Raw Vegan Chef Josh Lobell and How to Make a Shavuot ‘Cheesefake’

May 16, 2018
Photo by Blake Gardner.

Shavuot is upon us, which means delicious dairy foods, including cheesecake. I love cheesecake, but unfortunately, it doesn’t love me. Seeking a healthier version, I remembered that my brother-in-law, Josh Lobell, who is a raw vegan chef at Erewhon in Venice, would likely have a great option. We sat down to chat about why raw vegan is healthy, how he got into it and, of course, how I could make a raw vegan cheesecake that would taste amazing and make me feel satisfied, too.

Jewish Journal: How did you get into raw vegan cuisine?

Josh Lobell: The thing I think I’m best at is eating. When I was 20, I went to the American Museum of Natural History and saw an exhibit called “The Global Kitchen.” I was fascinated by food production and all the different kinds of fruits and vegetables there are in the world. The museum guide gave us various foods to try and they said if you can taste them, you have a super palate. I could taste them. I said that probably explained why I was overweight.  It dawned on me that I should explore the cuisine of fruits and vegetables, because there are so many types out there and you can eat as many as you want.

JJ: How did you discover raw vegan?

JL: I was working at an investment bank. I liked my boss but wasn’t passionate about the work. I bought a dehydrator off Craigslist and then went on YouTube to figure out what to do with it besides make kale chips. I saw videos from a woman named Cherie Soria. She started the Living Light Culinary Institute. I realized it was my purpose to become the best raw vegan chef I could. I moved to L.A. from New York and drove up to visit the school. I remember tasting a pizza flax cracker I bought in the café of the school. It had all the taste characteristics of a pizza, even the crunch of a thin, oven-baked crust, but it had none of the cholesterol, fat or animal products. It’s like we distorted what real food is supposed to be.

JJ: What were some of the things you made at the school? 

JL: We made a faux grilled teriyaki salmon from a filet of papaya that we baked in the dehydrator. We did lasagna with zucchini noodles, macadamia nut ricotta and pistachio pesto with fresh herbs and a raw marinara. We did a peach cobbler made of almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, dates, Himalayan salt, fresh ripe peaches, lemon juice and coconut meat.

“I love understanding how different flavors and textures can be combined to mimic ethnic cuisines around the world, all while stimulating optimal health and promoting a healthy Earth.” — Josh Lobell

JJ: Can you explain the theory behind raw food?

JL: Raw foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. When you cook below 118 degrees, you don’t denature any of the enzymes. When you heat up food, you denature the structure of the enzymes and the proteins and kill a large number of nutrients. Our body thrives on the nutrition. When you eat raw vegan, you get all the nutrition.

JJ: What’s it like working at Erewhon?

JL: It’s very rewarding because I feel like I’m putting together the healthiest food for people. I created raw vegan pancakes. People drive from all over L.A. to buy them. Woody Harrelson came by and was very excited about them. I soak cashews and pecans overnight, which activates the nuts, making the nutrient more bioavailable, and also making the nuts soft so I can blend them with banana. Sometimes I use apple juice or coconut water or carrot juice. I spice it with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and Himalayan salt.

JJ: What’s your ultimate goal?

JL: I want to continue to educate myself. There is so much to learn. I think it’ll take my whole life to become a great raw vegan chef. I love understanding how different flavors and textures can be combined to mimic ethnic cuisines around the world, all while stimulating optimal health and promoting a healthy Earth.

JJ: How can people start eating raw vegan? 

JL: They can watch YouTube videos or pick up  Cherie Soria’s “Raw Food for Dummies.” It has a lot of great recipes and gives you a grasp on why consuming raw vegan food will benefit your life. And come by Erewhon in Venice! I’ll be there.

Raw vegan “cheesefake” recipe:

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake
by the Living Light Culinary Institute

1 cup dry shredded coconut
1 cup almonds, soaked and dehydrated
3/4 cup cacao powder
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan crystal salt
6-8 dates (roughly
1/4 cup packed measure), room temperature
2 8-ounce packs of fresh raspberries

3 cups cashews, soaked
8 hours, drained and rinsed
2 cups almond cream
1 cup agave
5 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan crystal salt
3 tablespoons lecithin powder
1 cup cacao butter, warmed to liquid

10 ounces frozen raspberries, thawed
3/4 cup agave
2 teaspoons lemon juice, to taste

For the crust, process the coconut flakes in a food processor with an “S” blade until finely ground. Add almonds and process until there’s a ground meal consistency.

Add the cacao powder and salt and continue to process.

Add the dates one at a time, until the mixture sticks together.

Press the crust mixture evenly into a spring form pan.

Add some fresh raspberries on top of the crust and set aside.

For the filling, in a high-performance blender, blend the cashews, almond cream, agave, lemon juice and Himalayan crystal salt until very smooth.

Add the lecithin and melted cacao butter and continue blending until creamy.

Pour the mixture on top of the prepared crust and place the pie in the refrigerator to set up, about 4 to 6 hours, or overnight.

For the coulis, blend the thawed raspberries, agave and lemon juice until smooth. Strain it through a milk bag to remove the seeds and pour the smooth sauce into a squirt bottle.

Serve each slice of cake with a little bit of raspberry coulis. Store your cake in a sealed container, and it will last 5 days in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.

Serves 16.

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