Plant-based restaurateur seeks to share her foods with WNY - The Buffalo News
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Plant-based restaurateur seeks to share her foods with WNY

Imagine eating food that has never been heated past 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s meat-free, dairy-free and, in the vast majority of cases, gluten-free.

No steak. No chicken wings. Nothing that kills, or uses, animals – yet still is full of life.

Erin Curtin has eaten this way for the last couple of years, with few exceptions.

When you and your husband run three restaurants, she said last week, you have obligations to break the rules sometimes.

“If we’re doing menu development at the restaurant and they want us to taste something, that’s when I will taste meats. It’s part of my job,” said Curtin, who with her husband, Tucker, owns Lake Effect Diner, Dug’s Dive and The Steer.

She is the subject of this weekend’s What are you Eating? story in WNY Refresh and also is giving a workshop on plant-based eating today during the first HEAL Bflo yoga retreat at the Foundry Hotel & Suites on Elmwood Avenue, near Hertel. Read a story about the event here.

Why would somebody choose a raw vegan diet?

Let Curtin count the ways.

“You’re not sick,” she said. “You don’t get colds. You sleep better. Your stress level is lower. Your skin looks better. Your hair looks better. Your cravings, if they’re not diminished a little, they’re diminished 100 percent. You can walk by a doughnut or piece of pizza and the craving is gone, because you’re feeding your body essential vitamins and minerals and natural sugar and carbs, so there’s no reason for your body to crave something it doesn’t need. If you’re on medications, you will see that they are reduced.

“Good food is magical. It really is the healing prescription that we need as a society.”

Curtin, 41, shared her typical breakfast fare in the Refresh piece, but it bears repeating for those who want to try a twist on an already healthy morning-time staple: The night beforehand, take raw steel cut oats, mix it with dried fruits and nuts, pour almond milk over it, and stick it back in the fridge till morning. At that point, add bananas.

Here are excerpts of our interview that didn’t make the print edition, for space reasons we don’t have to worry about here:

Q. What about lunch and dinner?

For lunch, I usually have a balanced, layered salad of greens, grains, beans, raw beets, carrots, hemp seed and some type of vinaigrette. My favorite is a lemon vinaigrette that I make.

Dinner is not my favorite meal. I’ll usually do a small side of lentil meatloaf, which we serve at the diner. I’ll do some crackers and some raw cashew cheese. There’s no cheese in it whatsoever. It’s a combination of soaking whatever nut you want – you can use macadamia nuts, cashews, almonds – soak them at least four hours. Then you blend it with some water, lemon juice, some nutritional yeast. It’s a light protein. It’s an inactive yeast, so it doesn’t grow like your bread. It has a different flavor profile and it gives the taste of cheese – that ‘Ooh mommy’ cheese.

My son the other day said, ‘This isn’t lentil meat loaf, it’s lentil loaf. There’s no meat in it.’ I said, ‘I know, but people who are vegans and plant-based need to still hear the word meat or cheese or crab cake, even though there’s no meat cheese or crab cake’ in what I make.

Q. What about snacks?

Nuts. Raw crackers: you take a combination of carrot pulp and flaxseed, you place it on a nonstick pad and you dehydrate that for about 15 hours and it becomes a cracker. I’ll also do coconut yogurt, almond yogurt, lots of dried fruit, sprouted hummuses and spreads.

Q. At this point, you say you’ve rolled out nearly a dozen raw vegan foods at The Steer and a few at Lake Effect Diner, with plans to add some at Doug’s Dive when it opens April 1 for the season. What have been the three most popular raw foods?

Right now it is the raw lasagna with a cashew raw ricotta (style) cheese. There are zucchini, squash and eggplant layers with a raw tomato basil sauce.

The second is a dessert: Whoopie Pie. It’s a combination of raw cacao, dates, carrots mixed with almonds and walnuts. You dehydrate that for about four hours and then add a coconut cream in the middle.

The other is the raw falafel. It’s raw pumpkin seeds mixed with cashew cheese, sprouted quinoa, and we mix that with a zucchini squash pasta. We take an entire zucchini and run it through a spiralizer and make it like spaghetti. We top with a raw spaghetti sauce and a raw falafel.

Q. Why limit cooking to 118 degrees?

You break down the nutritional value the minute the temperature gets too high.

Q. Talk about your new meal business for those who want to eat your raw cooking at home.

We’re starting a 10-week program where every week you come and get a combination of two layered salads, a soup, a raw entree, a side grain salad, a sprouted bread side, a couple desserts. It’s for more than one day; if you were to eat all of it, it would last you three to four days. It’s once-a-week pickup. It’s a combination of raw and plant-based vegan, completely egg and dairy free. Most is gluten-free as well.

The cost is $50 a week and we’re looking for a minimum five-week commitment.

When I’m making a ‘cheese,’ it takes 24 hours to soak the nuts. When I’m dehydrating ‘meatballs,’ it takes about 24 hours. So it’s time-consuming on my end, but if somebody’s willing to commit, I’m willing to put in the time on my end.

Learn more about the program at


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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