A Winter Park restaurant hopes to not only serve up delicious food, but a healthier lifestyle choice, too.
Cafe 118, located right off Park Avenue, offers raw vegan cuisine. Nothing on the menu contains animal products, and true to the restaurant's name, nothing is heated above 118 degrees, which supporters of the diet say is the temperature at which the enzymes in food are broken down, reducing its nutritional value. Owner and raw vegan Joe Diaz's goal is to expose locals to a new, healthy way to eat.
Diaz's dive into raw food was really by chance. A few years ago Diaz, who was a commercial banker at the time, stumbled upon a Web site for some raw food restaurants in New York and fell in love with the food he saw on his computer screen.
"It was picture food — it was art on a plate and it was raw food," Diaz said.
He'd been thinking of opening his own business and saw this as an opportunity. He contacted the owner to inquire about a franchise, but when that was not available, he got in touch with the noted chef behind the cuisine, Matthew Kenney, and asked him to help develop a menu for a restaurant in Winter Park.
"It's a great American cuisine that should be exposed to the world," Diaz said.
And he's starting his mission here. The menu includes familiar ingredients, but puts a twist on components that are necessary, but don't fit into the raw vegan mold. For example, the "lasagna" has cheese made from macadamia nuts. This is one item on the menu that Diaz said every first-time visitor should try.
JJ Johnston, a Poinciana resident who made the hour trek to Winter Park just to try the restaurant, said that was her favorite dish.
"Some of it was very good, especially the lasagna, that's wonderful. The flavor on that was just outstanding," she said.
Johnston said though her standards are quite high for this type of food — her daughter is a raw vegan chef in California — a lot of the offerings at Cafe 118 were comparable to what her daughter makes. Frequent diner Joy Golding, also a raw vegan chef, agreed.
"I've never met anyone who can make better raw food than me, and he is better," Golding said.
Another reason Diaz said Cafe 118 is progressive is that they use mostly organic and local food. This also helps to support local farmers and keeps the ingredients as fresh as possible.
Johnston said this is why she loves this type of cuisine.
"It's really fantastically fresh and that just tastes so good."
And without all of the chemicals and preservatives found in factory food, raw vegan fare is much healthier, Diaz said.
Golding can attest to the health benefits of eating raw. In 2005, she was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and Hodgkin's lymphoma. Already a vegetarian, Golding decided she would research to find the best "anticancer diet." And that was raw veganism. A month after having the tumor removed and becoming a raw vegan, she got a PET scan and the cancer was gone. She's still cancer free and attributes part of that to her diet.
"I've seen it first-hand," she said. "It saved my life."
Diaz believes in the power of eating healthy, fresh, organic food. While he has a passion for eating, teaching is what he ultimately hopes his restaurant can do for people.
"I am interested in exposing people to the benefits of the food rather than the flavors," he said. "The flavors are wonderful, but the benefits far outweigh it."
If anyone can agree, Golding can, but she also said the food is just plain fun.
"Enjoy yourself — it's an adventure for your taste buds."
Cafe 118 is located at 153 E. Morse Blvd. in Winter Park. You can check out the menu at www.cafe118.com.