The chef and co-owner of Branford raw food and vegan restaurant G-Zen, which opened in October of last year, says raw food is "among the most creative things" he's seen. "A lot of the stuff made by chefs on The Food Network is just redundant," says Shadle.
Shadle also has a mobile version of his restaurant — a food truck called G-Monkey, a name he contrived because it "implies fun and mobility." The "G" in both names stands for Green.
The chef, well-known to vegetarian foodies all over the country for his 20-year tenure as chef and co-owner of Middletown's It's Only Natural (ION) restaurant, tries to live "the ultimate green, recycled lifestyle." He lives on and runs a small, solar-powered farm, Shadle Farm, in Durham and grows many of the restaurants' veggies at his home. He is an avid bicyclist and often forages for locally available foods to serve at the restaurant, such as cress and ramps. The G-Monkey truck runs on recycled biodiesel fuel. He and his wife and restaurant co-owner, Ami Beach-Shadle, chose the restaurant's location in Branford because it was a defunct restaurant and they'd have to do little work to open it and "take recycling to the next level" by using the restaurant bones that were already in place.
His restaurant serves raw and vegan foods like broccoli-tahini bisque, spinach-and-potato pierogies, tempeh crab cakes, gluten-free pizza, raw pasta, handmade ravioli and kale chips. Handcrafted cocktails, homemade sangria and sake concoctions, all sweetened with agave are also popular. The look of the restaurant and the menu at G-Zen are sophisticated, with a timeless French bistro appeal featuring dark wooden booths, mirrors and the specials scrawled on wall chalkboards.
G-Monkey serves similar foods to the restaurant, but more street-friendly, portable versions: G-burgers, Mayan sun burritos and hearty black bean chili can be purchased from the truck at Hartford and New Haven county farmers' markets and other outdoor events this summer.
Shadle has also taught occasional cooking classes at Wallingford's Delia Center for the last decade. During a recent one-night course he offered a lesson on prepping some popular dishes from his restaurant and food trucks' menus: black bean burgers with quinoa, tofu nayonaise (a vegan alternative to mayonnaise, raw marinara sauce, vegetable dumplings with peanut cilantro sauce and ginger tamari sauce, and coconut cupcakes with vanilla frosting were delicious and easy-to-prepare. Afterwards, the 14 participants sat down to talk and dine together.
Though all the food was incredible, it was the fresh, delicious simplicity of the raw marinara that earned the most ooohs and ahhhs. It was also easy to prepare, with all the ingredients simply pulsed in a food processor for a few moments. The only prep work? Soaking some cashews overnight.
Though most people think making the switch to a raw diet, or even crafting the occasional raw meal, is expensive and complicated, Shadle disagrees.
You may need to buy a few appliances — namely a dehydrator and a good blender or food processor. But they are one-time purchases that will bring many nutritious, low-fat, organic super foods to your table. If you enjoy raw cooking, a few new staples may find their way into your pantry as well: macca root, agave, cacao and unsweetened coconut are among his top picks for a newbie raw cook.
2 East Main St., Branford, (203) 208-0443, g-zen.com
To find out more about cooking classes with Mark Shadle at the Delia Center, call (203) 303-2000 or visit deliainc.com. His next event at the center will be June 13.
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