Interview with One Lucky Duck’s own Sarma Melngailis
Pure Food and Wine, a vegan treasure that’s been around for a decade, is New York City’s premier upscale raw, vegan, gluten‐free, and organic restaurant located in the heart of the Gramercy neighborhood on Irving Place at 17th Street. Pure Food and Wine elevates raw vegan food to a new place within the world of gourmet cuisine and concept restaurants. At the helm is the company’s founder, Sarma Melngailis, a blonde bombshell who’s adorned with a tattoo with her brand logo- a lone lucky duck right on her shoulder. We caught up with Sarma who is a role model for healthy plant‐based living to dive into her world of Pure Food.
What was the inspiration behind Pure Food & Wine?
I’d been working in the restaurant business for a few years when a friend brought me to dinner at a raw vegan café. This was over ten years ago, and I had no idea about the “raw vegan” concept. I looked it up online, and I assumed I’d hate it! However, trying all the food my friend ordered for us, I was surprised how much I liked it, and how much flavor was in the food. Meanwhile, he explained the philosophy behind raw food and everything I was hearing made so much sense. I was excited and intrigued. I also noticed that I while was eating a lot of food, I felt great and energized, rather than feeling tired and sluggish like I normally felt after a restaurant dinner.
After realizing raw food was the way to go personally, it felt like the city was ready for raw food done well, in an upscale yet comfortable environment with an extensive wine list and the kind of atmosphere appropriate for a business meeting or a romantic anniversary dinner.
You were on the vanguard with raw food in NYC when there weren’t any great options, how have you maintained a mystique for all of these years as the premiere raw food restaurant in NYC?
In the early days people often didn’t get what our concept was all about, yet there was so much else beyond our food that was (and is) appealing. The restaurant doesn’t look like one might expect a healthy vegan place to look. It’s dark and cozy and romantic, and in the warm weather we have a huge back patio garden. New Yorkers love outdoor dining so we have people who may have initially come for the atmosphere and ended up becoming fans of the food. Above all, our staff are really welcoming, some (like our bar manager Joey) having been with us for almost the entire time we’ve been open. People like coming back to a place they’re recognized, and where they recognize so many faces.
Pure features a seasonal menu that rotates, where do you source your local and seasonal ingredients?
Some ingredients we get from the big organic purveyors in the city, and others, usually the more seasonal things, we get from smaller purveyors. We’re also conveniently only one block away from the Union Square Greenmarket!
What are your most popular dishes?
Our most classic and popular dish I think will always be the Zucchini and Heirloom Tomato Lasagna with Basil Pistachio Pesto, Sundried Tomato Sauce and Macadamia Pumpkinseed Ricotta. This has been on the menu since day one and it’s one of the most accessible dishes. It’s also really filling, has familiar flavors, and looks pretty. For dessert, it’s definitely one of our sundaes, either the Classic Sundae or the Mint Sundae. Again, I think people really love foods they’re familiar with and being able to eat a whole ice cream sundae that’s really good for you and tastes better than a regular sundae is something people come to the restaurant for specifically.
The desserts are to LIVE for, what’s your favorite dessert right now?
This is always hard to answer; our pastry chefs are always coming out with incredible new desserts. Right now, I’m obsessed with our Snickers-inspired cake, that’s sold via our One Lucky Duck takeaway. It’s chocolate cake layered with peanut butter frosting, jungle peanuts, caramel sauce, ganache, and topped with all of these items plus peanut butter cup pieces. Also, always one of the sundaes. They’re classic and we can’t take them off the menu or we’ll get yelled at. I know this because we used to only have one or the other on the menu, and people would freak out when the one they wanted wasn’t available. So, now we always have both!
What are some of your go-to-snacks for travel and busy on the go?
We have a lot of packable snacks available on oneluckyduck.com and at the juice bars, so I’m always switching it up. My favorites lately are our Chia Thins (which taste eerily similar to Wheat Thins), Cinnamon Stripe Cookies and somewhat addictive spicy cashews. I also always travel with a bag of goldenberries. You know how flying can something make you get a little… backed up? Goldenberries work to prevent that! And they’re totally delicious, like candy.
People can purchase your products at One Lucky Duck and online?
Yes! We have a big selection of products online at oneluckyduck.com, not just our own cookies and snacks, but ingredients, supplements, all my favorite organic and clean skin care and cosmetics, my books, kitchen tools, apparel, and more. (We even have organic cotton One Lucky Duck baby/kids T-shirts!). J In our two shops we have all the snacks and ingredients, as well as fresh desserts and pastries from our pastry chefs.
You all offer a cleanse- tell us about it.
Our cleanse is designed to give the standard eater a clean break with a foray into the world of raw food and an introduction into how delicious it can be. Juice cleanses can be somewhat harsh for most people, and there are already so many of them out there, so we decided to make ours a bit different. For regular raw food eaters, our cleanse can also just be a way to easily get all your food delivered to you on a daily basis so there’s nothing to think about or worry about.
What’s next for you Sarma?
I’m always working on a lot of different things. I’d like to get another book out, but I don’t quite have that in the works yet! There are a few things up my sleeve, but right now I’m really looking forward to getting our backyard garden open for the Spring at Pure Food and Wine. And I’m going to LA this week for ten days, which may or may not be for business purposes.
What are your 3 glow tips for luminous living?
1. Drinking a lot of quality water (i.e. preferably not from a plastic bottle). We filter all our water at all our locations with a Tensui water system, it’s a amazing and I have a small one under my kitchen sink at home.
2. I also consume a lot of coconut oil whether in fruit shakes or as face lotion, body lotion, eye make up remover, or lip balm. And I give some to my dog regularly, I think it helps him maintain his glow too.
3. And… raw food, of course!
You can check out Sarma & One Lucky Duck online!
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