Houston chef Patricia Greer radiates a matronly warmth and has a soft, southern twang. It must come naturally, as she's a mother and grandmother; but not only that, a chef, radio host, teacher, seamstress, and founder of her own Raw Vegan Kitchen and the Central City Co-op -- a multitasker, to put it lightly. Her energy, which she attributes to her raw vegan diet, is contagious. For this week's Chef Chat, we spoke to Greer about her Raw Vegan Kitchen and its beginnings, and her advice for remaining healthy.
EOW: How long have you been cooking and how did you get interested in raw food?
PG: I'm from a family of ranchers, so it's been a very interesting transition over these years.....I used to have candy and popcorn stores here in Houston, and so it's a far cry from anything organic or vegan or anything....and then I had a health challenge. That's a long story, but I was teaching food classes with a couple of doctors, one here in Houston, one in Dallas, and when my health challenge came, I started eating a lot of vegetables and some fish and chicken, just because I felt like I needed it. My health challenge took me to eating more healthy, and exercising more, which led to a completely clean bill of health. When that happened, I had already scheduled to teach a food class in Dallas, and the people I was teaching with were only eating raw food. I said, "What does that mean?" It means fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and all organic. I started looking into it when I got back to Houston, and it just opened up this whole new world for me. And it just started working.
EOW: How did you learn how to cook raw food?
PG: I took one cooking class, probably 25 years ago, and I've just collected recipes and cookbooks my whole life, I just have so many. It's really easy for me to start converting things (recipes). Once I started looking into raw food and I bought several books, I thought, well, this is silly, so I just started looking through my old recipes and changing around stuff. Figuring out what works, what doesn't. I'm lucky because it seems like 95 percent of my stuff works. I really taught myself very early in doing all of it.
EOW: So most of what you do is based on your natural intuition?
PG: Yeah, about what goes together. You know, every now and then, you'll see something and go, "Wow! Why not that?" That's one thing I really like about reading other cookbooks, because you'll see these very odd things together. One of our bestselling crackers came from a mix of two recipes by accident. The page of the cookbook I was using had flipped and I hadn't noticed because the initial ingredients were the same. So I kept on using the recipe from the other page. and from there we got our bestselling crackers. It's interesting what happens with it.
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EOW: How long ago did you set up shop?
PG: My oldest daughter and I started Central City Co-op from her front porch. I was making raw vegan crackers for myself, and as you can see, I'm kind of excessive, so we'd have too much of it, and I started selling them. Then the Co-op grew and is now at Grace Lutheran Church on Taft Street. After that, we bought this building and started making the crackers here. We got into Whole Foods, and we kind of stepped out of the wholesale manufacturing of the crackers, and I started making more of my fresh foods. My Fit Foods had opened then; they're not proponents of vegan food, they like people to eat vegetables and gluten free and animal proteins, but they saw the benefit of just having another option there. We got in with My Fit Foods when they had just two stores, and we now provide their 15 stores here in Houston with desserts, salads and other fresh foods.
EOW: Do you also have people coming here to eat?
PG: People will come in here and buy something, and sometimes they'll pull up a chair and go sit at the table while we work. A lot of times they'll go sit on the porch, but we're mainly a takeout place.