Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Columbus in the Raw

Gut-check time, Columbus. It’s time to decide what you fear the most: becoming another weak-stomached fear-monger who assumes all food must be scorched into a sanitary safety zone, or missing out on a magical world of flavors and textures that await in simple, efficient dishes.

If you answered the latter, it’s time you go raw.

To be clear, “raw” is not the opposite of cooked, and “cooked” doesn’t imply high temperatures. The true meaning of cooked is merely a transformation, as Michael Pollan explains brilliantly in his last publication Cooked. So while traditional wisdom might send you running from tartar, crudo, carpaccio, ceviche, and sashimi, these increasingly popular dishes really are “cooked,” whether it be seasoning bass with lemon juice and cilantro, or adding a bit of wasabi and ginger to your sashimi, both natural bacteria-killers already validated for a millenarian tradition.

Raw “cooking” begins with cultivating, raising, selecting, cleaning, and combing all the basic elements of a dish; there is no necessity for fire or heat. The real beauty of raw dishes is their ability to showcase the ingredients nearly naked, which makes it obligatory to use the best possible base materials. In this sense, it’s the most difficult and sincere type of cuisine. It shows the skills, care, and experience of the cook as if through a magnifying glass.

Feeling curious? The Columbus restaurant scene has so much to offer.

An exceptional example: The Tenderloin Tartar at the Angry Bear Kitchen. This dish shows how complex raw flavors can get. In a modern plating style, there is local beef tenderloin finely diced, lightly seasoned with mustard, so you still can taste the soft iron-y flavor of the fresh flesh. The combination with toast holding a raw egg yolk, dusted bacon fat, dried tomatoes, and caramelized onion puree is pleasantly rich and somehow resembles the upcoming autumn.

Fish lover? Go to Kihachi and ask for the Assorted Sashimi, which may include yellowtail, bluefin tuna, fluke, flounder, monkfish, and even sea urchin. It depends on the season and your luck. In each piece you can taste Chef Mike’s superhuman precision – the perfect angle and thickness for each type of fish, so you can enjoy its texture and flavor in the best way possible. Pro tip: eat each piece slow and quietly. Pay attention and show respect, because it is art. You will feel it.

Another option for raw fish is ceviche, the traditional Central and South American dish many have come to know as  basically raw fish marinated in acidic citrus juice, combined with onions or scallions, hot peppers and cilantro. Ceviche is prepared with infinite variations of spiciness and marinating time – from a whole night to less than a minute – depending on the origin. El Arepazo Latin Grill offers the Ceviche Salad, a mouthwatering version of the dish made with tilapia marinated several hours in lime juice, red onions, red bell peppers, cilantro, and sweet corn, served over tostadas and topped with avocado slices. It’s flavorful, spicy, and has proven hangover-curing properties – a required quality of any good ceviche. Weird fact: in Peru they serve ceviche only with same-day catches, and only for lunch, because they think that by dinner it is not fresh anymore. Tough to get that level of freshness in Columbus, but El Arepazo overcomes the capital city’s geography with a loyal homage to the dish.

At Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, I found my treasure on the raw adventure. Their scallop crudo is the perfect example of a well-composed raw dish. Grapefruit, salt-cured egg yolk, Thai bird chilies, pea tendrils, shallots, and olive oil marry perfectly, a thoughtful combination that enhances the mild sweetness of the fresh scallops. Take the brewery’s suggestion to wash it down with the a Beyond Measure Belgian wit, as balanced and elegant as the dish itself.

Now, search for some restaurant menus and go for it. Want to try at home? Buy the freshest and highest quality meats, fish, or seafood that you can afford, and work it as clean as possible. Go and Google some recipes, learn, and enjoy. There is nothing to be afraid of.