Raw Food and Lifestyle with The Raw Chef Russell James

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The Raw Chef is the work of Russell James, he discovered the cleansing effect of eating natural uncooked foods on his problematic skin after returning from a cleansing retreat in Thailand in 2004. Russell went on to create The Raw Chef, an online hub of courses, live workshops and community where he has made a real art form out of making a huge variety of all our favorite foods. The Raw Chef makes these in a natural, healthy way, with! incredible taste. Russell really knows his stuff when it comes to nutrition and I wanted you to enjoy a chat with him about his work as a raw chef,  how he balances himself with nutrition and where the body & mind world is at with 'living foods'.

V:Hiya Russell, firstly, you are a raw food chef but how would you describe what you do to people that don't know about The Raw Chef?

RJ: Yeah, there's two things about answering this I guess, firstly what is a raw food chef?  then secondly how do I describe what I do? 

On a personal level, what I do in terms of raw food; We teach people how to create raw food for themselves and their families.

Raw food being anything that's not heated over 42 degrees Celsius, which is quite specific but its thought that you don't heat over that temperature because you start to lose the enzymes in the food at that temperature, as you get hotter and hotter you start to change the vitamins, proteins and minerals.

There used to be a movement of '100% raw is the only way to go' and 'cooked food is poison' and all this kind of stuff but in the research that I've done and seen there's very little research in the forms of bio-availability of nutrients in Cooked vs Raw because most tests are done on food when its cooked.

To get the amount of calories in a food you have to cook it, you burn it- then measure the heat that comes off of it I believe, so the studies that are sited are studies that were done years and years ago; One is on tomatoes, so if you cook a tomato, you get more available lycopene but you lose a lot of the Vitamin C, so it seems that vitamin C is heat sensitive, which, is why the whole 'cold pressed juice' movement is so popular now. Juices are very sensitive to being denatured (when you cook them or pasteurize them) so people are moving over to that movement,  'cold pressed', made on that day is the best way to go.

So, what I do with the food is a natural extension of that. You'll find that people that are into juices and smoothies get into raw food, an I find that a really nice sweet spot is the 80|20 rule, its prevalent in a lot of areas of life, I feel really great when i'm doing it, 80% raw and 20 % cooked , its an ebb and flow. As long as I don't go below 50%, I mean its not like i'm weighing out food or counting calories, I rarely think in percentages its just the way I can describe it, I go by how I feel and that really works for me.  

Everyone eats some raw food, even if its just lettuce in their sandwich or whatever it is, so, its not so much about being a raw foodist or eating a raw food diet in terms of temporary things, its more that I want to eat more fresh foods, more fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds in their unheated state and I'm going to support that in whatever else I do, which might be raw food. Raw food in this case is a plant based thing, some people might like to be all plant based, all vegan-all plant based and some people like to add eggs, or fish a couple of times a week or couple of times a month, its really down to the individual , whether they come at it from a health perspective or an animal welfare perspective.

Even in animal welfare there are lots of nuances in terms of people that eat food, they might eat animal products and they want to feel more conscious about it but they might feel they need some animal products so they want to make sure that its not factory farmed, that the animals have lived in a certain way, so there are many different facets to it .

My quick answer is that I tell people about the raw food, what it is and what I do and then outside that it's having the business that I have. I actually for the first time the other day, when I filled out a form on 'whats your job', I put entrepreneur, an I felt a little weird about that *laughs*  

V:Yeah, its one of those loaded words isn't it..

RJ: Yeah totally, I didn't feel good about it, so I think in future i'll just write business owner.

V:Its a funny one isn't it

RJ: Yeah its like i'm saying, i'm kind of special, "i'm an entrepreneur". The one that gets me is when people say im a 'serial entrepreneur'

V: Oh! Ive not heard that one..*laughs*

RJ: Yeah, anyone's got the right to call themselves anything they want, this is all my judgement right? but its just for me, serial entrepreneur is like "I just cant stop producing companies, you know'

V: Like, 'I just cant stop being awesome' *laughs*

RJ: *Laughs* Yeah!, "I'm awesome on multiple levels, you know,  what ever I touch turns to gold" (jokes).

