A non-traditionalist in the most natural sense, local chef Omar Abou-Ismail is a staunch believer in the serendipitous simplicity of quality, raw ingredients. For Omar, everything from braising to broiling is superfluous when it comes to food. Instead, his cooking focuses on harnessing, combining, and subtly manipulating the flavors and textures of food in its most basic state. Rawtopia is the sprout of this sentiment: a restaurant that is consistently concocting sustenance and sips that are as beneficial to your taste buds as they are to your well being.
If our time with Omar can be synthesized into one sentiment, it is this: care is king.
As far as ideology is concerned, the menu at Rawtopia is informed by one key fact: many of the enzymes and nutrients naturally found in food are destroyed by traditional cooking temperatures. Consequently, Omar’s decision to replace ovens and fryers with food processors and dehydrators yields dishes that are far more nourishing than their cooked counterparts. And, the food being served up at Rawtopia in no way sacrifices flavor in its pursuit of enzyme-excellence. Each dish takes a full two days to prepare, a period that is imbued with all manner of delectable marinades, the result of which is dishes that are undoubtedly delicious and unequivocally innovative.
Also worth noting is the fact that while cooking remains the cornerstone of Rawtopia, Omar uses his platform to promote numerous social causes as well. In addition to educating this salty city on the advantages of raw foods, Omar hopes to bring a healthy dose of mindfulness to the daily choices people make about food. This means supporting local businesses and buying products that are responsibly sourced, grown, and raised. Big picture, Omar sees Rawtopia as a vessel with which to make clean, healthy, raw eating accessible to all.
We sat down with Omar to learn a little more about the value of raw food, and how to best tend to ourselves and our communities.
Omar's Rawtopia | 3961 S Wasatch Blvd.
Just so we’re all on the same page here, what exactly constitutes “raw food”? Raw food is eating food in its most natural form, unprocessed and uncooked. In other words, living foods. When food is heated above 118 degrees F, it's no longer considered raw or living, because the food will start to cook, destroying vital enzymes that die during the cooking procedure, thus not allowing for full integration of nutrient's into the bloodstream due to the lack of enzymes. Enzymes are also associated with Proteins, which are broken down into amino acids then enzymes. This was studied by researchers in the early 1900's and there is a pretty big movement in the eastern European countries such as Russia and Siberia. And it's not to say that all food should be eaten raw, but have a big portion of your diet be fresh and raw. If you are eating raw nuts and seeds, these must be soaked so that the Lectins and phytic acids can be released. Lectins are elements that nature uses as defense mechanisms to protect seeds, nuts, and legumes. Phytic acid prevents nuts and seeds from sprouting until soaked and released.
Opening a restaurant is a massive undertaking, to be sure. What inspired you to create Rawtopia, and supply this good city with such high-quality food? My father had cancer, and I was desperate to help him heal, but he really wanted nothing to do with eating healthy, or better, he just didn't correlate food to his health or even understand it. So after he passed away, I wanted people to get a glimpse of healthy food, so I created Rawtopia, where people could eat and experience health.
Quality-components seem to always make for a better meal, how and where do you source your ingredients? I source my ingredients locally in the summertime, and in the winter, I get them from organic growers in California. I also source most of my nuts and seeds from crops that grow in North America, and not in China.
Self care certainly extends beyond food, how do you maintain a healthy balance between work and life? My work is my life's work. I enjoy growing food, harvesting, drying and making food from scratch. It's art to me and I love to share it with people and fascinate them with flavor and texture. I also enjoy paring my food with great wines from around the world, to complement flavors.
What lifestyles and labels inform your cooking and practices (i.e. Vegan, vegetarian, raw)? I don't really label it at all, except for organic and gluten-free. I believe in sustainability, and that's whats important. It's just a unique way of eating, it's like my art, and my understanding of health through mindful conscious eating. What's better, to hunt an elk, and have a lot of food for you in the winter. Or get tofu and soy products grown in China? What's more sustainable? How did our ancestors survive 10000 years in Utah?
Your mom is an incredible chef at Mazza and you are a global citizen who has lived all over the world. How has your upbringing influenced your menu and its many flavors? Well living in different countries and loving the food that comes from these countries, is precious, and very cultural, and I love to share different flavors from around the globe because it's worth sharing, every culture has thousands of years of experience with their food, and it's all unique and amazing.
In the interest of ideology, what do you want everyone to know about the Rawtopia movement? Well, if you want to feel good, get energized, feel good about what you support in the world, make a difference in yourself and the world, reward yourself with something healthy and tasty from Rawtopia, I promise, you'll feel the difference!