The artist in the spotlight of this Weekly Feature, Raya Belna, is a culinary innovator whose unique recipes have been generating quite a bit of buzz all across the nation recently. In fact, one of Raya’s gourmet treats earned her a first place award while she was a contestant on The Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race 2″ earlier this year!
In addition to being one of the nicest people we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, Raya is a Raw Foods & Vegan chef with an appetite and approach to food preparation much unlike anything you may find in a traditional kitchen. She is the executive chef of the Seabirds Food Truck, and uses only the freshest locally grown, sustainable, organic, whole-food ingredients in her cuisine. But here’s the kicker: Raya does it all without the use of ANY heat or meat in her dishes.
With a menu that offers everything from tacos to spring rolls to BBQ wraps to cupcakes and cakes; it may be difficult for some to believe these mouth watering morsels are made of all organic ingredients and were never cooked. However, we can assure you this is completely true and they’re absolutely delicious!
Continue reading to find out what Raya is all about, how she made the transition to a Raw & Vegan Foods diet, and a bit of info on the exciting new project she is starting; in this edition of the Weekly Feature with chef Raya Belna. Enjoy!
Name: Raya Belna
Place of Residence: Costa Mesa, CA
Current Jam: Anything by Ray LaMontagne
Favorite Food: Reed avocado with Himalayan pink sea salt
Mode of Self Expression: Raw Food
Ark: Hey Raya, thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. Could you begin by telling us a bit about yourself?
Raya: Thank you for having me! I am a Vegan and Raw Foods chef, originally from Maui, Hawaii. Grew up picking fruit off my neighbor’s trees and walking around barefoot… basically your typical 80s hippie child. Love all things water and earth. Fantasy life would be to bounce around the world living in eco-retreats and doing yoga all day.
Ark: Who are a few chefs or culinary masterminds that you feel have served as major sources of inspiration for you and your culinary adventures?
Raya: When I moved to Orange County a year ago, I met Chef Ito. He has been a huge mentor, friend and inspiration to me. Chef Ito took a vow of silence 10 years ago and dedicated his life to the service of others. He runs Au Lac Raw Restaurant in Fountain Valley and has been like family. Creatively, I am also inspired by Omid Jaffari, a Raw Chef from New Zealand. His form of expression is Botanical Cuisine. I am fascinated by the act of breaking food down to its simplest form and presenting it as art.
Ark: So how did you originally make the switch over to a Vegan diet? Was there one specific event that prompted you to do so?
Raya: I grew up eating a lot of vegetarian and health food, because my mother was Buddhist, so I had a good foundation and tended to gravitate toward fresh fruits and veggies. While living in San Francisco, during college, I became interested in Veganism and Macrobiotics, which eventually lead me to Raw Foods. I was teaching yoga and part of my practice was to maintain a Vegan diet, so that is what really lead me to this path. I decided to pursue Raw Foods professionally, after living in South Korea. I got really sick with the swine flu and refused to take any medication, instead I put myself on a month long Raw Foods diet and “juiced” my way back to health. Seeing the direct healing results of Raw Foods, I knew I had to share my discovery with others.
Ark: We’re all about trying to learn the creative processes different artisans take when it comes time to create a new recipe or dish. When you’re getting ready to start trying things out, is there some form of “routine” you tend to stick to or does it vary each time?
Raya: My process is to break everything down to its simplest form. What are the basic components to each recipe or dish? What is the purest form that can be presented, so that every ingredient has a voice and shines? I want to taste every aspect of a dish, down to the mildest herb and spice. In my mind, we should be able to deconstruct and identify every ingredient in a dish.
Ark: In your opinion, what is the most beneficial aspect of eating a strictly Raw & Vegan Foods diet?
Raya: A Raw Vegan diet is the cleanest diet available. When we eat foods in their natural state, we absorb their life force along with all their vitamins and minerals. Our bodies become strong and pure. Excess weight disappears, skin becomes vibrant, and minds become clear. It is truly the fountain of youth, not only for our bodies, but for the planet.
Ark: Do you have an “all-time favorite” culinary treat or dish that you like to prepare? If so, what would that be?
Raya: I love the artistry of RAW desserts. Sweets are such an indulgence, and normally laden with wheat, eggs, dairy and sugar. To create a decadent treat without all those additives is beautiful. To truly break something down to its purest form- Raw Cacao Beans, Nuts, Vanilla Bean, Coconut Nectar- is perfection.
Ark: Alright, Now it’s time for the “lightning round.” If you could answer as quickly as possible, we’d appreciate it:
*Raya’s answers are in RED
- Macadamia Nut Oil or Coconut Oil? – coconut oil
- Kale or Arugula? – kale
- Soup or Salad? – salad
- Summer or Winter? – summer
- Rock or Rap? – rock
Ark: We’ve been told that some people who have a strictly Raw Foods diet believe when food is cooked, whether it be fruits, veggies, meat, etc. – that all the nutrients and burnt away in the process. Is this fact or fiction?
Raya: Heating does destroy a lot of the nutrients, but mainly it destroys the enzymes in the food. Enzymes are what help us to absorb the nutrients and break down the foods. Without absorption, eating is pointless.
Ark: What is the strangest, most memorable, funny, awkward…(fill in the blank) encounter your Raw & Vegan Foods diet has led you to over the years?
Raya: The most memorable was winning the cooking challenge on “The Great Food Truck Race 2” with my RAW Vegan Cupcake.
Ark: Do you have any secrets you want to tell us? Maybe something like what we can expect from you and your culinary arts in the coming months, or are any projects you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?
Raya: I am starting a Raw Food delivery program for OC residents and teaching a lot of cooking classes. I am also working on a project to bring Veganism and Raw Foods to students and families nationally. While on the road, with The Food Network, it was shocking to see how uneducated people were about fresh produce and healthy eating. It’s possible to eat local and organic in every community with the right tools and education.
Ark: When you’re not crafting delicious eats, what do you like to do with your free time / what are a few of your hobbies?
Raya: I love to read and travel… and jump on my Rebounder.
Ark: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Raya. Any last words for the readers?
Raya: Thank you, it was my pleasure! I hope everyone will take a second look at what they are putting in their bodies and consider adding more RAW and Vegan foods to their diet. Also, go outside and hang out in nature once a week, walk barefoot and play!
Scope out a couple photos of Raya’s delicious RAW and Vegan cuisine!
For more information or inquiries visit Raya’s website www.rayabelna.com