Interview with Sarma Melngailis

I have long wanted to interview Sarma for this blog, because she’s a woman of fascinating contradictions, multi-talents and beauty. Plus, she makes some seriously awesome raw food! Really, those Rosemary Quackers are unbelievable. :) Sarma has received quite a bit of press for her restaurant, online shop and books, but I wanted this interview to show a side of her that not everyone gets to see. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did!

Sarma Photo

1. You’ve got a new book that just came out. For those of us who loved Raw Food, Real World, please share a bit about how your new one’s similar and how it differs.

It’s called Living Raw Food and like the first book it’s full of recipes from my restaurant Pure Food and Wine, but this time they’re divided in two sections: easier recipes that don’t require much soaking time or dehydration, and more ambitious recipes that require a bit more planning. The text around the recipes in Raw Food Real World was from a beginner’s perspective. My co-author and I described how we felt after our overnight transition from eating absolutely everything to eating only (or, mostly only) raw plant foods. Now this book is written just by me, and it’s more about what it’s been like for me after five years on mostly raw. I also really wanted to address some of the more common questions I’ve been asked over the years, which includes issues related to emotional detox and people’s struggle to “stick with it”. There are also lots of short essays about various ingredients and an essay on feeding your pets raw.

2. Your restaurant gets rave reviews from around the world. Please share some of your favorite moments of recognition.

Hmmm. It’s not that often that I get asked to gloat but this is fun! Domestically, I’ve always been really proud of our listing as a three-star restaurant in Forbes magazine’s list of All Star New York Eateries, every year since we’ve opened. It always makes me really happy when we’re recognized for our food and not just in a vegetarian category.

Internationally, we’ve always gotten tons of coverage from Japan more than anywhere else. I think they are very in tune with what’s new and perceived as “cutting edge” over here, and also experiencing a big movement towards organic and healthy living. Also, Japanese food has similarities with our food in that it’s very much about aesthetics, natural flavors, and respect for the ingredients. Japanese food (like raw food) is very restrained in comparison to often heavy or sloppy American or other foods.

What other favorite moments… OKAY, since my father is from Latvia, I was totally excited when the magazine with the biggest circulation in Latvia, Sestdiena (which translates as “Saturday”) put me on their cover. That was pretty cool. International press is great because so many people from all over the world are always traveling through New York, and we also ship One Lucky Duck orders internationally now.

3. So many people know you as the author of Raw Food, Real World and the owner of Pure Food and Wine, but you also have an online store called One Lucky Duck. I haven’t made it out to NYC yet, but I sure love the Duck. For those readers not aware of your company, please share some of the vision behind this little gem.

One Lucky Duck is a brand I created for our packaged snack line and ingredients and also for our online store (http://oneluckyduck.com). Launched in 2005, it’s a source for the best of everything raw and organic. I felt like there was a need for a fun, colorful, reliable source that didn’t carry an overwhelming selection of products, only the very best that we find in every category. We carry a whole line of our own packaged cookies and snacks, ingredients and supplements in a section called “eat”.

Then we also have “glow” for skincare and cosmetics, “read” for books and magazines, “wear” for apparel, and “nest” for kitchen tools, home products, exercise tools, and pet products. The website is a lot of fun—we just updated it to add more informational sections and my blog.

4. You have an unusual tattoo. Is there an interesting story behind that?

Thanks. It’s the One Lucky Duck logo (registered and trademarked, by the way!) I got it just before the online business launched in the summer of 2005. As soon as the logo was completed and confirmed, I realized it was the tattoo I’d been waiting for. For years and years I’d wanted to get a tattoo but really didn’t want to get just anything. So I was waiting for the right image and this was it. I like the idea of branding myself with the brand of the company.

