten ingredients rather than following recipes found in more popular US raw food book publications. Their produce and available ingredients in western countries vary from what is abundant and inexpensive in the tropics, yet are delectable and highly nutritious.

Should the transition to veganism happen gradually? 

This really depends on the individual’s reasons behind the intension to quit meat to begin with. In case of an autoimmune disease it would of course be most helpful to quit meat cold turkey.

However, for the most of us, such a drastic shift may be too radical and backfire eventually. Many people make the mistake that they jump into veganism or raw foodism without allowing their bodies to slowly readjust to the dietary and nutritional changes. The body’s system can be shocked by such a radical shift.

A strict raw food vegan dietary approach may not be appealing to everyone but most people seem okay with the idea of implementing more nutrient-dense plant foods and whole foods to their diet, as well as eliminating their intake of harmful artificial food substances. This is a good way to start out with the vegan or raw food endeavor.

In fact, many raw food experts agree that a diet consisting of 100% raw plant foods is unrealistic and may cause unnecessary mental unease for the aspiring radical “raw foodist”. According to my mentor Dr. Gabriel Cousens, a diet consisting of 70% raw food and 30% cooked whole foods is the perfect ratio for most individuals. This is about the way I go about my personalized diet.

For recipes, health tips, and updates on raw food offerings, follow Mona Lisa Raw on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (@monalisaraw)

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