Raisin the Root grows to nourish in Minden
By Sue Tiffin
A mural covering one wall of a Bobcaygeon Road building is turning heads in Minden and leaving a bright image of locally-grown vegetables in the minds of passersby. Soon enough, Nourished, by Raisin the Root, will open to the public in that space, ensuring fresh vegetables fill bodies, too.
For many years, Alexis Macnab has seen the plant-based and gluten-free food she creates generate interest and appeal to people at the farmers’ market, in workshops, at festivals and even at a table full of bear hunters. Now, the entrepreneur and culinary nutrition expert, together with Matthew Thompson, a Red Seal chef, are planning on offering their specialties from a permanent location.
Macnab became vegetarian when she was nine, through a compassion for animals. From there she began eliminating dairy, and then became vegan.
Experiencing the difficulty of finding readily available vegan food, and encountering the challenges for people with celiac disease to find truly gluten-free options, she fell into research and took to the kitchen.
“I started to make a lot of stuff from scratch, and it was kind of this family joke because growing up I never cooked, ever. Like bagels and cream cheese and Kraft Dinner was basically what I survived on in high school if I had to cook for myself,” she laughed. “It was just this big joke that I was never able to cook. But then I started getting so into it and my immediate family members were like, wow, this actually tastes good. Like, you actually are able to cook stuff.”
When Macnab’s mom heard an interview with Meghan Telpner, the founder of Academy of Culinary Nutrition, on Canoe FM, she called Macnab to tell her that someone on the radio sounded just like her.
“[Telpner] was saying, you don’t have to eat meat and dairy and gluten to enjoy food,” said Macnab. “And it doesn’t mean you only have to have a salad.”
Having already been looking into further education, the Culinary Nutrition Expert course offered through the school had the focus on application of skill that Macnab was seeking.
“Every week you had a written assignment, and you also had a cooking assignment, and you had to submit pictures and little blurbs about the pre-planning, the planning, the execution, the end result, how did it taste, did anybody else try it,” said Macnab. “And one of the assignments was that you had to do a workshop with four people ... you had to film it and submit that.”
The course encouraged enjoyment in the kitchen, and making clean, flavourful food part of Macnab’s routine.
“It was funny because my cooking assignments were due Tuesday and people started just dropping by Monday evening around dinner,” she said, noting that friends who weren’t necessarily strictly plant-based were stopping in to taste “assignments” like cashew pasta and black bean burritos.
Collaborating with like-minded locals, Macnab participated in a series of workshops to present on detoxification through both whole food and yoga fundamentals.
“So many people were like, ‘oh, I wish I could eat this way,’ and I was like, I mean, you can eat this way,” she said. “I’m not a Red Seal chef. I just make food that doesn’t have meat and dairy in it. We make it seem more complicated than it really is, you know?”
From there, Macnab hosted a whole food fundamentals workshop at Abbey Gardens.
“There were 13 people that came and I was shocked,” she said. “I was hoping for four. We had to cut it off because there just wasn’t room for more people, so that was really cool.”
After several more workshops, Macnab was invited to attend the farmers’ market three years ago.
“I had no idea how to do it, literally no idea, I just decided to do it on a whim,” laughed Macnab. “It was awful, I was so stressed ... but I sold out of everything I made ... And not only that, so many people took the food and came back and said, that was really good, where can I find [it]?”
Chef Matthew Thompson and Culinary Nutrition Expert Alexis Macnab are creating a space on Bobcaygeon Road for Nourished, which will include a commercial kitchen where they can prepare for Raisin the Root, their farmers’ market booth and food showcases and conferences; a workshop space and a fermentation station. /SUE TIFFIN Staff
It was surprising to Macnab, who had grown up in Minden being teased or misunderstood for her lifestyle choice. While a vegetarian might still consume food like cheese, milk and eggs, a vegan diet avoids any type of animal product and is usually comprised of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses.
“There are literally a million things that I could eat that don’t have meat and dairy in it,” said Macnab. “The typical response, especially when you throw in the gluten-free thing, is well it’s just going to taste like cardboard. I really wanted to prove to people that that’s just [nonsense]. Meals can be vegan and gluten-free and delicious and vibrant and nutritionally dense and it doesn’t have to be jam-packed full of corn-based sugars and [junk].”
Since first offering her food publicly, she has joined the farmers’ market full time, catered a vegan wedding, helped parents prepare healthy snacks for birthday parties, and participated in festivals and wellness fairs. She’s also partnered with Matthew Thompson.
“When Matty and my first date stretched into the afternoon and ended after a long night of prepping, cooking, chopping and creating [for the next day’s market], I was exhausted, yet elated because it was so exciting to have him weighing in and contributing his experience, knowledge and speed to my small-time, homegrown kitchen experiments,” said Macnab. “As he continued to help me with my prep, loaned me his kitchen tools and showed me time-saving techniques, the level of satisfaction from our customers increased noticeably. You know, my food was good enough that people would return to my booth and compliment the flavour profile, but when Matty made the soup, people would come back and beg for the recipe, or ask if we catered private dinners.”
Macnab and Thompson became so busy, and wanted to avoid cross-contamination when working with vegan and gluten-free food, that it became necessary to have a health unit-certified kitchen. Macnab has been living in Costa Rica throughout winters for the past several years, and the opportunity to purchase the building formerly housing Headlines Hairstyling at 27 Bobcaygeon Road in Minden presented both a space to live, and a space to work.
“And I didn’t have to keep farming my plants out to people every six months,” she laughed.
Nourished, by Raisin the Root, will give Macnab and Thompson the kitchen they need to focus on food, and will also be a spot for people to pick up grab-and-go options, including frozen meals or prepped food to be cooked at home or participate in meal programs.
Plans for Nourished also include an inclusive collaboration spot for people to host pop-up workshops and sell environmentally and health conscious goods to promote healthy living.
“I want to have a space that provides people with healthy, homemade, from scratch food, that is nutritionally dense and enjoyable to eat, and then I also want to have a space to offer this knowledge to other people so they can also apply it at home,” she said.
The garage will become a fermentation station, a place to create fermented mushroom ketchup, salsa verde with Graham’s Farm tomatoes, kimchi, and apple-cabbage sauerkraut using apples from the backyard.
“A big part of what we do at the markets is naturally fermented, probiotic-rich spreads, dips, preserves and condiments,” said Macnab. “Matty’s passion for fermenting takes our products to a whole new level with constantly changing ideas and inspiration.”
The mural recently painted on the side of the building by artist Ian Milligan features food like garlic and fiddleheads – all things that can be grown in Haliburton County – in its natural state.
Messages sent to Macnab on social media questioning which area restaurants serve gluten-free food, how to have a healthier diet to lower cholesterol and examples she saw of people having more energy and feeling better after switching to meatless meals indicated to her that there were people living locally who were looking for more plant-based and gluten-free food options.
“The biggest part of my personal food philosophy is that knowledge is power, and understanding what you’re eating brings you so much power and control over your own life,” she said.
For more information on Raisin the Root, visit raisintheroot on Instagram or stop by to see Macnab and Thompson at the farmers’ markets this season. Nourished will be located at 27 Bobcaygeon Road.