Everything To Know About Pure Food And Wine

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Reading this post will *not* make you immortal.

If you’ve watched all of Bad Vegan on Netflix, you’re more than familiar with the unbelievable tale of Sarma Melngailis and her vegan food empire.

But what about Pure Food and Wine, the iconic restaurant that launched her into infamy?


Courtesy Netflix

As someone who frequented the hotspot while it was still open, I’ve always been interested in the restaurant’s story — even before the documentary came about.

So I’m writing this post as BuzzFeed.com’s resident longtime vegan, and for all of my friends who have been texting me about Bad Vegan since it debuted on Netflix. Here’s everything I remember…

1.

To start, Pure Food & Wine opened in 2004.


Theo Wargo / WireImage

It was a joint venture between Chef Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis, who were in a relationship at the time. 

At the time of Pure’s opening, Matthew was a well-known chef in the NYC dining scene, having opened his namesake restaurant Matthew’s in the Upper East Side in 1993. He had also worked with Jeffrey Chodorow on previous ventures  — which is how he got involved in the business from the beginning. 

The pair got into raw veganism together in the late 2000s, meeting lots of people through Lower East Side juice bar, Organic Avenue, and the events and dinners they often held. As they became raw vegans themselves, they felt passionate about bringing their new diet to the masses through a new venture — a restaurant. 

2.

Sarma looked like this back when it opened — still rocking the pigtails, it seems!

3.

Pure Food and Wine’s kitchen is not like other restaurant kitchens. To start, there aren’t any ovens or heat!


Courtesy Netflix

Speaking about advantages they had while looking for spaces for their new restaurant, Matthew wrote in his book Cooking Raw, “raw cooking did not require the traditional gas or heat, so fire ventilation would not be required — this would save us a lot of money and also allow us to potentially build in spaces that most restaurants could not.”

4.

Once they moved into the space, Matthew wrote about how they set up the kitchen, too: “Once we removed the hood, we set about creating a space that was designed for this food, our new food. Compete with dehydrators and plenty of counter space.”

5.

The restaurant was an overnight success. Pure Food and Wine started hosting events that brought in Hollywood types like Jason Lewis from Sex and the City and longtime vegan Woody Harrelson.


Andrew Kent / Getty Images

And while it doesn’t have much to do with anything, I just love this photo of Woody getting up close and personal with some white truffles:


Andrew Kent / Getty Images

I guess it kind of just shows the vibe of things at the time.

6.

Soon after opening, Matthew and Sarma threw a launch party for one of their co-bylined cookbooks, Raw Food Real World in 2004. Celebs like Kyle MacLachlan, Ann Curry, and Daryl Hannah showing up for the party:


Paul Hawthorne / Getty Images

However, Matthew would not stay at Pure for long, and he’d write about this party as it related to his eventual romantic break.

7.

According to Matthew Kenney’s book, Cooked Raw, he left Pure Food and Wine in 2005 after he and Sarma broke up.


Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images

Matthew wrote about his break-up with Sarma as such: “While we may have been glowing in our business life, we weren’t as a couple. At that point I was quite familiar — and happy — with sleeping on the couch. Neither of us would admit that although we produced great work together, that was where the connection ultimately began and ended. Our book came out in June and was launched with a huge garden party: paparazzi, celebrities, journalists. By the time our book was released with our picture on the cover — drinking champagne and sharing the glow together — we were not together at all. Things were clearly not going to work out. Sarma and I were on completely different planets.”

But don’t worry too much about him! If you don’t already know, Matthew is one of the leading names in all of plant-based eating these days. He’s published over twelve cookbooks, runs the cooking school Future Food Institute, and runs over fifty (!) vegan restaurants all over the world. (Some of my favorites have to be Double Zero in NYC, Plant Food + Wine in Los Angeles, and Plant City in Providence, Rhode Island!)

8.

One of Pure Food and Wine’s main draws for New Yorkers was the expansive and beautiful backyard seating.

9.

The backyard is even more magical at night.

10.

The backyard made for a great happy hour spot — and happened to be just a couple of blocks from BuzzFeed’s New York headquarters.


Whitney Jefferson / BuzzFeed

11.

Raw food was incredibly experimental for the time. “Our concept made eyes roll in those days,” Matthew wrote.


Courtesy Netflix

And in case you were wondering, the food was actually REALLY GOOD! I know I’m a vegan myself, but I’m not a practicing raw vegan, so it’s not my everyday cuisine. I should also note that I’ve brought many non-vegans here over the years and they all enjoyed it. 

It was pricey, yes, but delicious. I always saw it as a “special occasion” type of place to go!

12.

The Heirloom Tomato Lasagna was indeed the restaurant’s crowning jewel.


Courtesy Netflix

It was the “must order” item on the menu — and people definitely did. It may look just like a bunch of raw veggies to you, but the way in which it was created (layers of thinly sliced zucchini and tomatoes criss-crossed with sun-dried tomatoes and brazil nut puree) is damn near art. Plus, the inclusion of nuts allowed the meal to actually fill you up after eating it.

I’ve tried it and liked it, but I knew it was *actually* good when my carnivore father was absolutely wowed by it — and talked about for years after.

13.

Fun fact, though: You can actually still order the lasagna today! If you’re local to California, Matthew serves it at his Venice restaurant, Plant Food and Wine.

14.

The desserts were out of this world.

15.

But I can absolutely admit that sometimes the menu could be a little bit wack. For example, take the “Master Cleanse Tini” from their drink menu:


Whitney Jefferson / BuzzFeed

I never ordered it, but I just can’t imagine it was an enjoyable martini. 

16.

You might not know that One Lucky Duck shared the same kitchen as Pure Food and Wine. It may have been around the corner and on another street, but the two spots were interconnected via their kitchen. It was also tiny:

17.

Mostly a juice bar, One Lucky Duck’s liquid menu looked like this:

18.

But they actually made a lot of raw food goodies as well.

I still miss their macadamia nut crackers, and the vanilla crispies were the bomb, too:

19.

I can confirm that it was definitely a celebrity hotspot at the time. While it was long before DeuxMoi’s Sunday Spottings, they were definitely still spotted — and Pure took notice. Like this photo they posted to Instagram of Boy George eating there in the New York Times…

…this haul from One Lucky Duck that Lena Dunham posted…

…Jason Mraz wearing a One Lucky Duck shirt…

…and Bill Clinton posing with the Pure Food and Wine staff, back when he was dabbling with a vegan diet.

20.

Yes, you could often find Sarma at the restaurant when you were there — at least until Shane/Anthony came into the picture.


Courtesy Netflix

Sarma’s bubbly personality would often greet you at the door. I saw her seated at the bar with her laptop doing work just like in this still from Netflix, too. 

I know I wasn’t there every day, obviously, but she was a notable presence at the place — something that clearly stopped once she began her new relationship.

21.

And finally, Sarma’s dog Leon could often be found at the restaurant, too. Here he is in the backyard:

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