Dr. Sana S. Hećo is a walking poster child for her raw food profession. She glows with good health that seems to radiate from somewhere deep inside and her constant talk about nutrition is punctuated only by a slight, beatific smile that seems to say “it’s all good.” With the launch of her first self-published raw cookbook, Orient Expressed, in Istanbul, the Bosnian-Swedish medical doctor, naturopath, and raw food chef pays homage to and reimagines Levantine cuisine, from which she has drawn so much inspiration on her journey.
From pills to chia seeds
The road to raw food was a long one for Hećo, who originally worked and trained as a medical doctor in Sweden. During this time, she was experiencing chronic health issues that even surgery, hormonal therapy, and painkillers, could not cure. “I looked like a 100-year-old,” Hećo says. “I was desperate.” After listening to a podcast by an American naturopath that her sister sent, she felt new pieces fall into place “For me, the medical world is very two dimensional at best. It never felt right to me,” Hećo says. “Any type of bodily discomfort is a blessing in disguise because your body is trying to tell you something. It’s saying please treat me in a natural way. Your body never turns against you, it’s just trying to get your attention.”
Hećo’s first experience with raw food came soon after she moved to London to study naturopathic medicine. A friend brought her raw chocolate, and the taste was a moving experience. “I took a bite of that chocolate and I had an out-of-body experience. This is what food is supposed to be,” Hećo asserts. “This is the potential of food.” Back then, raw food was an alien concept and Hećo had to do a lot of research. She even took a few years off, moved to California, and began training at a culinary institute in Santa Monica where she learned some of the more subtle arts of creating elevated dishes. Today, she works as a consultant, teaches raw food workshops, and helps food and beverage operations, such as Atelier Raw in Istanbul, develop menus and recipes.
Hećo acknowledges that raw food still feels inaccessible to many people, especially home cooks, and is sometimes glossed over as a fad. Many diners feel like they pay too much for something that does not taste very good, and that the equipment associated with raw food—dehydrators, Vitamix blenders, and the like—is expensive and intimidating. However, Hećo says you can skip the crazy equipment and start simple with the food that is right for you. The recipes in her book reflect this philosophy, with dishes that range from simple to extraordinarily complex as well as a breakdown of different ingredients, their health benefits, and how to use them.
“Raw food is anything. It’s about what your body needs, simple as that,” she says. “Just become more excited about your food, about its history, and biology. You don’t want anything lower than life and appreciation in your body. My whole message, raw food or not, is to just bring more awareness to what you’re doing and eating. It’s a game changer.”
Turkey has always been a deep well of inspiration. Hećo first came to Istanbul to help Atelier Raw develop recipes for the launch of its raw food concept, and the city helped to fuel her cookbook. Even before she arrived, however, Hećo has always felt a connection to Turkey. “When I was training at culinary school in California, I found myself recreating oriental dishes,” she says. “Obviously, I’m not from the Orient, but I am from the Orient of Europe. Sarajevo is a mini Istanbul. There are so many things we share with this whole region—North Africa, West Asia, the Balkans, Iran—we’re all connected because the Ottoman Empire ruled. When I got home from California, I began to work in earnest to recreate this cuisine.”
Her new, beautifully photographed cookbook was launched in Istanbul this spring as a small tribute to the place this city has played in her life and heart. “I chose to have the book premier in Istanbul because Istanbul has been experiencing some harsh times. It’s rough, people are losing hope,” she says. “I come from Bosnia. I’ve been through war. I know when fear sets in, you forget the things that really matter. Turkey helped Bosnia a lot after the war, and I have always been grateful. So, I wanted to bring something that is such a love project to the region, bring it back to Istanbul, and pay my own small form of tribute.”
Orient Expressed is available at Minoa Bookstore, Souq Dükkan, and Atelier Raw—where you’ll also find snacks designed by Dr. Sana Hećo. For more information and for a digital copy of the cookbook, visit suhailpublishing.com.