This is part one of Gut Check's Chef's Choice profile of Natasha Kwan of Frida's Deli. Part two, a Q&A with Kwan, will be published Wednesday, and part three, a recipe from Kwan, will be available on Thursday.
"I was an unhealthy vegan," confesses Natasha Kwan, owner of the vegetarian, vegan and raw-food restaurant Frida's Deli (622 North and South Road, University City; 314-727-6500).
"I was fat. I felt like crap. I didn't eat right. But I thought in my head, 'If there are no animal products in it, then I'm eating great.'
"That is a load of B.S."
For the 39-year-old Kwan, the opening of Frida's Deli (named for her cat) in 2012 marked the realization of a dream two decades in the making: "I wanted a place for that long." The restaurant also stands as a testament to the struggle that Kwan, though a vegetarian from a very young age, has undertaken to find a healthy diet.
"I was vegetarian, became die-hard vegan, and then vegetarian again," she says. "It's a cycle. I was a raw foodist for a year -- like die-hard raw foodist. Now I eat fish, and that decision took four or five years."
(Though she describes herself as a pescetarian, over the course of our conversation the term that she uses most often to describe her diet is low-glycemic.)
In Kwan's view, too many vegetarian and vegan restaurants avoid such a struggle: "I think a lot of those places around the country have that type of concept: 'Well, we're just not going to use meat products, but we're going to buy everything that's processed that tastes like meat, and we're going to do all the fake cheeses.'"
Frida's carries some of the products, Kwan says. "But we don't have a lot of it. There's always a healthy choice, and beyond that a healthier choice to eat here."
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