I think if your an entrepreneur, then you do by nature, start multiple things. If you are a true entrepreneur, and that might not even show up till later. I mean, I wasn't one of those kids that had a lemonade stand (to use an american term) or at school I wasn't the one buying and selling football stickers or anything to make money. Like you just hear those kids, who are naturally entrepreneurial..

V: Yeah, I always wrote myself off with some of the entrepreneur thing, just because I didn't have one of those stories, I just thought, oh I cant be then.

RJ: Right! Oh that's so interesting, yeah, its so true isn't it, its like 'well i'm obviously not an entrepreneur because I didn't show it at a young age'.

Actually I was just reading that the guy that owns Zara (the clothing shop) has just become the richest man in the world over Bill Gates, he didn't start Zara until he was forty, so , there's hope for everyone. I really don't think there are any rules.

When I think about it, I definitely had a good work ethic, I got into the network marketing thing around 17, so people were showing me opportunities, so I always had that thing of not just wanting a job but having said that, I was in a job until, well into my thirties and hadn't made any significant money at all entrepreneurial other than a paycheck, so I don't think there are any rules, but that's funny that you completely write yourself off , I can totally identify with that.

V: Yeah, looking back, it is a funny thought.

Do you find that, pushing the entrepreneurial word aside, that it all stems from just having this inner desire to create things? I guess I feel that everyone's got energy to work with (I try not to use that word, as again its one of those loaded words) but, everyone's got an amount of energy every day to spend in a way they choose, and I always see it that at the same time, everyone's got some area that they, maybe just enjoy, so naturally when they merge their creativity in that area, it just happens, it just works. I think everyone's got that kind of niche potential .

RJ; Mmmm, I think that's definitely true, that's a really interesting point. Everyone is working with a certain amount of energy and creativity and for some people, I think it really depends on your type. I don't know if I've ever mentioned it to you,  its called wealth dynamics, if your the entrepreneurial type I guess or if your doing your own thing then wealth dynamics is something to look at. Its based on the I Ching, which most personality tests are when you trace them back, it gives you your type. Again its not a rule, its more of a guide and its based on - you answer questions online, I found it to be really bang on actually.

If you owned a company and you wanted your employees to do it there would be a talents dynamic, so it gives answers, it doesn't tell you the type of business you should be running, it says 'these are your strengths within an organisation'. It describes all of the different personality types, the umbrella types like introvert and extrovert and within that you've got at the top that the extrovert is the creator, the star and the mechanic. So, those happen to be my types, so i'm mostly creator and I've got equal amounts of mechanic and star.

 The creator is pretty much what it says, they like to create things, head in the clouds a lot of the time, doesn't like the detail, bad at finishing things, so a creator would be someone like Bill Gates,  Steve Jobs, Richard Branson that create stuff -bigger picture, don't get involved in a lot of the manusha, like 'bring stuff to me and i'll tell you if its any good or not', this is the big vision of it kind of thing.

Then you've got the star, so stars would be Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey, so they will put their name to stuff, they will make a name for themselves and then by putting their name to something, it will be successful. So Tiger Woods with Nike and all the stuff that hes promoted and Oprah , just all the people she has on her show really. When she promotes a book it gets crazy popular.

Then you've got mechanic, I haven't got any famous mechanics that I can list off, I cant remember any, there are plenty, mechanics like systems and setting up things and so that's been really good in my business, its no surprise that I've focused a lot on the online stuff, creating programs and courses and set up systems within the online space, whilst being comfortable in front of the camera and putting my name to stuff.

The downside of that is that if you don't link up with different people with different qualities, then you kind of have this tunnel vision where you stay within that realm, that can also be problematic, which is kind of where i'm at at the moment, i'm starting to work with other people, bring other people on, that may be someone that I can bounce ideas  back and forth with and someone that can say to me "rather then that, I think we should do this"  rather then me just saying, 'do this job -do this job' kind of thing.

V: To widen the view..

