Interview
Matthew Kenney

With Matthew Kenney

He speaks to BWB’s contributor Rebecca Leffler about true plant love and casting a spell on the mainstream food industry.

Once upon a time…back before kale was kool and green juices were the new “it” accessory in Hollywood, Matthew Kenney was hard at work magically transforming plants into art and living healthfully ever after.

This King of the plant Kingdom has been crowned throughout this long career with several titles including one of America’s Best New Chefs by Food & Wine Magazine, as a Rising Star Chef by the James Beard Foundation and as Chef of the Year by Veg magazine among his many accolades.

Today, his M.A.K.E. restaurant in Los Angeles offers gourmet, plant-based fare based on seasonal, local ingredients.

The classically-trained chef from Maine is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and, after working in upscale NYC kitchens, founded Pure Food & Wine more than 10 years ago. In 2009, he launched the world’s first raw food culinary academy that now boasts graduates from more than 30 countries.

Today, his M.A.K.E. restaurant in Los Angeles offers gourmet, plant-based fare based on seasonal, local ingredients.
He also runs restaurants The Gothic in Maine and the soon-to-open Miami location White Lotus.
Kenney forays as an author, private chef, motivational speaker, consultant and businessman, not to mention yogi, world traveler and avocado enthusiast.

So how did this hunter from Maine become the face of plant-based cuisine across the globe?
Kenney tells all in his (quite literally) juicy memoir Cooked Raw: How One Celebrity Chef Risked Everything to Change the Way We Eat, launching this month.
Kenney spoke to BWB’s Green queen Rebecca Leffler about true plant love and casting a spell on the mainstream food industry.

After years of fad diets and processed food, we’re going back to basics and becoming more grounded.

You’ve been advocating a vegan and raw diet for many years, and finally these things are starting to become more mainstream across America and in the rest of the world. To what do you attribute this shift?

At its core, this shift is attributed to the fact that, as a society, we’re always looking for things that make us happy. Health and wellness are top priorities. It’s hard to enjoy anything without having that. After years of fad diets and processed food, we’re going back to basics and becoming more grounded. Everyone from health practitioners to chefs are applying their time to this industry, that in turns makes these things more accessible for the general population.

How have you seen the wellness industry change over the past few years?
Has it been a slow transformation or a more dramatic move?

It’s been a gradual build that is now a pretty fast burn. I’d say it’s really become much more mainstream over the last two years.
People are no longer looking at plant based food and wellness as all or nothing. It’s all about simply incorporating it into daily life.

What’s missing is that society is still looking for a quick fix… I wish they’d dig a little deeper into the core.

Does the fact that green juice and kale are “trending” today worry you or excite you?

Both. We have a natural tendency, specifically in the US, to commercialize new things. I’m not a fan of HPP green juices, for example. I don’t think they’re much better than other pasteurized juice on the market.
As long as education keeps people grounded in terms of what’s best for them, we’ll be ok.
What’s missing is that society is still looking for a quick fix. The biggest problem is being disconnected from our food. I’m glad people are aware, but I wish they’d dig a little deeper into the core.

January is always “detox” time. Suddenly everyone is looking to start exercising and eating well.
What advice do you have for healthy eating newbies or anyone looking to add more raw/vegan foods to his/her diet but overwhelmed with all of the information out there?

I always recommend starting with just one meal a day. Start with, say, just lunch or even try to eat clean and unprocessed plant food between breakfast and dinner.
People usually feel so much better almost immediately.
I personally did raw food for a day, then a week then said “this is life-changing.” I say, keep it simple. Have a big salad, add some avocado – it’s so easy.

I think it’s extremely important to eat unprocessed foods in general – and of course raw foods just have a different life pulse.

What does a typical day of eating look like for you?

