Interview with a San Francisco rockstar: Cafe Gratitude’s Gregory Manitsas  »

San Francisco resident and dessert-maker extraordinaire Gregory Manitsas has worked at Cafe Gratitude for three years, as the bakery manager and head pastry chef for the last year and a half. He is not only an amazing creative force, but an inspirational vegan as well. Gregory has been a vegan for 13 of his 28 years! Rumor has it, he’s about to go take L.A. by storm.

Vegansaurus: How long have you been vegan? What inspired the lifestyle?
Gregory Manitsas: In August I will have been vegan for 13 years. August 1 is my vegan birthday that I recognize every year and feel very proud of. I was vegetarian before vegan. When I was 10 years old, I stopped eating read meat, then came chicken, then came fish, and by 14 I was totally vegan. I don’t even remember why I stopped eating red meat; it just seemed like a natural thing for me to do. When I discovered how tremendously those we eat for food suffer, I wanted nothing to do with it. When I committed to a live a completely vegan lifestyle at the age of 14, I was extremely motivated and activated about being a voice for animal rights and raising the bar on how humans treat and relate to our fellow earthlings.

Are you raw?
I consider myself a raw foodist, but cooked food is definitely part of my diet. I have experimented with different ways of being raw. I’ve done 100 percent raw here and there. I usually do this for cleansing or to inspire myself. Eating all raw foods is really energizing and exciting for me, and sometimes I will do it to inspire myself and motivate my body. Right now my diet is about half raw and half cooked. I eat more raw in the summer than the winter. The more fresh, raw foods I eat, the better I feel.

What do you see as the benefits of a raw food diet?
There are so many benefits to eating raw foods. For me, raw foods mean fresh foods. The closer the food that we eat is to its natural state, the better it is for our bodies. The Earth has created a bounty of amazingness that grows right from the soil in perfect balance to nourish our bodies. As we cook, process and manipulate our foods, we actually deplete its nutritional value and diminish its ability to nourish our bodies. The impact of eating unnatural foods is profound and should not be disregarded.

Raw foods are often seen as time-consuming and expensive. What do you think of this? Which tools and tips are crucial for the budding home raw food chef?
Yes, raw foods can feel laborious and expensive. This was my experience when I began, but then I realized I was approaching it wrong. Keep it simple: raw foods is about eating fresh, natural foods that come directly from the Earth. Have fun! Go to the farmer’s market or grocery store and be amazed by the gorgeous fruits and vegetables. Try things you’ve never eaten before. Appreciate the colors, textures and smells. Start slowly and build. You’ll learn a little bit more every day. Just start exploring and have fun. Read up on raw foods. There are some amazing raw foods educators and chefs out there; I recommend David Wolf and Dr Gabriel Cousens. Knowing about the foods you are consuming is extremely empowering.

What goes into the process of creating new raw desserts and tastes? 
When I develop new recipes, I go with what I’m excited about. What do I want to eat? What would I love to serve at a dinner party? What ingredient do I want to use? Sometimes I try a dish or see a recipe that I am inspired by, or a painting, a film, or an experience. Sometimes at work I will create a recipe based around something really practical, like, “We have a lot of grapes from the farm; what can we do with grapes?”

What kind of sugar alternatives do you use in a raw dessert?
The main sweeteners I currently use are medjool dates and agave nectar. There are also other sweeteners out there like yacon, Jerusalem artichoke syrup, coconut nectar, coconut sugar, raisins, fresh fruit, dried berries, and fruit.

As someone who has lived in both New York and San Francisco, could you recommend your favorite vegan restaurants to Vegansaurus readers?
In New York, my favorite thing to do is eat falafel sandwiches. I love them! They got me through college. There are some great places to get falafel in New York—I recommend Mamouns near Washington Square Park, and Chickpea by Astor Place. Every falafel sandwich is different and it is so fun to discover new ones. Falafel sandwiches are essentially deep fried chickpea patties in pita bread with fresh salad and tahini sauce. Simple, delicious perfection! Some places use yogurt sauce instead of tahini, so double check that they are using tahini, which is standard.

My favorite place to eat in S.F.—honestly I don’t eat out very often. When I do it is usually some little hole-in-the-wall, ethnic kind of place. I love Japanese food. Soba noodle soup is my favorite, or yam tempura rolls. Since I live in the Mission, it’s super easy to go to a taqueria and grab a vegan burrito; rice, black beans, lettuce, salsa and avocado wrapped in a tortilla. Delicious and satisfying, all the time. I’m getting hungry. Good thing there’s a taqueria on every block in my neighborhood!

Thanks Gregory! I’m hungry now too. Hungry for Cafe Gratitude’s tiramisu, the best dessert I have EVER eaten.

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