RJ: Yeah, on the left hand side there is the lord and the lord likes looking at the finances and cutting away the fat, saving money wherever they can you know? and so that type of persons creative energy is really based on them wanting to do that an they might not see themselves as entrepreneurial at all but yeah your right, when you take away the E word the entrepreneurial word and just say that someones giving an amount of energy with a certain skill and that blend is unique to them then its really just about finding a way within the system that we're in and the point in history we are at that that can be used.

Its really interesting, I was just driving along to wholefoods an hour or so ago and there was this really beautiful old car driving along, huge at the back , no roof, it must have been 1920's, something like that, I'm not that good at placing cars and dates, but I looked at that car and I thought, at some point in history that was the best we could do as human beings but the people were equally as intelligent then as we are now. You only have to look at people like Albert Einstein and even further back, the guys before him, just as intelligent but the development that we are at now, people that are just as intelligent are producing things that are way more technically advanced so I think you have to take in to account that if we were not entrepreneurial at school that's fine, because there just wasn't a match for our energy at that time in history and at that point in our lives, but things can change.

V:That makes a lot of sense. Thinking about health, healthy eating - exercise, personal development, I've certainly found that the more balanced you become in your lifestyle; with nutrition, exercise, being from a place of peace, doing things that you love to do and becoming more authentic to your self - those kind of things, that it  naturally brings out your own kind of energy so to speak, or authenticity,  I've really found that and I wonder is that the same for you?

RJ: Yeah, definitely, you only have to speak to anyone that's done any kind of fasting, like a juice fast or whatever it is, its interesting to me that all the spiritual aspects involve some form of fasting for some period of time because it really connects you to that energy, that looking after yourself really opens you up, and it was actually when I  was at a fast in Thailand that I discovered I wanted to be a raw food chef eleven years ago because I read a passage in a raw food book and I was like 'Man, this is it' and I felt the energy, its very easy to feel and see the truth in something when your that open and for me its food.

I know Geoff Thompson talks about this a lot doesn't he, about getting your pallet right and it really is such an important thing, and so not only is there a physical energy to it because you've got a cleaner system, it does connect you to something else, where, without making any of these types of thing wrong, alcohol, bread, pasta and all the heavy kind of foods, again, not making them wrong but that along with trashy TV and all that kind of stuff, it will numb you down. No matter what your opinion on those things is it will definitely numb you, so by not doing those things, I think that's as much the benefit to eating healthy as what your leaving out as to what your putting in. Its cleaning out that vessel isn't it, its allowing stuff to just flow through you, not only do you get more creativity, more ideas but when they come, your more likely to act on them, you have more energy to act on them and you just want to do it more.

V: Yeah definitely, it's like getting rid of the excesses, making the self a lot simpler (even though its not simple in itself) cleansing the self and allowing that inner essence through. As you said before, I think it makes the vessel a lot stronger, it functions a lot better in whatever area that is, the brain becomes a lot clearer. It's really good when your creating from that place and just in life in general.

Going back to you, nutrition and the raw food you teach, do you find that there's any go to foods that you find balance you? (For any particular reason or just something that you like?)

RJ: Yeah, definitely, for me its the greens, to borrow from David Wolfs teachings, you talk about green as a neutral color and that tends to be mirrored in the body, I think it neutralizes and the alkaline thing is more well known about now - in terms of alkalizing your body with neutral foods, more alkaline foods, less acids foods, more neutral foods. Getting those greens in every day is really important. Even now as i'm saying it, i'm thinking I need my green smoothie today, and you know, I don't think I had a green smoothie yesterday , thinking back, maybe I didn't have enough greens yesterday. Not having a green smoothie for me is like an off day.

V: Its your barometer..

RJ: Yeah, I think I did have a load of green beans yesterday so that was fine. But yeah, the greens are definitely what I keep coming back to.

There's some really good stuff that I found out there about green smoothies. Victoria Boutenko was really the first to write the Green smoothie book and there's actually a film out there her son made, I think its called 'Powered by Green Smoothies'. He took some Americans with a standard American diet and didn't get them to change anything apart from having 1 litre of green juice per day and measuring their output, some of them were athletes, runners, a real good cross section and apparently they performed a lot better having those green smoothies.

