Take a big helping of a fantasy of our evolutionary past, stir in fears of modern dirt and decadence, and leave out incest and cannibalismby Jacob Mikanowski / November 13, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
Recently, Bobby Chang and Yrmis Barroeta have been experimenting with camel milk. Their restaurant, Mission Heirloom Garden Café, is set to open in Berkeley, California, in November and they still haven’t finalised their menu. The café is going to be the first exclusively “paleo” (short for Paleolithic) eatery in the Bay Area. Everything it serves has to mimic the diet our prehistoric ancestors had before the invention of agriculture. That means no grains, no soy and no sugar. It also means that Chang and Barroeta can’t use any artificial flavourings or additives, or anything that contains chemicals they consider harmful. The list of ingredients banned from their kitchen for containing “free glutamate” fills up a whole page.
In addition to forbidding countless foodstuffs, Chang and Barroeta want to make sure that the food they do serve comes from the best possible sources. All the meat has to be grass-fed, all the vegetables have to be organic and local, and the milk—well, milk is a sensitive topic. Many practitioners of paleo believe that milk has no place in an adult diet. It wasn’t drunk in the Stone Age and it exists only to fatten babies. But with camel milk, Chang and Barroeta think they’ve found a way around these doubts.
The milk they’ve chosen is raw (unpasteurised) and comes from an Amish farm in Missouri. It’s been credited with relieving everything from diabetes to autism. They serve me some as an accompaniment to dessert, a tray of gluten-free coconut and blueberry muffins. Camel milk turns out to be surprisingly rich, thick with particles of fat and a strong salty aftertaste. To me, it tastes like the Turkish yoghurt drink ayran. Barroeta confided that a previous visitor to the Mission Heirloom kitchen said that it reminded her strongly of her own breast milk. On the whole, it’s quite refreshing, but at $18 a pint I’m not sure how many more glasses I can afford.
Cost doesn’t seem to be much of a concern at Mission Heirloom. For both Chang and Barroeta the restaurant business is a second career. Barroeta used to be a fashion designer in New York City. Chang created consumer products in San Jose. In response to various health problems, the couple went paleo in 2010 after stints with vegetarianism, veganism, and raw food. In 2011, they sold off most of their possessions and embarked on a round-the-world tour. When they returned, they decided to start a restaurant that would be their answer, in Barroeta’s words, to the question of “how we were going to help humanity.”