BY CAT ALTOMONTE
PHOTOGRAPHS BY PATRICK DIOKNO

Spicy kimchi dumplings folded into in a coconut meat-based wrapper, paired with a touch of ginger foam. Another course of fresh greens served with homemade cashew-dill cheese, topped with bacon made out of dried eggplant. These are just two of the dishes highlighted in Barcelona-trained chef Barby O’Hara’s passion project, Rawsome Kitchen, a monthly pop-up dinner that serves excellently constructed raw, vegan, and gluten-free dishes.

The tasting menu is a parade of nine courses that are surprising and enjoyable in equal measure. Infamously known to cater to smoothie bowl-obsessed yogis, vegan food has a reputation that it doesn’t quite deserve, as vegan ingredients and cooking methods can bring an unexpected flavor punch to sweet and savory dishes alike.

From left: Kimchi dumplings, seasonal greens with eggplant chorizo, kesong puti, and coco turmeric dressing, and coconut noodles

By definition, a raw and vegan diet means that food is not heated or cooked above 115°F, otherwise the ingredients would lose a bulk of their natural enzymes and nutrients. O’Hara has fielded the same question since she started Rawsome Kitchen in early 2017: Is a raw and vegan tasting menu worth your money? Fueled by both her health obsession and a desire to nurture a wholesome diet for her toddler, O’Hara takes on the challenges of making vegan more mainstream and proving that a plant-based menu is anything but boring.

“I just want to share good, nurturing food to a lot of people. Everything that’s made here is made out of love,” says O’Hara. “A lot of people out there think that vegan food is bland and not filling—I want to show them that it can be quite the opposite.”

 

From left: Mango basil shots, watermelon sashimi with wasabi cream and coco glaze, and sushi with chipotle mayo

In a fast-changing world of food and restaurants, forward-thinking chefs are always on the lookout for ways to create dishes that resonate and stand out. Moving beyond come-and-go trends and fancy gastronomy, O’Hara takes a step back and keeps it simple with a focus on homegrown, hand-picked ingredients that are meticulously prepared to create surprisingly unfussy dishes.

While you will be sitting through nin courses, Rawsome Kitchen’s menu is completely approachable, even for the tasting menu newbie. We’re talking simple dishes like fresh slices of watermelon “sashimi” drizzled with a punchy wasabi cream, gluten-free sushi made with a base of white turnips and a coconut aminos dipping sauce, crunchy veggies that sit in a 36-hour shiitake miso broth. The food always abides by O’Hara’s eat-for-your-health ethos, and is served in sizes that satiate.

One might think that O’Hara’s dishes lack indulgence—but that’s what the desserts are for. Cleanse your palate with a cold shot of a mango-basil shake, then dig into a thick, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate ginger truffle. The last dish is a star that has many pleasure points: caramelized squash and yacon tuille atop two stately scoops of purple corn and beet ice cream.

 

From left: Purple corn ice cream with caramelized calabasa and yacon tuille, chef Barby O’Hara, coconut ginger truffles

O’Hara and her team put in hours of work before each dinner, meticulously dehydrating, smoking, and fermenting only a handful of the core ingredients that they work with—and that’s precisely why the dinner is less of a “raw” dining experience, but more of a rigorous one that goes through specific preparation methods that are all in service of delivering good food.

As O’Hara puts it, “While this tasting menu does involve lots of prep, it’s my first step into showing that this kind of food can also be made at home. Eventually, I want to make something more lasting and make my food more accessible. I want to show both home cooks and diners that plant-based can really be life-changing and doable.”

Chef Barby O’Hara’s Rawsome Kitchen pop-up happens monthly at Seventeen O’Nine, 2241 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City. For bookings and queries, follow @rawsome_kitchen on Instagram.

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