It's interesting to watch that thing about what you start your day off with, not only that it dictates the rest of the day but also when you've got a bit of momentum, if you are bringing in those green foods, the need or desire for other stuff that is not so supportive to your health or the things your trying to do, they tend not to show up, you don't warm to them so much.

It can be a kind of slippery slope in terms of whether its someone trying to get some sugar in;  raw chocolate is a thing in the raw food  movement but you can even get hooked on that. I see people eating raw chocolate for breakfast and saying 'well i'm eating better than most of the population' and maybe there's an element to that that's true but I think you cant go crazy on the sugar and the chocolate just because its raw. I mean yeah, I definitely eat those things but for me it comes back to the greens. 

What I find really helps me first thing in the morning is a celery juice. If i'm feeling like I want another flavour in there I might have some cucumber as well, I like to have lime whether i have cucumber or not so

I normally have a celery, lime and celery or cucumber and celery juice. It is very hydrating, more so than water.

V: It sounds very neutralizing; refreshing..

RJ: Yeah, yeah, its got some natural sodium in there and its got all kinds of goodies that will support you . I find it also actually supports a bowl movement as well, *laughs* which I think is the nicest way of saying it

V: It was said nicely!, it was said so nicely that it slipped through the net before I acknowledge what you was talking about.

RJ: *laughs* A lot of people get that effect from coffee, that drinking coffee in the morning, sends them off to the loo.

After a week of those juices I actually get people saying how healthy I look, its really interesting.

V: I guess as well, first thing in the morning, breakfast is like breaking-the-fast of sleep,  like a mini night fast so the celery juice is probably a really good thing to start with.

RJ: Yeah, totally, like what you say, what we have first thing in the morning is so important and again I've slipped up on this and still do like everyone else, if i'm offered something or there's something left in the fridge from the night before and I just fancy it but I guess to illustrate this point, if you have caffeine first thing in the morning as your first liquid or even if you eat a bit of chocolate first thing, if you have that caffeine it will affect your blood sugar, whether you have sugar in it or not so your blood sugar will spike and then it stops your body form producing its Cortisol in the natural way that it should for that day, so it makes you crave carbs more, as your body is trying to keep that sugar level up, but if you have a coffee later on in the day it doesn't necessarily have that effect.

I mean, you've been here a couple of times and we've had coffee and i'm going through that stage of having coffee but if I do it for any more than 2 or 3 days in a row I start to feel really terrible, I get puffy eyes, so every couple of months I go through that phase of having coffee once or twice or three times in a week and then i'll feel like crap and then i'll be like 'ah I need to not do that.' Its not to say that everyone's the same but even if you are OK with coffee and you genuinely feel like its something you can metabolize, because some people are more able to metabolize it. Like, if you can have coffee at night and then go to sleep?! *laughs*, I mean that blows my mind that anyone can do that, there's no amount of coffee that I can drink in the world that I would ever get to that point where I can have a coffee and go to sleep after it.

V: There's lots of people like that, I mean i'm one of those people, I admit i'm one of them, I can have a coffee at night time and quite easily sleep but I think  with me because I've drank coffee regularly my system has adapted, like the 'general adaption syndrome' so my bodies grown to be quite resistant to it which I don't think is necessarily a good thing.

RJ: The test is if you stop drinking it how bad is the headache, so if you don't have it for a day, how do you feel?  but certainly if you go 2-3 days without it and no headache then generally things are all good for you. I had a friend recently who wanted to give up coffee, she had migraines and had to go to bed at about 2-3 pm in the afternoon just to get through the day because it was really bad and shes someone who would of considered herself a coffee drinker and its all fine but when she stops drinking it ..... I think you can tell, when people say "I'm not the same until I can have my coffee", that's a real tell tale sign that somethings not right, that shouldn't be like that.