5. Tell me about your famous sneaker collection.

Oh dear. This is a bit embarrassing. Over the years I’ve collected a lot of sneakers. I purposely avoid going into or looking in windows of sneaker shops, but sometimes I can’t avoid it and see something new or a color I don’t have. Right now, I have 39 pairs of Pumas. I don’t know how they all fit in my apartment b/c it’s not very big but they’re stashed in the backs of closets and up on shelves. I also have 3 pairs of Pro-Keds, 2 Adidas, 3 pairs of Vans, a few Converse, and a few boring old running sneakers. I just have a thing for old-school style sneakers (and all of these collected over many years! I haven’t bought any new sneakers in at least a year… I think.) I only have a few pairs of high heeled shoes and I wear high heels maybe two or three times a year.

6. You’re widely recognized as one of the most gorgeous raw foodists. What are your favorite beauty products?

Oh… thanks! Well, I love coconut butter. That’s one of my all time favorites because it has so many uses – body oil, face oil, make-up remover, shaving, lip balm, and then you can put some in shakes too because it’s so yummy. Speaking of yummy, Bee Yummy Skin Food is another favorite product. It’s amazing for everyone and really healing for burns and any irritated condition. I think it’s also great to keep skin clear—it’s not a heavy cream. And for cosmetics, RMS Beauty is made by my good friend and is outstanding. The concealer is the best, and I love the luminizer too—it’s shimmery and makes you glowy. Those are my all time favorites. And lately I’ve been using Dr. Alkaitis products (cleanser, eye cream, etc)—they’re amazing.

7. You once sported a blue Mohawk. Care to share anything about those days? What has inspired your various style shifts?

Oh yes. Well, when I was 12 years old I started cutting my hair shorter and shorter. Then coloring it orange, then it got brighter—like Ronald McDonald bright—then it went to blue, then green, and back to mostly blue and so it went until I was 15 when I finally grew it out and dyed it brown (which then shifted to my current blonde over the years). I think I just liked being different, and at that age I could get away with it. During that time I worked at a quirky frame store and art gallery, where I could also get away with it.

8. You receive a lot of emails from young women with eating disorders. What tips can you share here for anyone struggling with body image issues?

I always say to them, go easy on yourself! Better yet, forgive yourself! It’s okay. It’s funny? Okay, it’s not always funny, not at all. But I think if you can try to see it that way, then at least some of the pressure is lifted, and it’s the pressure that’s causing all the trouble. The saddest thing is to feel terrible, guilty, and alone over those sorts of issues. And I think feeling really bad about these sorts of struggles only exacerbates the whole thing.

Breathing in and out and focusing on being compassionate with your self no matter what’s going on is helpful. Also, trying to shift thinking towards being optimally healthy (vs. optimally skinny, etc.) can provide the right kind of inspiration, and that’s how raw food can help because it shifts your focus onto food as nourishment and fuel and eating optimally healthy foods (which are also optimally healthy for the planet).

I read an excerpt from Frank Bruni’s upcoming book—he’s been the New York Times restaurant critic for over five years, and turns out he was bulimic throughout high school and college. You don’t often hear about men having these sorts of struggles. So, it’s not as unusual as people think. Overall the issue of body image is a tough one. Everyone’s their own worst critic, and feeling crappy about that stuff doesn’t do anything to help at all.

9. In addition to being One Lucky Duck, you’re also “One Smart Cookie” with a surprising history in … investment banking? How did you know it was time to take a leap of faith into something different?

After college I came to New York and worked for Bear, Stearns. After two years of many 100-hour plus weeks of working, I moved to private equity. I still worked my ass off there, but it was more interesting. Finally, I wanted more of a life and more control and figured at a hedge fund I could have that—where the work is not deal-oriented but rather market-oriented and so didn’t require late nights and weekends. I thought I’d be happy then.

Instead, having more time only made it really obvious to me that I simply didn’t love what I was doing and very often felt out of place in that environment. I didn’t get excited about reading The Wall Street Journal and talking about deals. But I loved reading Gourmet and Food and Wine and loved talking about restaurants and food. When I was leaving private equity to go look for work at a hedge fund, one of my colleagues pointed out to me that I didn’t seem to love what I do, since I always talked about food and restaurants. I think that’s when I realized inside that I needed to leave finance, though it didn’t happen until almost a year into my next job.

