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Straight from the Garden: F.C. Nutritionist Prepares Raw Food Feast for Vegetarian Society Thanksgiving

Keeping away from the oven this Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a raw deal for individuals looking for a sumptuous meal.

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Dominique Hoffman (Photo: Huguette Roe)

In fact, a raw food diet, consisting of vegetables and fruits prepared with no cooking or baking at all, might be just the ticket to make this Thanksgiving a unique dining experience.

For the approximately 200 to 300 attendees at this year’s annual “Life-Affirming Thanksgiving Celebration,” hosted by the Vegetarian Society of D.C. at the Bethesda Hyatt Regency Hotel in Bethesda this Thanksgiving, Falls Church’s professional chef and self-educated nutritionist Dominique Hoffman, will be offering a completely raw food menu.

It is the first year a raw food diet will be available at the celebration.

In raw food cuisine, food is prepared by using techniques like dehydrating fruits and vegetables with salt, or binding with juices and nuts, rather than using traditional stovetop and oven methods.

“The flavors of raw food meals are much stronger than when the meal has been cooked,” said Hoffman, who studied in 2004 at the Ecole de Boulangerie et Patisserie in Paris, France.

While Hoffman’s usual preparations are not focused on raw food, she said it was a welcome challenge to prepare a completely raw food menu for the celebration.

“With raw food, you have to be very creative. You need to use less of certain ingredients than you would in a cooked meal,” she said. “For example, in a cooked dish, you might add three or four cloves of garlic, where in a raw recipe, it would only need one at most.”

For the Vegetarian Society’s feast, Hoffman said she’s preparing a minestrone-like lentil soup for the appetizer, a kale salad, stuffed zucchini for the main dish and a mango parfait for dessert.

In lieu of cooking the zucchini, Hoffman said she uses kosher salt to bring out the squash’s flavor and make the flesh tender.

Hoffman’s unique menu will appear alongside contributions from other area chefs, including the usual turkey-substitutes.

Despite her formal training in preparing pastries, Hoffman said her upbringing emphasized the importance of fresh produce on the plate.

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A SCENE FROM 2007’s Vegetarian Society of D.C.’s (VSDC) annual Thanksgiving celebration. (Photo: Courtesy VSDC)

“I was brought up with a Mediterranean diet, and my family did not eat much meat at all,” said Hoffman, who added she’s been cooking herself since she was eight. “My mother would go to the market everyday to buy fresh vegetables and fruit, and prepare two or three meals.

“We didn’t call the diet vegetarian or vegan,” Hoffman explained. “It was simply our diet, which happened to avoid meat.”

After a career in sales spanning decades, Hoffman began her own company, Zizania, in 2008. Zizania’s services provide nutritional coaching for individuals throughout the D.C. Metro area looking to improve their diets and, for many, to eliminate medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

“So much of our diet in the United States – overly processed foods, milk, cheese, meats – contribute to diseases like diabetes that, if a person changes their diet, can be reversed through cutting the fat and sugars,” Hoffman said.

Her primary goal in preparing wholesome, plant-based diets is to “help educate people on healthy living,” Hoffman said.

She added, “For many people, it’s like coming out of a fog, when you realize that this is the first time in human history that we consume so much processed foods.

“People are stressed out and don’t think they have the time for healthier eating,” she said. “I help put the solution on their lap.”