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Living flavors

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Chef of plant-based Melange Eatery in Medford espouses a raw vegan diet
Brian Igarta, co-owner of Melange Eatery, prepares a vegan cheesecake. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Gluten-free pumpkin spice cupcakes are for sale at Melange Eatery in Medford. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Brian Igarta, co-owner of Melange Eatery, prepares a vegan cheesecake. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Brian Igarta is the chef and co-owner of Melange Eatery in Medford.

The restaurant’s menu describes Igarta’s Asian-fusion dishes as “nourishing, plant-based meals” and “a palette of living flavors.”

His Sushi Rolls, Thai Curry Bowl and Maui Tacos are some of the more popular items at this organic, plant-based restaurant that also features desserts and fresh-squeezed juice creations.

The menu also includes several dishes that are grouped under the heading “Rawsome.”

A favorite among these raw food offerings is a burger wrapped in a lettuce and cabbage leaf. The patty is made from sprouted buckwheat, seeds and veggies. Toppings include avocado, cashew cream, tomato, cucumber and live ketchup — a raw cultured condiment. On the side is a bowl of fresh kale with lime-tahini dressing.

Igarta, 55, grew up on Maui, and his culinary training centered on French and Japanese techniques. He has prepared plant-based dishes for more than 20 years. He has also written vegetarian cookbooks and teaches classes about healthful cooking.

Igarta stopped eating meat nearly 35 years ago and has been a vegan for more than two decades.

Discussions with people he admired as a young adult convinced him to change his diet and reexamine his spirituality.

Igarta was raised Catholic but became a Seventh-day Adventist as a result. He says he got the motivation to stop eating meat from religion.

Seventh-day Adventists urge one another to be health-conscious. Exercise and avoiding tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and mind-altering substances are encouraged. Many are vegetarians or vegans, as well, Igarta noted.

Cooking provides Igarta with challenges he enjoys meeting.

“I’m excited about bringing in ideas,” Igarta said. “It’s like therapy, almost.”

Though Igarta quit eating animal products long ago, he realized his eating habits needed some improvement.

He is extremely busy, especially with the restaurant. It’s a two-person operation for him and his wife, Ligia Radoias. Their commute to Medford from a small community in Douglas County is about an hour each way. Time at home includes gardening and tending an orchard, as well as time in church.

Igarta said he was eating too much and not making the best choices because they were both so busy.

He was eating frequently at a fast-food chain restaurant that encouraged substitutions, which still allowed him to eat vegan, but not in a truly healthful way. And he was eating packaged desserts that technically fell under the banner of “no animal products.” They were nothing like offerings at Melange.

“I challenged myself to stop eating trash,” he said. “I tend to gravitate to ready-made foods — as long as I don’t have to cook it.”

He decided to devote himself to a vegan raw diet. Vegan foods eaten raw made it difficult to “gain weight or feel heavy,” he explained. “The benefits are amazing.

”That includes having much more energy throughout the day.

Igarta said it’s likely he won’t be eating as many cooked meals as he used to. He has course-corrected his diet in the past with cleanses and simply eating fewer meals in the course of a day, but has been enjoying this method of eating.

Overeating even healthful foods can be a problem for some. He pointed out that while nuts are an excellent protein source, consuming too many nuts can cause weight gain, for example.

Moderation is important.

Even little changes can make big differences,” he added. “We do the best we can and leave the rest to the Lord.”

Click here to read the 2022 edition of Our Valley.