For chef Boey Yin Yin, making and eating dishes from raw food was all about gaining a healthier lifestyle.
But soon, other people began to take notice. Her Instagram account grew to more than 5,000 followers, with countless reposts and queries from people wanting to learn more about raw food.
Her choice of eating and preparing raw food was driven by the need to manage her eczema. Boey, 46, has suffered from itchy and irritable skin for nearly three decades, and been through a range of treatments – both Western and Eastern medicine – with little success.
But when she was studying law at college a few decades ago, Boey read about how meat can affect your health and started cutting back, swapping out red meat for fish.
She felt somewhat better but it wasn’t until 2014, when she turned vegan and started to mainly eat raw food, that she saw real improvements in her health. None of the doctors she’d seen as a teenager advised her to reduce intake of animal proteins to help manage her skin condition, but she found that a vegan diet did wonders not only for her skin but also her overall health.
It also gave her the chance to develop her culinary skills. This new career path was entirely unplanned – in fact, her first dish, a raw lasagne made with zucchini, was purely experimental. “I had all the right ingredients to make the vegan lasagne,” she recalls. That raw dish in a way marked her entry into the raw food world, as she shares in many public talks.
Boey, or better known as Chef Yin, then enrolled in Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy to equip herself with the skills to make more elaborate raw food dishes. After completing two further courses at the academy’s branch in Thailand, she began running raw food classes in 2016.
Fast forward to 2019 and Chef Yin is making exquisite desserts such as vegan chocolate and scrumptious looking dishes like vegan raw risotto. She offers classes based on seasonal festivals and has developed decadent versions of the mooncake made with nuts and seeds.
Chocolate mooncake by raw vegan Chef Yin
Raw food: (not) cold, bland and boring
Contrary to popular belief, Chef Yin says raw food is not cold, bland or boring. To combat that perception, she offers a simple solution: “You need to feed people.” By this, she means that people need to taste the raw food to discover that it’s more enjoyable than they expect.
But she does recommend people to be aware of allergies to certain types of food, such as mushrooms or certain vegetables from the nightshade family such as eggplants. Ingredients like potatoes and tapioca are toxic when raw and should be cooked before consumption.
But, everything else is pretty much fair game. Vegetables, nuts and seeds are the most common raw food ingredients. So long as they are not heated to above 48 degree Celsius (some insist on as little as 42 degrees) then the dish falls under the definition of raw food.
Chef Yin says cooking at high heat kills the live enzymes in food, and she believes this is why she has experienced better skin and overall health since making the switch. She also does not crave sugar the way she did in the past.
Chef Yin encourages home cooks to start off simple. “Start with what you have at home, with your chopping board and knives, and then use your food processor and blender if you want to make more creative stuff.”
Once you grow in confidence and have mastered the skills for more creative dishes, home cooks can invest in a dehydrator or spiraliser. “Cooking raw food is not any different from making regular cooked food; it involves the same techniques of chopping, mixing, blending, cutting and even fermentation.”
But it does not have to be cold. “You can have warm soups, or when I make bread in the dehydrator it is nice and warm and toasty.”
Chef Yin believes in using organic ingredients as much as possible, and where possible tries to make everything from scratch – such as cashew nut butter – in order to preserve the taste and quality of the nutrients.
Some of her most popular classes featured raw ice cream from coconut flesh and coconut milk, or fruit such as bananas or passion fruit. She says that for vegans it’s important to use high-protein ingredients, so she adds things like hemp hearts or seeds to her ice cream.
Daun pegaga chips as an alternative to kale chips
The accidental chef finds a fan base
Chef Yin is not only growing her skills as a vegan chef, but she is learning to increase her social media followers. As an “accidental” Instagram chef she gets asked often about her fan base, particularly when attending international vegan food festivals or workshops in the UK, Bali or in Macau and Hong Kong. She understands the importance of digital marketing to attract a larger crowd.
She also draws inspiration from other raw food chefs and picks up new knowledge and ideas at festivals and online. She enjoys sharing her recipes and has published four e-books to date.
At the moment, Chef Yin prefers to work on recipe development and classes and has no plans to set up a restaurant. As part of her unique approach to promote the raw vegan food movement, she wants to focus on popularising Asian-styled raw vegan dishes to differentiate herself from other vegan chefs.
Chef Yin tries to celebrate Asian ingredients by offering alternatives to popular dishes such as kale chips in the form of daun pegaga (pennywort leaf) chips, or turning the popular chilli pan mee into a raw vegan dish.
“I am trying very hard to use more local ingredients but somehow people are asking me how to make kale chips, and people love pasta and pizzas – why?” she laughs.
What spurs Chef Yin on is the growing trend towards healthy eating and sourcing organic ingredients. Whether the trend picks up or fades, she has no clue. “But it is something that I believe in so much, it’s not going to stop me from doing what I’m doing.”