THUNDER BAY -- Having followed a raw vegan diet for a few years, Teena Kukkee was a loyal customer of Bliss cafe, originally founded by Helen Liba. When Liba sold the business to Melissa Stewart, Stewart asked Kukkee to be her manager, which the latter was more than happy to do. “Then Melissa moved out west and she offered the restaurant to me, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else!”
Kukkee took over in August 2018, changing the name to Bliss Restaurant and Catering, and making a few changes to the menu. “As Helen lovingly put it, she (Helen) made the cafe as her version of bliss, and now I made it my version of bliss.”
Passionate about nourishing people and serving great food, Kukkee offers raw vegan choices in a city where there are not many options for those that follow such a diet. The definition of raw does not necessarily mean uncooked; it means that the food has never been heated beyond 115 F (46 C), the temperature at which enzymes and vitamins in the food are changed or destroyed.
“We preserve the nutrients within the food, so that it’s much more nourishing and nutritionally dense,” Kukkee explains.
Ninety-nine per cent of the food served at Bliss is raw, including the wraps, pizzas and burgers. The wraps are made of a cucumber apple spinach and olive oil smoothie, which is then spread thin on parchment and dehydrated in a convection dehydrator that applies heat (under 115 F) and circulates air with a fan.
The pizza crust is made similarly with cauliflower and sun-dried tomatoes. There are toppings such as dehydrated mushrooms and “caramelized” (dehydrated) onions, rawmesan (a parmesan substitute made with cashews) and cashew mayo.
The cookies and donuts are dehydrated and made from scratch, and you can order dessert trays to go. You can also buy some of their items in bulk, such as the rawmesan, Caesar dressing, wraps and onion buns.
“A lot of people don’t realize the versatility of a dehydrator,” Kukkee says. "Most foods have a water base to them, so you take out the moisture. Our seed patties are mushroom and walnut “meat” and dehydrated to the point that they’re stable, but sort of juicy.” She also makes “facon” (fake bacon made from carrots) and will introduce a similar “lox” this month.
Another aspect of the business that Kukkee is very keen on are cooking classes - going beyond simply showing a few dishes, she explains the basics of raw eating and the prep work necessary. “Some people think it’s so much work to have to dehydrate things, but if you make the right plans, it’s not so hard.” She hosts about one class a month and tailors them to what people are looking for - she has done raw chocolate classes, paint nights and cooking classes involving children.
Currently, Kukkee is working on making some of her products available in local stores, and dreams of a “Bliss South” - a second location on the Fort William side of town.
People all over the city can now order Bliss Restaurant’s food through Skip the Dishes, “but it’s not the same as people being able to come in and experience the restaurant,” she says.
She likes being a small and cozy place, but “I wouldn’t put it out of the future to have another location. It would be wonderful, we’ll see how it goes!”