I’m pretty simple. I have a lot of smoothies or juices in the morning – lots of liquids, greens, sprouted greens. Or even just an apple and almond butter. This morning, I had a mango smoothie with ginger. I don’t snack much – I don’t really think about it.
Lunch is usually a big salad with some sea vegetables, avocado and maybe some kind of tree nut cheese.
For dinner, I usually stick to warmer foods like a quinoa bowl with some cooked components. I love root vegetables. I think it’s extremely important to eat unprocessed foods in general – and of course raw foods just have a different life pulse.

French training gave me foundation to do things in a refined way and apply that style and mindset to plant-based foods.

You are a graduate of the French Culinary Institute. How has your cooking been influenced by French cuisine?

My French training taught me organization, balance and refinement when it comes to pastry. It’s been a huge asset for me.
Raw foods can be very nut-heavy or filled with sugar – the execution of some early raw food dishes gave a lot to be desired. French training gave me foundation to do things in a refined way and apply that style and mindset to plant-based foods.

You travel quite a bit and your cooking has become fusion food, mixing all you’ve learned from different cultures along the way. What is your favorite type of cuisine? And your favorite place to visit?

I do travel quite a lot. I used to love going to cities and dining at top restaurants. These days, I like to be in nature more and more. There’s nothing like being in Australia standing under a lychee tree eating incredibly ripe foods or pulling down a jackfruit. I love being in places where food is in season and at its peak. That excites me now, this access to incredible cuisine.

You have restaurants in LA, in Belfast, Maine and soon in Miami (2015!) and you’ve previously worked in NYC. Do you adapt your menus to different demographics? How are menu items and the clientele different in these locations?

They’re all different. We always try to focus on seasonal, local ingredients. Miami will be a little more fun, with more of a South American influence and a more relaxed vibe. There will be more fruit, heat and spice to reflect that culture. We adapt to our surroundings as opposed to repeating the same thing. Our food is so reliant on ingredients so we change based on that.

You have used your success to educate so many people, particularly at your culinary academies in the US and online. What are some of your greatest success stories coming out of your school and what have your students taught you in the process?

I’m inspired by my students daily. Everywhere I go, my heart is warmed by seeing what our students do. I was in Belgium recently and my host took me to the only raw food café in Belgium that happened to be owned by a graduate of our online school. Then I went to a dinner in another part of the country that was prepped by graduates. Just the fact that it’s become a global network of delicious cuisine is exciting.

What are your favorite places in LA
…to eat?
I live in Venice and I love everything about the food there. Japanese food at Shima is great. It’s not vegan, but there are a ton of vegetarian options. I love it. It’s superclean and organic. I also love Gjelina and my friend Tal Ronen’s place Crossroads.
…to drink?
I really like Beverly Hills juice. It’s an old school-style juice bar. It’s great. There are so many juice bars around here – they’re everywhere! I love Erewohn market too. And for a non-green juice beverage, I’m happy with a late afternoon glass of champagne at Nikita in Malibu.
…to work out?
Gold’s gym – the original. I also go to yoga classes taught by my girlfriend (Liz Arch) I love her classes. I also love going hiking in Malibu.
…to be a tourist?
Just driving is always great. I love going to see modern art or to a concert at Hollywood bowl. There are so many cool things to do here.

We know you lead a healthy lifestyle, but do you have any vices?
What is your most “guilty” pleasure?

I really don’t! I do what I love. I love sweets, but I eat organic raw white chocolate truffles.
The things I indulge in are part of a healthy lifestyle. I do love wine and organic breads.

To whet your appetites for learning Matthew Kenney’s culinary techniques, visit HERE.

To take a bite of his new book HERE

Rebecca Leffler

Rebecca Leffler is a writer, journalist and wellness consultant. She is the author of best-selling French book Green, Glam & Gourmande and follow-up title Green, Glam & Happy. Her book “Très green, très clean, très chic: Eat (and live!) the new French way with plant-based, gluten-free recipes for every season” was released in 2015. Follow Rebecca at Lafleurparisny.com.

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