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Cheloy Ignacio: The Rawvolutionary chef

Source: Manila Standard Today. Article by Nana Nadal.

Health is wealth. The adage comes to mind as one listens to the tale of chef Cheloy Ignacio. At 19, hypertension, cholesterol, blood sugar, were words she did not think of. She was young and she was modelling so she kept a svelte figure by clocking many hours a day in the gym. “I didn’t eat rice but I ate tons of bacon and peanuts and I would fill my pan de sal with a thick chunk of butter. I did not know that the kind of food that I was eating was killing me, poisoning me everyday,” she recalls.

She discovered the real state of her health after she had a miscarriage. She was prescribed medication and told to shift to healthy living. “At one point I was drinking 20 pills!,” she exclaims. And they did not always do her well. Some had side effects that added to her suffering. After treatment for kidney stones, chef Cheloy’s intake was further restricted. “The doctors will just tell you to change your lifestyle but you do not know how to prepare food the right way, so that was really a challenge, how will I survive?,” she asked.

One day, trembling from hunger, unable to eat practically everything, she caught an episode of Salamat, Dok on TV with Dr. Tam Mateo spreading the word on healthy eating. She rushed to see him and was given a recipe for a salad which she ate day in and day out. While it was effective, taking effect after merely three days and enabling her to give up her medicines, she felt she can’t go on eating just one dish for the rest of her life.

So she went to the US to research and stumbled upon Alissa Cohen’s Living on Live Food Program. Armed with fundamentals of Culinary Arts from the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management and the many courses she has taken over the years, she signed up for the certification classes in Los Angeles and Boston. She has not looked back since then.

“When we say raw food, it means any food that is taken without subjecting to heat. They consist of fresh fruits and vegetables, sprouts, seeds, nuts, grains, beans, dried fruit and seaweeds,” explains the brochure at The Natural Health Institute of the Philippines, which chef Cheloy established for the purpose of advocating her diet. According to scientists and nutritionists, enzymes in raw food speed up the conversion of food in our system, providing the body quickly with its needed nutrients without making it work so hard. Furthermore, ingesting raw food eliminates consumption of ingredients that contributes to health problems.

“What Socrates said is true, let your food be your medicine,” she cites. “I just want people to open up to this option. I want them to realize that they have a choice if they want to live longer. So many people are sick. Forty million Filipinos are afflicted with hypertension which usually occurs with Diabetes too. And I want to help them. I’ve been getting a lot of calls and people come to me from all over—Davao, Dagupan, Bicol, Bacolod, and Cebu,” she relates.

They enrol in her Basic Raw Food Preparation class held every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and usually come back with raving feedback, ecstatic at how their lives have changed. The P5,000 class fee is a lifetime investment. “I put in so much more to learn all this and I even gave up my business (she was the one behind the widely popular Quickmelt ensaymada) but I don’t regret any of it. It’s all okay as long as I stay healthy,” she emphasizes.

“It is a lifelong battle, I monitor my condition everyday” she says of the path she has chosen. “Others give up because they feel it’s easier to eat whatever and safer to just drink medicines,” shrugs chef Cheloy. But she won’t have it any other way. “I have not experienced a headache in so long, I don’t know anymore what it is like to have something aching in your body,” she shares, adding that she was also diagnosed with arthritis at one point.

Her restaurant has an extensive menu of dishes and drinks prepared according to the raw food protocol. “We have therapy juices that heal, that can correct nutritional deficiencies,” she claims. “Sometimes I have groups of patients dining here after visiting their doctor. They know that if they come and eat here, they’re safe because even the salt, sugar and oil we use are safe for the body,” she says.

She admits to being enticed by regular cuisine once in awhile. “I eat maybe 20 percent cooked food,” she estimates. When the temptation is served to her on a plate, she looks at it long and hard before digging in. “It will kill me, that’s what I tell myself,” she states. “The decision to be healthy is yours alone. Bottom line is it’s your choice,” she closes.

For more information on raw food, log on to www.rawfoodphilippines.com, visit Rawfusion Café at Gold Building, 15 Annapolis St, Greenhills, San Juan or call +632 5464181

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