10. You run a busy restaurant and online store with over 70 employees in total, have written two books, you represent your own brand to the press and public, you’re in a relationship, and you’re doing all of this under some challenging circumstances. I also know you’ve got a huge heart. How do you manage to keep it all together?

I don’t always keep it all together! Or, I just haven’t figured it out yet. The restaurant and oneluckyduck.com stay together and running because so many amazing people work there and I’m lucky that they’re so dedicated. I’m usually able to keep myself together because I’m inspired by them and inspired by all the people who come to the restaurant and juice bar, and visit the website and read the books.

Still, sometimes I let myself fall apart. Or, I hit some kind of burnout threshold and then just really don’t want to get out from under the covers. I used to beat myself up over this, or try to avoid it. Now it’s much better if I can accept that it doesn’t mean I’m a total failure if I feel that way now and then, and just go with it!

11. What’s your very favorite “New York Moment”?

I think it was actually the very first day I lived in New York in the summer of 1994. I’ll never forget the feeling standing on the street on Second Avenue and 10th street holding the keys to the little studio apartment I was renting. I was out of college and my father just rode off after having helped move me in. I felt this incredibly exhilarated feeling, all on my own, in New York City, where I’d barely spent any time before, living alone in my own place for the first time—completely independent. So I’m in this euphoric mood, and I turn to walk down the block and there’s Robert DeNiro, just standing there talking to someone. And he looks right at me and I look right back. Of all the people to see in New York City on your first day there… !

12) Please tell us a bit about your furry friends, Dallas and Sydney.

Sarma's Feline Friends

Sarma's Feline Friends

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I have two cats, Sydney and her brother Dallas. They’re from the same litter even though they look very different. I got them from someone’s house near where my mother lives in New Hampshire, so I met their mom and other siblings. They’re over eleven years old now.

After I switched to raw food six years ago I started thinking more about what I was feeding them and what their ideal and natural diet should be. After looking into it I started feeding them raw food and they’re amazing on it. I haven’t brought them to the vet since and they’re beautiful, energetic companions. The food I get them is raw organic chicken and vegetables and it comes frozen. I also give them dehydrated wild salmon treats which they go totally bonkers over. We carry them at oneluckyduck.com. They come for dogs too but they’re the same thing, just a bigger size. I’m working on spinning off the pets section of oneluckyduck into its own site, shinyhappypets.com, so that’s one of the projects in the works.

Too Cute!

13. I’m so excited by your work! If Sarma had Sarma’s way, what else would we see from you in the near future?

A LOT! There’s a lot I want to do. Feeling held back from being able to charge forward to make it happen has been really challenging. I’m looking for the right partnerships and funding, which takes time. It’s like finding the right person to father your children… you don’t want to do that with just anyone. It’s been a long and very interesting road, but I really want to do it all the right way. Bringing raw food (and natural living) into the mainstream in a very big (and fun) way is the goal, and there are a lot of really great and different ways I want to do that, and in different parts of the world. And one of these days, I want to take a real vacation!

Thanks so much, Sarma! Wishing you the grandest of blessings and synchronicities and that all-elusive vacation.

You can visit Sarma at http://oneluckyduck.com or Pure Food & Wine.

Interviewed by Laura Bruno of www.internationalrenaissancecoaching.com. If you liked this interview, you might also enjoy ones with Cassie Margraf and Tania Marie.

13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by giacintavosika on July 26, 2009 at 4:06 am

    I was so moved by this interview. The depth of both the questions and answers was so touching. I loved the diversity of topics you covered and the wide range of responses Sarma shared with compassion, openness and vulnerability. At times I felt myself excitedly moved towards cheer and at other times I was nestled in truths that are beyond what is typically spoken of. I loved learning about Sarma and her life as well as some of her great achievements, philosophies and aspirations for the future of the planet. It was also wonderful to have met her cats! They are as beautiful as she. I was inspired by the quality of energy I felt during the interview and the mutual flow of healing rhythms. Such great information covering so many topics and such a great experience to have read this! Thank you, Sarma and thank you, Laura for this beautifully exquisite gift! Blessings, Giacinta

  2. Posted by laurabruno on July 26, 2009 at 4:31 am

    Thank you, Giacinta. Love, Laura

  3. Posted by Erin on July 26, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    You are excellent at asking interview questions. It is a very rare skill!

