New downtown eatery serves up nutrient-rich raw foods, bought locally
At first glance, the House of Nature’s Own is reminiscent of a small, vibrant coffee shop, where black-framed oil paintings of fruit and vegetables hang from elegant walls of burnt orange and pale yellow while soft jazz music plays in the background.
The restaurant’s eclectic atmosphere may beckon patrons, but it’s what comes out of an ovenless kitchen that makes this eatery distinctive from others in Chico.
Each dish is a compilation of raw fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, seeds and spices—all prepared under 118 degrees to preserve nutritious enzymes often lost during cooking and baking. This unusual method sometimes employs the use of a dehydrator to whip up dishes ranging from entrees of “live” nachos and lasagna to rich desserts, such as dark-chocolate ganache, which is prepared without using white flour, white sugar or processed salt.
This vision of an eco-friendly and nourishing restaurant is a family affair.
“We come from a very health-oriented family, but also one that likes fine food with elegance,” said Ashley White, who manages the new restaurant. “Our taste for cuisine evolved over the course of our lives.”
Ashley’s father, Craig White, has taught business for five years at Chico State University and owns two restaurants in Arizona. About a year ago, he bought Island Smoothies in downtown Chico, where he started offering crepes in addition to blended fruit drinks made with natural sugars.
Ashley, 26, and her brother, Cody White, 21, both attended the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in Fort Bragg, one of only two raw vegan culinary schools in the nation. There they learned how to create nutritious and appetizing raw entrees.
The siblings joined forces with their dad to create a restaurant that offers food for the mind, body and soul by closing up the smoothie shop on Broadway and reopening as Nature’s Own two months ago. They felt there was a need for a place where people could eat healthful, tasty meals.
“People should have an alternative to a diet of heavy meats and processed foods,” Craig said. “Personally, I think it leads to a longer life and better health.”
Ashley had a different motivation for creating a raw menu, claiming it’s her love of food that drove her to this style of cooking. Cody, who is not a vegan, agrees that healthful food should be appetizing. Even when he eats out elsewhere, he likes to stop by Nature’s Own and grab something to make sure he’s fully stocked on nutrients and energy.
At the family-run business, Craig does the books, while Ashley oversees the restaurant and Cody prepares the food. And they say they have no qualms about working with each other every day.
Ashley brought a new generation to the table four weeks ago when she gave birth to her son, Spencer. This new mother’s face shows no signs of fatigue, and she’s in great shape. She said some of the nurses at her pediatrician’s office have visited Nature’s Own after seeing how healthy and bright the baby has become.
Despite the menu and ingredients, the family sees the restaurant as much more than your average salad bar.
“We don’t want to be classified as raw or vegan,” Ashley said. “It’s important to be local and sustainable above everything else.”
In fact, the sustainable practices go far beyond the menu at Nature’s Own, where the walls of the eatery are done in special paints that emit lower levels of chemicals than traditional paint, and the carpet is made using clay pieces instead of plastic. The interior light fixtures have been outfitted with energy-saving compact fluorescent lights; solar lights illuminate the patio.
“We don’t cook, so that saves an unbelievable amount of energy,” Craig noted.
Recently, a few Chico State students asked for the scraps from the restaurant’s 90 percent organic menu. The family was happy to donate the leftovers to the university’s compost pile, and continues to do so.
When stocking Nature’s Own, the family makes every effort to buy locally, making weekly stops at the Thursday Night Market and trips to S&S Produce and Chico Natural Foods. ProPacific Fresh in Durham is one of the restaurant’s main suppliers, delivering weekly supplies of all available organic fruits and vegetables.
Even with so many local sources, preparing raw food is not as easy as it seems. A lot of time and energy is put into meals that Ashley calls beautiful to the eye and delicious to the mouth. Plus, the offerings are dependent on seasonal produce.
“The difficulty with a raw-food restaurant is that you have to base your menu on what will be available, but I like the challenge,” said Cody, who is looking into hydroponics so he can grow organic strawberries year round.
Even the coffee is made naturally by filtering grounds through a cold press using cloth filters. The concentrate is collected and then filtered through hot water, reducing the acidity by about 70 percent yet maintaining the flavor.
The care put into these dishes has not gone unnoticed. The restaurant is frequented by vegetarians, people allergic to traditional foods, animal enthusiasts and those wanting to be healthier or lose weight. Even food connoisseurs come in to “let their palette live a little,” Cody said.
Books with information about the nutrients of live enzymes and other benefits have helped bolster the culinary trend.
“Raw foods are becoming more and more popular in the media, and it’s easy to access information on the health benefits,” said Ashley, who keeps raw-food recipes scattered on the bar of the restaurant.
Craig said people dragged in by friends typically end up staying and truly enjoy their food, and Ashley is confident there is something on the menu for everyone, vegetarian or otherwise.
“A lot of people are skeptical at first because they have never experienced this style of food, but once you come in you leave feeling satisfied and energized,” she said. “People are always surprised at how good it is.”