Chef Jess Rice of AVO

By Nancy Vienneau / Photography By Hope Anderson | December 21, 2015
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Chef Jess Rice is hot, so her food doesn't have to be.

Honestly, a restaurant that doesn't cook any of its food sounds less than, well, enticing. But one taste of Jess Rice's lasagna (made with zucchini noodles and cashew hempseed ricotta) and all doubts vanish. It's shockingly good--as is her pad thai, cheesecake, and wild Nashville salad.

Jess Rice wasn't feeling good. “I struggled with fatigue. One by one, I started removing foods from my diet,” Rice recalls. “That ultimately steered me to raw vegan cooking.” It also led to her food blog and business, which she humorously—yet aptly—named My Poor Tired Liver. She developed recipes, gained a following, and soon began wholesaling her raw vegan goods to The Wild Cow in East Nashville.

As a new path opened before her, everything changed. Rice quit her marketing job and quickly realized that she needed more education. She traveled to Bali for what she calls her Eat, Pray, Love experience: a three-week intensive stay with holistic doctor Amy Rachelle. “I gained so much scientific knowledge, especially about detoxing. But I wanted to take my cooking to a higher artistic level.” As a result, she then trained under Matthew Kenney and did a stage (or internship) with Scott Winegard—both esteemed and innovative raw vegan chefs.

Concurrently, she attended Susannah Herring’s Hot Yoga Nashville studio. The two women formed a friendship and a business partnership. Together they offered raw food/yoga retreats, which became popular beyond their initial expectations. Praise for Rice’s food is what empowered the women to start Nashville’s first full-service raw vegan restaurant.

Last summer, she and Herring opened AVO in ONEC1TY, an urban development focused on healthy lifestyles on Charlotte Avenue. Rice designed the menu to be approachable, with dishes that offered diners both familiarity and comfort along with beauty and taste. Her creative takes on lasagna, ceviche, pad thai, and cheesecake have won even stalwart meat-lovers over.

“My dad—a blue-collar meat-and-potatoes man—has become my biggest fan,” she says. “He thought he would have to pretend to like his daughter’s cooking. Instead, he’s amazed by the flavors and how much energy the food gives him.” The restaurant also features a full vegan bar, complete with signature cocktails such as the crowd-pleasing AVOrita: a seductive churn of tequila, lime, and avocado. “How else are we going to get you in here?” she laughs. Like most of the customers, most of the AVO employees aren’t vegan. What appeals to them is the focus on locally grown foods and environmental sustainability. “And the taste,” beams Rice.

Each week, Rice checks in with Alan Powell of Nashville Grown to learn what fruits and vegetables will be available before forming her menu. She’s also an avid forager. A huge hen-of-the-woods mushroom found on one expedition became the base for a new menu favorite: barbecue sliders.

Marinating, pickling, fermenting, cold-smoking, dehydrating— there are many methods in raw vegan cookery. Rice and her staff are always developing new dishes: tortilla chips, made with raw corn and flaxseed; a winter pizza highlighting cold-smoked butternut squash and sage; a plate of assorted relishes, tree-nut cheeses, and sprouted-seed crackers to accompany a glass of wine.

Rice acknowledges the importance of balance in seeing the bigger picture. “Our health and the health of the planet is serious stuff, yes. But I want people to feel comfortable while they are being adventurous. I hope they experience joy and satisfaction in eating our food.”

AVO in ONEC1TY
3001 Charlotte Pike Suite 200
eatavo.com | 615-329-2377
Mon–Sat 11a–10p Sun 10a–4p

Photo 1: AVOcado Margarita--AVO's signature cocktail made with fresh avocado, resposado, cilantro, fresh lime, agave and house-made orange dust
Photo 2: Jess Rice has a quiet moment with one of her many cookbooks at the bar of AVO.
Article from Edible Nashville at http://ediblenashville.ediblecommunities.com/eat/chef-jess-rice-avo
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