  4. Posted by laurabruno on July 26, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks, Erin! LOL, with my intuitive coaching that’s pretty much what I do all day. :) Thank you for stopping by … xx Laura

  5. Posted by justine on July 26, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    eating disorders are really funny, sarma?! I think that was extremely offensive. Sarma owes people an apology.

  6. Posted by laurabruno on July 26, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Hi Justine,
    Thank you for stopping by. I’m so sorry you were offended by the eating disorders section. I think Sarma’s comment, “Okay, it’s not always funny, not at all. But I think if you can try to see it that way, then at least some of the pressure is lifted, and it’s the pressure that’s causing all the trouble” shares much of what she’s trying to convey.

    I personally receive a LOT of calls and emails from people who have or did have eating disorders, both anorexia and bulimia, as well as overeating. There are, of course, varying degrees of the disorders. Many of these clients have already for the most part recovered from past eating disorders and the ones who have had the most success tend to be the ones who’ve managed to incorporate a little lightness and humor around their bodies, cravings and compulsions. In my experience, there’s also a strong spiritual component to eating disorders. I’ve written on that more extensively here: http://laurabruno.wordpress.com/2009/02/16/coaching-yourself-through-food-issues/.

    Blessings to you, and thank you again for stopping by,
    Laura

  7. Hi Justine,
    I didn’t say eating disorders were funny, not at all. Thanks Laura for clarifying. Part of my point was that I understand how incredibly debilitating, painful, and deeply shameful it can be… I’ve felt those things. After many years of slipping back into dysfunctional eating now and then and trying to pull out of it, I learned the one thing that helped the most was to give up the shame, not feel bad about myself for it, smile, and do whatever I can to make it less of a big deal, even to find something funny about it… which lifts pressure, makes it easier to move along and upward rather than continuing in a downward spiral of self inflicted shame. HOpe that helps and sorry that you were offended in some way.
    All my best, Sarma

  8. […] Read the rest here:  Interview with Sarma Melngailis « Laura Bruno's Blog […]

  9. Props to Sarma for being so candid and open about her own history in her book AND in this blog post. From my experience working with and talking to girls who have dealt with various forms of disordered eating, they feel very alone. Having someone who is in the spotlight talk about their personal experience is a wonderful thing to do that provides much comfort for these people, making them feel less alone.
    Laura, I just read your post “Coaching Yourself Through Food Issues” and it was really beautiful. It’s so great to see that people are starting to understand and speak out about the real reasons behind eating disorders…and that people are becoming aware of how common they are.
    Lots of love to you!

  10. Posted by Rachel Scienski on July 27, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    Yay!

  11. Posted by laurabruno on July 27, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Thank you for your comments, Marlena, and thanks, Rachel for stopping by. Love and Blessings, Laura

  12. […] that it was a surprise package of goodies from none other than Pure Food & Wine’s Sarma! By the time I reached the ninth floor, the box was halfway open and my grin huge. The man with the […]

  13. thank you to both of you ladies. Such a beautiful interview. I have recently adopted a raw diet for life. I have been a vegan for quite some time now ( with a few slip ups ). Recently during the past 2 yrs I started making affirmations for my by body to reject unhealthy foods and foods that did not agree with me. As a result I naturally started to crave pure foods from nature. Natural colorful enzyme and mineral rich live foods are all I crave. I am so grateful for all of the information people like you provide us.

    I stumbled upon this interview through my research online about rawfoodists.
    I am definitely goin to try Sarma’s restaurant.

    Sarma, everything you want to accomplish in life will happen. You deserve it. The career you have designed for yourself thus far is only the beginning. May good fortune be infinite in your life and in the lives of those whose hearts you touch.

    Love JouJou.

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