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Raw Passions

Her father may have seen "Fire and Rain," but food prepared by Sally Taylor never sees a flame. Or a pot of boiling water, for that matter.

Since opening Sally in the Raw last month, Taylor -- the daughter of James Taylor and Carly Simon, and a musician in her own right -- and her husband, Dean Bragonier, have been serving whole and wholly uncooked foods out of a chopped-down VW bus parked next to Boulder's Pearl Street Mall.

"It makes me feel more vibrant," Taylor says of raw food. "When I eat it, I feel a tingling sensation, like all my cells are being tickled."

What's not cooking? Sally Taylor and Dean Bragonier 
are good to go.
James Glader
What's not cooking? Sally Taylor and Dean Bragonier are good to go.

And Sally in the Raw is tickling plenty of diners in Taylor's adopted hometown. "Why hasn't someone done this before?" one patron asks a friend as the two scan the day's menu. One of the featured $6 entrees is Sweet & Sour Sushi, a hollowed-out cucumber stuffed with a tawny paste that resembles old-fashioned mustard, but is really a pureed blend of onions, celery, cukes and spices ranging from lime skin and umeboshi paste to walnuts, dill and garlic. The "sushi" comes with a side of sweet-and-sour "wasabe" made of grated ginger root, mustard and vinegar.

The dish wouldn't thrill a fish lover, but it's a tasty treat for diners who avoid food with a face. (All of Taylor's fare is vegan.) So is Liquid Love, a quasi-gazpacho made of fresh celery, ginger root, peppers, onions and puréed apples, as well as knuckles of diced apples and avocado. At $4 for a plastic container, it's mighty healthy and mighty good. And there's dessert, too: "apple pie." The semi-crunchy pudding of chopped and ground nuts, apples and maple syrup is more of a mush than a pie, but it's delicious -- even if Mrs. Smith wouldn't recognize it.

Like all of the fare at Sally in the Raw, the pie's ingredients have never seen temperatures higher than 110 degrees. But eating such pure, unheated food can still be an elevating experience. "After a week of doing it," Taylor says, "I feel like all the toxins in my body are gone. I feel weightless."

Raw foodies around the globe insist that eating uncooked grub results in a variety of health benefits, everything from greater energy and better mental health to a stronger immune system, better sex and easy weight loss. Because it's uncooked, they say, the raw food carries living enzymes that cooked foods don't have, enzymes that are good for the body.

Although mainstream nutritionists refute many of these claims, that's because "it goes against what they learned in college," says Brigitte Mars, Boulder's raw-foods guru and a national cheerleader for cooking-free consumption. She "became raw" about four years ago, hipped to the practice by her daughter. One month into her raw-foods exploration, Mars felt better than she ever had before. "I'm youthening instead of aging," she explains. Her husband has enjoyed similar pluses from going raw, including having his eyeglass prescription reduced twice. So that others can reap such rewards, Mars, a thirty-year-veteran of the natural-foods trade, recently released Rawsome!, a joy-of-not-cooking tome.

Taylor was introduced to uncooked food by her brother Ben, another music maker. On a trip back to Martha's Vineyard to see her family, "I came home, and my brother's eyes were big as saucers, and his skin was glowing," she remembers. "I was like, 'I want whatever you're on.' He said, 'Raw food.'"

Taylor and Bragonier tried it and loved the effect. "The food translates so much quicker into energy than a dairy or protein-laden product," Bragonier says. "You get what's almost like a buzz soon after you eat it. You can feel the insides working at a much more efficient pace. The head gets a little light for a second, which is always welcome. And the body wants to get out and walk and play tennis."

Or start a business. Taylor soon immersed herself in raw food, finding recipes and tweaking them to her tastes, consulting with Mars and a couple of other non-cooking chefs in the area. Once she realized that most raw dieters didn't have time to prepare meals, she and Bragonier, a former restaurant owner/operator, decided to start Sally in the Raw. (The name was inspired by the nude beach where the couple met.) Nuts, fruits and grains often must be soaked prior to use to make them more digestible, Taylor explains, and other ingredients have to be chopped, hydrated, blended and puréed. "Everybody realized they liked the food but didn't have the time to make it," she says. "So we decided to make it available to people if they want it, but don't want to go through the hassles to prep it."

By selling the food out of a kiosk, Taylor and Bragonier could avoid the hassles of maintaining a restaurant and a staff. Along with a couple of assistants, they make all of Sally in the Raw's offerings. "I try to introduce the food as something that's slightly familiar, so people aren't freaked out by it," Sally notes. So they offer "Tuna Salad" that contains none of its namesake fish, but loads of sunflower seeds and an array of salad materials. "Meatless Loaf" is a beef-free knockoff of sunflower seeds and other nuts, portobello mushrooms, bell peppers and fresh herbs. Sides range from "mashed potatoes" (containing nary a spud) to chips and guacamole; soups include Thai soup with citrus fruits, coconut and Thai spices, as well as borscht and butternut squash.

Sally in the Raw has run out of food almost every day it's been open. "I had no idea that so many people here were already educated and practicing raw food," Bragonier says. "It's incredible to see." Those people include Mars's disciples and habitués of the small number of local establishments that cater to the raw-foods crowd, including the Boulder Co-operative Market, which is the source of most of Sally in the Raw's raw ingredients.

Diners drop by for both culinary and cultural reasons. "People do speak about the spiritual element of the food," Bragonier says, and the fact that "it's only vegetables whose lives are being taken." He chuckles at that, but then points out that raw cuisine not only supports local farmers, it's more resource- efficient. He adds that it takes as much as 5,000 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat, but only 23 gallons to produce a pound of zucchini. "When you're in a water-deprived state, that's something you've got to consider," he notes.

But Bragonier's not a complete purist. He's now eating raw to cooked food at about a 60/40 ratio. "I can eat a little more bacon if I eat twice as much raw," he says.

For Taylor, their food venture delivers the same sort of physical and philosophical sustenance that she's been finding in her music of late. "Music can just absolutely slaughter you as a business," she says. "I feel like it ruins the spirit of it. Music is food for the soul, and I feel like reserving it for something that is soulful." These days, that means using her voice to further the Tranquility Project, the non-profit she and Bragonier run to raise money and awareness about the ravages of land mines in southeast Asia. They've traveled there with other musicians, and performed for the locals. "That's where my music career is heading," she adds. "It feels really nice, and less ego-based."

Taylor also teaches gyrokinesis, a form of exercise that helps create flexibility while releasing toxins from the body. Taken altogether, her pursuits make her sound more like a native of Boulder than Martha's Vineyard. "Absolutely," she admits, laughing.

But Sally in the Raw won't be laid back for long. Taylor and Bragonier are already turning up the heat on their business, and they're having a second modified VW kiosk built. Once they have more help and can reduce the time spent preparing and selling the food from the twelve hours she's now putting in each day, Taylor even hopes to bust out a guitar and do a little crooning on the mall. Her music and her meals, she says, "are all geared toward health and compassion. Eating raw foods is such a healthy way to eat. If we can make it available to people in Boulder, we can give back some of the beauty we've taken in by living here."

Until she has time to offer her own musical selections, there's always the troubadour just down the block, who starts his lunchtime busking with a swing at "Fire and Rain."

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