V: Yeah, its right in the words isn't it :)

RJ: Right! yeah and it takes some time to adapt if you feel you don't feel the same. I started having some English Breakfast Tea and I even notice the caffeine in that, its about breaking the cycle. You get this with some people with going out, whether that's going clubbing or to the pub or whatever and if they cant have some form of recreational drug whether that be legal or illegal then it seems like its never going to be the same, I notice it even with English breakfast tea! which makes me sound like that's my drug but I do notice, its like 'but that's my treat' I really look forward to it. If I don't have that this afternoon whilst i'm chatting to my friend then life's just not going to be the same and on the other side of it you can see that's really not the truth, its just the addiction fools you into it, so I think no matter where you are, you don't even have to tell anyone else about it, you just have to be honest with yourself really, if something seems like 'life's not going to be as good with out it' then there's a strong chance there's an addiction there.

V: Yeah, its being aware to those spikes of awareness, those thoughts of awareness with a lot of truth in them.

RJ: Yeah, and its what you do with that awareness after isn't it , the nature of addiction is that you have cognitive dissonance, so you close that dissonance with a reason why its OK , because your only going to do it today and tomorrow your going to stop. For me its like, I have that coffee on day 1, lets say I haven't had coffee for 3 or 4 months, and now I have a coffee because i'm feeling good and its like 'i'm feeling good , I can handle it' and then that's fine and then the next day I've made a rule that I don't want to have coffee two days in a row because then I know it starts causing me problems but then my brain the next day because I've got some in my system  its like 'no you'll be fine, its only two days', 'you know your fine for three days' like even though I know i'm not, its like 'you can get away with two days'  'three days don't but two days you'll be fine' and then day 3 comes around and its like 'ah man i'm addicted to it again' It's like I need it today to get through today but now I've got an actual problem again where i'm going to have to give up properly so ill do it tomorrow because that's when I really feel that I can do it properly and I can make sure that I can get sleep and blah blah blah blah, so all these reasons, obviously you can tell from my stream of consciousness, because that's what my brain tells me and I think its the same for everyone. It's that moment of awareness, it depends what you do with it really.

V:Yeah, the magic moments.

That's made me think about the importance of balance in the body, and probiotics/prebiotics, they've been a bit more in the mainstream recently. I was really interested to read that  90% of the bodies serotonin is actually made in the digestive track, so they found that by supplementing people (who had depression) that just by having fermented foods\ probiotics they actually found that it helped with serotonin uptake and mood balance, just to name one of the benefits. So that balance we have within in our biology - and with food, the effect it has on us really interests me.

RJ: Yeah definitely. We've been focusing a lot on fermented foods here at the The Raw Chef HQ because fermented foods should be raw when you eat them, so when you have Sauerkraut that's off the shelf in the supermarket and the caveat out here is that its in a glass container at room temperature, on the shelf, long life kind of thing. Because now, certainly in London and other health food shops around the UK, i'm presuming, is raw Sauerkraut, kimchi, that type of thing  that is in a fridge and its  pasteurized , so all fermented foods all the goodness is only still in tact if you don't heat them , because they're living organisms right?, so we've been focusing a lot on that because having fermented foods every day is really important and preferably, and again i'm not perfect with this but preferably if you can get to the point where you are having fermented foods at every meal then that's really optimum. It might only be a couple of forks of Sauerkraut, you don't need much. I posted on my blog a thing that Dr Mercola did where he sent off Sauerkraut to be tested and it came out that 2 ounces of Sauerkraut (that works out about 50g) has the equivalent amount of probiotics as a whole bottle of really high strength probiotic supplements. So its literally just a few fork fulls. What that does is then it strengthens your immune system by strengthening your internal flora and the gut is known as the second brain, have you heard of this?

V: Yes!

RJ: So its actually not just the brain doing its own thing and sending messages out to the body, the gut actually sends messages to the brain through the vagus nerve so they're even looking at things such as Parkinson's now as something that starts in the gut, whether it be from something you ingest or something that occurs in the gut that travels up through the vagus nerve to the brain, so there's a lot of discoveries to be made here yet. What we have to take from that is you've got to take care of you gut, like you said, your gut reaction, people talk about trusting their gut and gut instinct, and so that goes back to what we were saying at the beginning in terms of having a clean vessel.

Not only have you got the stuff that numbs you, numbing you down inside but you've also created a healthy gut with good healthy bacteria where you can actually see in actual practical examples of where your intuition starts to feel more reliable because your trusting your gut.

