Jennifer Miller, owner of Plant Lab and Mission Savvy, carries a stack of prepared salads, which are part of the Wild Life Cleanses she offers to customers.
Head chef Indra Riswanto (left) and his assistant chef-in-training, Kyler Stower, prepare fresh vegetables in the Plant Lab's kitchen space in front of a large picture window overlooking Quarrier St.
Here is a close look at a selection of salads specially prepared in the Plant Lab and customized for customers taking part in the Wild Life Cleanse.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Local business woman and health food buff Jennifer Miller is expanding the food horizon for Charleston once again, this time in the form of Plant Lab, a futuristic-sounding food studio for culinary creations and experiments.
"The idea for a Plant Lab began when we were outgrowing this café space," said Miller during a recent interview at Mission Savvy, her organic juice bar and vegan shop in downtown Charleston.
"Our demand for production was much higher than what we were able to do here. We needed to increase our hiring, our production and our storage potential," she added.
Not to mention, offering public classes in raw-vegan foods, prepared using methods far different from traditional cooking.
"The way we prepare food, the recipes are so incredibly different than conventional ways of eating that it takes a long time to train someone to really understand how to craft these recipes. We needed a school. We started looking for spaces around town that were basically commercial kitchens," she said.
Last October a space at 807 Quarrier Street came open and Miller jumped on it. Previously a sub shop, the space was already designed for making food but needed a lot of work. Still, for Miller's needs, it couldn't have been better.
"That space is the perfect location for us, right down the street. It allowed us to source so much more organic produce and store it. So we have instant access to everything we need at a lower cost," she said.
Having the extra space and produce on hand couldn't have been timelier, given the water crisis and state of emergency that hit the Charleston region earlier this month.
Using extracts and items they already had on hand, Miller and her staff began developing what she calls "chemical-kicking tonics," designed for West Virginians exposed to contaminated water, "to help remove the chemicals from the body and clean their systems."
There are four types of tonics created in the Plant Lab and available now at the café; Chemical Kicker, Immune Defense, Anti-Inflammatory and Digestive Aid.
Miller wants something positive to come from the water crisis. She hopes it will make people pay more attention to their bodies and be proactive about their health. That is where she and the staff of the Plant Lab can help, she said, with classes that teach people to incorporate things like super foods into their diet.
"Super foods are things that have been around for ages, going back to Mayan times. Things like maca, goji berries and cacao," Miller said. "People know these thing are good for them and they know they should have them but they only know one or two ways to use them."
The Plant Lab classes are designed to help people learn to incorporate those foods on a daily basis. The sometimes hard-to-find ingredients and equipment used in the lab are available for sale at the café.
Classes are offered every other week. They last about two and a half to three hours. Students can expect not only to learn how to replicate the foods they enjoy at the Mission Savvy Café, but they will also learn why the foods are important, as well as proper handling and care.
Some of the classes available now are "café cheeses," "café crackers" and "café breads." Miller said these are some of the café's most popular items and people really want to be able to make them at home on a regular basis. They also regularly offer classes in "juicing" and raw vegan desserts. The sessions cost between $60 and $70, with a maximum number of 10 students.
The Plant Lab also offers a more intense training session taught by Miller's mother, Sally Miller, who holds a degree as a Nutritional Educator from Bauman College and is a three-time breast cancer survivor. She credits her current good health to a raw-vegan diet.
The class taught by Sally Miller is "Get Life from Your Food." Miller describes it as "a hands-on course in raw and living foods. It is a place for people to learn what healing foods are, how to use them, where to find them, how to prepare raw foods and the benefits you gain from eating nutrients in your daily life."
Miller said she, and her staff of six, want to give Charleston what they are hungry for. In addition to the café and the Plant Lab, Miller offers one, three and five day cleanses. A person can sign up for the cleanse and then everything they need is prepared daily, all they need to do is pop by the café and pick them up each morning.
She is also participating with a group of local female business owners to offer vegan retreats. The group just returned from Mexico and is planning the next retreat in March. Participants can expect to learn how to prepare vegan food, focus on their bodies with yoga and pilates, and just generally be pampered.
"Ultimately what we want to do is change the landscape of food in West Virginia. We want it to be fun and exciting, we want people to walk past this place and see this is where it is going. We want people to realize, if they eat these foods they'll feel good."
Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1249.