A moment with Chad Sarno, raw foods chef, teacher, and head of the new kitchen at Spirit New York in Manhattan.
Q: So Chad, what have you been up to lately?
A: I’m involved in this amazing new entertainment venue called Spirit New York. There are three separate parts of Spirit: Body, Mind, and Soul. Mind is the holistic center. It has seven different healing rooms focused on the chakra system, the Eastern philosophy of the seven energy centers of the body; all rooms offer a different type of healing work. Body is the nightclub, and Soul is the restaurant, where I’m the executive chef.
Q: Sounds like a unique mix—and not much like a nightclub. Can you describe a Saturday night at Spirit?
A: We’re really trying to change the perception of what nightclubs are in the city. On Saturday night, all three places open up at 8 p.m. Even the holistic center is open until 3 a.m.; its doors are open, you can hear the music from the club, and you can get 15-minute healing sessions. You can order off the raw tasting menu from Soul and drink an herbal elixir while you’re waiting for your Tarot card reading or your massage. Then you can go downstairs and watch Rapture, an aerial performance act that starts at midnight.
Q: You’re vegan. Is the menu at Soul vegan?
A: About half of the menu is raw or vegan. My partner in the restaurant, Jeremy Griffith, an amazing three-star chef, is heading up the cooked menu; I’m heading up the raw menu. Eventually, my ultimate goal for this place is to transform it to be mostly, if not all, raw and vegan foods. I want to make it the ultimate vegan dining experience in the city.
Q: Is it difficult for you to offer nonvegan fare?
A: It was at first, but I’ve really come to terms with it. When I came into this project, I was militant with my beliefs. I wanted it to be all raw foods. I was a purist, and that was the way I walked my path. But I’ve learned a lot about freeing up judgments and being able to break down some barriers that I didn’t know I had. At Spirit, we’re acting as a world-bridging facility. In order to infuse an organic lifestyle more into the mainstream, it needs to come through a mainstream lifestyle.
Q: What are some highlights on the menu?
A: It’s a rotating menu, and we’re trying to stick to mostly organic foods, based on availability. For raw foods, we’ve got vegetarian sushi maki with parsnip rice, wasabi, and papaya shoyu. Then we have stuffed baby portobellos with pistachio pesto and sun-dried tomato aioli.
Q: Sounds delicious. Have New Yorkers been open to the idea of raw foods?
A: I’m trying to change the whole stereotype of raw foods cuisine. People think it’s just crudités. I want to show people that you can eat raw foods and be comforted on every level; you can feed your emotional body. It doesn’t have to be cold—that’s what pushes people away. We serve foods warm on warm plates.
Q: How do you deal with all the stress of managing such a large kitchen?
A: Actually, the only stress that I have to deal with is other people’s stress. As for myself, I have a daily practice of meditation and yoga, and I walk a healthy lifestyle path. So I keep calm through it all. I take moments to breathe. I like keeping a very sane kitchen.
Q: What else do you do in addition to this gig?
A: I’m a teacher. Before I came to New York I had my own school and I traveled and trained chefs in raw cuisine. Once we’ve got everything fine-tuned here in New York, we’ve talked about this being a base for a raw foods culinary school. We really want it to be an all-around educational and enlightening experience.
Q: What’s your ultimate vision for Spirit New York?
A: As we try to infuse the mainstream with healthy living, we need to be shape-shifters. I also hope that we’ll have some really profound spiritual speakers come here. Maybe the Dalai Lama will even come here some day and shake his booty a little bit, eat off the menu, and hold a meditation course with 3,000 or 4,000 people. That would be phenomenal.