Sasha Raj of 24 Carrots in Tempe: "I Wanted to Work for a Transparent Company"

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Sadhana "Sasha" Raj 24 Carrots Chef, owner 480-753-4411 www.24carrotsjuice.com

See also: Nick LaRosa of Nook in Arcadia on Working with Gio Osso and Peforming Under Pressure

(Find part two of this interview here)

The name 24 Carrots is a play on words that speaks directly to the Tempe restaurant and juice bar's mission: to provide pure food for everyone -- no matter what your dietary restrictions might be.

Owner Sasha Raj chose the name because 24-karat gold is pure gold, and when she started 24 Carrots as a juice bar more than five years ago, it was because she wanted to "work for a transparent company" that served food she could be proud of.

Raj, who studied biochemistry at Arizona State University, worked at a juice bar while she was a student. At the time, she had no intention of starting her own business but did hope the experience might teach her something. As it turned out, the job would teach her a lot about customer expectations -- and, more importantly, trust.

"A lot of people don't realize how much trust there is between customers and a restaurant," Raj says. "I realized how easily that trust can be broken."

That's why when you come to 24 Carrots, the only things you'll get in your juice or smoothie are the ingredients listed on the menu. No additional sugar and no artificial anything. And no dairy products either, since the restaurant went vegan (like its owner) a few years ago.

"To me, it feels like a snowball and I'm chasing it downhill," she says of 24 Carrots. "I have no idea what it will be at the end, but it's very exciting."

Raj admits she had no intention for her juice bar to become a haven for those with dietary restrictions. But as a person who understands the difficulties of navigating a menu when you have dietary restrictions, she has a hard time saying no to substitutions, exceptions, and special requests. That's also why she hires only employees who are also vegetarian or vegan or have been at one time in their lives.

"I want our crew to understand -- with empathy -- what it feels like to be told no," Raj says.

If you could travel any where in the world tomorrow, where would you go and what would you eat? Sampige Road in Bangalore, India. It's the perfect culinary mecca of north and south Indian street food (pain puri, paav bhaji, idllis, dosa, flavored almond milks, fresh tender coconut water and more....aaaah drool), plus fresh fruit vendors (my favs are custard apple, jack fruit, mangoes, and sapota) on every street corner! My family has a home on this street -- lucky for my taste buds, unlucky for my waistline.

The best thing you've ever eaten: The gnocchi at Portobello Vegan Trattoria in Portland, Oregon. Light-as-a-cloud pillows of goodness.

If you got one "cheat day," what would you eat?: Justin's dark chocolate peanut butter cups, Sweet Republic's mango margarita sorbet, fried pickles at Short Leash Dogs, the spicy edamame at Four Peaks and the fried jalapeños at San Tan Brewery. (They are on the menu as an add on to a burger but if you ask really, really nicely they'll bring you a little cup -- and, trust me, it's worth asking for really really nicely).

Your favorite childhood food memory: My father would make dinner on occasion and would fill the dining table with all manner of steamed vegetables and then commission my sister and I to make (i.e. mix) a dip of homemade yogurt, lemon, asafoetida, and chili powder that we would eat with the veggies. It's was a simple meal, but in my child's eye it was a like Thanksgiving every time.

One song to describe 24 Carrots: Is there a song about vegans getting enough protein? That one, I choose that one.

The most under-appreciated ingredient: Acids -- vinegar and citrus.

The most overrated ingredient: Bacon. There, I said it.

Your personal mantra: "A mind, stretched by a new idea, can never regain its original dimensions," from Oliver Wendell Holmes.

It's exactly how I felt about starting 24C. Once the seed was planted in my mind, I could never go back to imagining life otherwise and so I put all of my energy into making it happen. This used to be a quote on the wall at our original space and it embraces exactly how I choose to approach the world, expand your mind to include as much life as it can manage, you'll be happier for it.

Your culinary mentor and one important lesson he/she taught you: My mother, Kala. She's an incredible cook and even more so because she never tastes her food as she's cooking it. She's a master at traditional recipes but never hesitates to try something new or update a dish with a new twist or flavor. For what it's worth, my grandmother is exactly the same, so fingers crossed that this trait's genetic! The most important lesson? How to salt a dish by scent alone. Yup, this motherly badass of mine salts by smell, and it's perfect every time.

Favorite dish on the menu and why: Our roasted butternut squash and green chile mac and cheese. We update a new menu weekly to adapt to the goodies our suppliers and farmers have available, but whenever I see butternut on their lists I can't help but pop this on to the menu. It's a gluten-free pasta with a creamy cashew and coconut sauce cooked down with roasted butternut squash and spicy chiles. When I went vegan from vegetarian, I thought giving up cheese would be really hard -- with this dish I don't miss cheese at all.

Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Nick LaRosa - Nook Joey Maggiore - Cuttlefish Country Velador - Super Chunk Sweets and Treats James Porter - Petite Maison Cullen Campbell - Crudo Mel Mecinas - Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North Meagan Micozzi - Scarletta Bakes Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay

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