“Meet Chef Sylvia Thompson of Greens & Vines Honolulu, Hawai’i”- a Q & A + photos I did in collaboration with Chef Sylvia of Greens & VInes Raw Vegan Gourmet Restaurant in Honolulu, Hawai’i appears in the September issue of Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine!
You can view more of the photos I took of the dishes at Greens & Vines here.
Q & A with Chef Sylvia Thompson of Greens and Vines Raw Vegan Gourmet
Photographs & Questions by Annika Lundkvist
Greens & Vines opened in 2013 and operates from a Raw, Vegan, Gourmet & 100% Non-GMO ethos and Organic and Locally Grown produce (as much as possible) hand-picked from the farmers markets. Photographer Annika Lundkvist speaks with Chef Sylvia Thompson about the restaurant, her inspiration and food philosophy.
Annika: How, when & where were you introduced to raw vegan food?
Sylvia: While in New York on our way to Bermuda, we dined at Pure Food & Wine, a raw, vegan restaurant. They say you eat with your eyes first and their plating had us salivating as we shared our plates along with tasting glasses of wines. I couldn’t believe the vibrant flavors of their raw, vegan dishes which popped more than the fine dining cooked vegan foods of Daniel’s and Alain Ducasse, the previous nights before. I knew I was on to something and I had to investigate further.
Annika: Do you find that many diners at your restaurant are trying raw vegan for the 1st time? What are some of the range of responses?
Sylvia: Since people can get our food at the Farmers’ Markets, our Meal Plans, or just dining at Greens & Vines, word gets around and also people share our food with their friends. So there are many referrals that come in for the first time with different levels of surprise. When asked if they’ve had our food before people say so and so brought some to a party or the office, or home, or they’ve tried it at the Farmers’ Markets. At first bite, they decided to try more, and now they’re here and they’re “loving it!”
Annika: What are some of your signature dishes & is there a story behind their recipes?
Sylvia: The Living Lasagna is our Signature dish followed closely by the Kaffir Miso Pad Thai Salad. Sales at the Farmers’ Markets and at the restaurant for those two items are pretty close to neck-to-neck. The lasagna has morphed 8 times in the past 8 years. The changes are due to customers’ feedback like “don’t like mushrooms, you have mushrooms in too many of your dishes.” I think when people first start making vegan foods, they try too hard to copy the texture of meats with mushrooms, to satisfy what they think their customers are looking for. I’ve found that if the food is tasty enough, you don’t have to second guess your customers. The cost of ingredients skyrocketing like pine nuts which started around $14 per pound and a half at Costco went up, up, up to $30+. So I changed to locally grown Macadamia nuts at $8+ per pound. I recently changed to cashews to cut costs even more to offset labor and medical costs. When making any changes, I make sure it’s not at the expense of quality and flavor.
The Kaffir Miso Pad Thai came about when I discovered the exotic sweet flavor of the Kaffir Lime Leaf. I started using it in desserts, but wanted a dish to highlight it. This is clearly my spin on a Pad Thai that is more on the sweet side with a bit of cayenne burn to give you the dopamine rush. With all those colored veggies, sprouts, and salted cashews, you have a complete meal. One thing you might add are fresh greens (though we have cilantro for the greens). We left the greens out because they’re more perishable. So, there are veggies of every color in there and since it’s got a lot of fiber, you can stretch the dish out to two meals.
Annika : What are some of your favorite ingredients to experiment and cook with?
Sylvia: The Kaffir Lime Leaf that I just talked about that is also our number one favorite. But, I’ve also experimented with zucchini a lot. Thanks to my Living Light Culinary Arts instructor Cherie Soria, who shared one of her excellent soups, the Lemony Zucchini Bisque, I replaced silken tofu in many recipes with zucchini because of the creamy texture, and because I try not to use soy since most of it is GMO. Also, there are too many people now allergic to soy because of their replacement of animal protein with tofu, edamame, soy milk, soy soy soy. If you get allergic to soy here in Hawaii, you’re cooked! So many oriental dishes call for soy sauce. So, the only soy I use is in the Ohsawa Gluten Free Tamari, and it ain’t cheap!
Annika: The landscape of raw vegan restaurants across the nation and globe is expanding and seem to really be picking up momentum. What are your observations about the vegan, and particularly raw vegan, movement over time?
Sylvia: I am not in touch with what’s going on internationally, though I’ve read about a couple of 3-Star Michelin French Chefs who have removed meat from their menus. I have also been interviewed by many Japanese writers for Magazines, Books, and just last year, February 2014, I was filmed by Tokyo TV, and broadcast for a month, showing how to make the Lasagna, our Zucchini “Escargot” w/MacNut Garlic Butter, & 3 other dishes. I didn’t realize they wanted to film me making all of the dishes. They were in my kitchen for 3 1/2 hours, and another 1 1/2 hours filming me with a Japanese actress. They even interviewed some of our customers.
I recently had another interview for a“Best of” Customer’s Choice of Hawaii restaurants section of a magazine. I asked if there were a lot of Raw Vegan restaurants in Japan and they said there weren’t. But the new generation, those in their 30s (who are their customers) are conscious about what they eat and voted for Greens & Vines. So, those are the Millennials, who here in the United States are a larger group now, than the Boomers.
Annika: Your motto that “raw vegan is a movement and not a diet” is very powerful. Can you share more about your philosophy?
Sylvia: Greens & Vines first started with a motto, “Share the Lifestyle” as I was mainly coming from the health aspect of vegan, and raw with vibrant flavors, to make it easy to be healthy.
The second year, I concentrated on raising the bar of raw vegan to that of a fine dining menu, with “Escargot” made out of crimini mushrooms, “Unagi” (a Japanese dish made out of eel, but I used marinated-dehydrated zucchini cores, nori strips as the “skin” and cauliflower “sushi rice”), “Ravioli” made with sliced beets, Chive cashew kreme and white wine vinegar, Caesar w/a zucchini garlic dressing, sunflower seed croutons, and balsamic “reduction.” We had a whole month first dedicated to Italian foods paired with Italian wines, the next month was Japanese foods paired with sake and Trappistes beer, and the third month, French foods with Champagnes and Burgundy wines (this one in a special class following the movie “A Year In Burgundy” which cost $260 per person). You can imagine the stress we had coming up with 7 dishes within a week and a half to pair with those expensive wines. Stress gave way to pride with great execution and two extra dishes- a Limoncello as a palate cleanser and a Mango Skin Chocolate “Cigar” complete with shredded coconut “Ashes” on a handmade ash tray).
Year three, is when the motto “raw vegan is a Movement, not just a diet” came about when the buzz word “Sustainable” was tacked on to meat by the Slow Food Movement. They wanted me to re-up my membership, but when I saw them purporting something called “Sustainable Meat,” I said NOT!!! I can’t support you anymore. In fact I will expose your “Sustainable Meat” for what it is. “B.S.” After preparing for it, I realized how serious the role of livestock is in causing climate change and how close we are to being in a state of IRREVERSIBLE CLIMATE CHANGE. So I am concentrating on building a movement by creating a vegan potluck “Food Ethics 101 Meet-up” on the last Sundays of every month at Greens & Vines between 12-2 where I show a movie while we dine. We recently took our Meet-Up to the North Shore to an organic Veggie farm, Mohala Farms, where us townies met up with North Shore environmentalists, to coalesce. We also showedDr. Richard Oppenlander’s You Tube “Food Choice and Sustainability” available on Dr. McDougall’s website. It’s very powerful as it covers what’s going on in the oceans and on land. Year four starts on October 28th, 2015. Woah. Time sure flies by!