There's so many people in business, even business mentors I've had that you would consider very corporate, without a blink of an eye they would say 'go with your first gut instinct' because its probably the right one. Yet if you talk about energy of anything like that its like 'ah no, that's rubbish,'  The gut instinct one is so intrinsic we all know to be true, something we have all been bought up with 'trust you gut' that it doesn't challenge anyone's idea of whats true and whats not, yet its one of the oldest truths.

V: Yeah, its interesting, Caroline Myss express's intuition being nothing spiritual based, an purely an inbuilt survival mechanism.  It's like what we was saying earlier about eating foods that are numbing or are heavy, they can have that effect physically and emotionally, making you feel slow or sluggish, foggy. When your eating cleaner, it helps you think clearer, your reactions are quicker, it really helps you to come from what we'd call I guess, a clear place. Its really interesting as well that the gut area, the lower abdomen in martial arts and esoteric exercise, that area is an energy hub, power comes from there, its an interesting area. There is also a great section on this in the book Super Genes, they explain findings on our microbiome and the effect it has on our genes. its really great to see well-being developed like this.

The fermented foods, you do a live workshop on how to make them at home don't you?

RJ: Yeah we haven't done the live class for a while but Amy Levin and I have got the online course so we haven't done a live class on that for a while but we may do at some point again in the future but we can reach more people with the fermented foods online stuff, which we're really excited about because we can support people in there and its an ongoing thing.

I know there's huge value in coming and seeing it done and even have a go at doing it themselves and they learn better that way and that's very true i'm sure but the benefits of an online class, well certainly the way that we do it, we don't limit peoples access, we don't say this course is six weeks and once you've done it your done and your out. Its an ongoing thing where they have ongoing access to the course and the support so they can try things and come back and say this didn't work or, the biggest question we get is 'what I've made smells like this, is that right?'  its very difficult to tell someone yeah that's right or that's wrong but when your growing bacteria in your food its a bit of a scary thing.

We do drinks like kefir and kambucha, we cover the classics like kimchi, sauerkraut, some more unusual stuff in there like chutneys and I do a whole module on tree nut cheeses, so making cheeses out of macadamias, cashews and almonds. 

Thats one of my favourite things to do actually, Im getting into that on a whole new level.

V: I was going to say, I remember coming over and trying one of those and it was incredible. Its really nice seeing how the way you make your food is an art form, its really good seeing it go up all these new levels and the tastes incredible! I think its one of those things that once people try something like that, its like 'wow' i actually didn't realize that was possible. 

RJ: That is where I came from, when I found out about raw food it was as much about the health as it was about the artistic nature of it, when I was at school I was only ever good at art, and I wasn't in a job that really gave me any creativity, working in Tesco and training to be a driving instructor at the time, those were perfect for me at the time but getting back to that creativity was really important to me, so it was really important that I carried that through and take a bit of pride in it , make things look nice, but also, how far can we push it?

I think when you have people around you that can vibe with you and be creative with you, like I mentioned with Amy and the course we've got- we all spur each other on with new creative stuff that's always fun. Tree nut cheese is one of those things that's like 'wow' I never had any idea that you could do it and new things are being discovered all the time.

I've got a friend in Switzerland, my friend Michael whose managed to make a Camembert out of almonds with the proper mould on the outside of it and I was amazed at how he done that. I looked into Camembert making and there are three different types of strain of probiotic bacteria that they use and they all work to do that thing so I think I can probably work it out, so i'm going to give that a go. 

V; Continual progression and discovery!

So if people want to learn more about raw food, the courses you run and the fermented foods, they are all available on your website?

RJ: Yeah, I've actually got the website www.rawfermentation.com and that will always lead to where that fermentation course is. There is some free stuff there at the moment that you can sign up for too.

V: Its always good to learn from someone that's really got it right. 

 If you would like to see more of The Raw Chef and Russell's work, look at his courses or sign up for his free recipes and newsletter check out the website therawchef.com  | Facebook | Twitter 

For more info on Russell's raw fermentation course www.rawfermentation.com 

We hope you enjoyed reading. If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear them.