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Flex Your Plant-Based Muscles

Meet the new generation of male chefs making salads sexy and proving that plant-based cuisine isn’t just for the ladies.

The future may be female, but a new class of young, male chefs from New York to Paris are proving that plant-based cooking is not just a woman’s world anymore.

As more and more elite male athletes boast the benefits of protein-packed plant-based diets, these chefs are playing with their food, challenging outdated gender stereotypes, and redefining the image of plant-based cuisine. These chefs aren’t afraid to live on the (v)edge and flex their maitake mushroom-fueled muscles on their social media platforms. Never before has parsley been so provocative, squash so seductive, and herbs so hot.

The Plant-Based Pioneer: Matthew Kenney, all over the world

Matthew Kenney has been pioneering the pretty plant movement for decades, and his empire is rapidly expanding across the globe. He meticulously designs his edible art for optimal digestion and savory vegetablegasms.

Kenney has already conquered both coasts of the USA with dozens of restaurants in NYC and LA, but he has also planted seeds in Dubai, Bahrain, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Brazil and beyond. His latest vegan conquest is le French macaron! Kenney just partnered with famed French patisserie, Ladurée, to open a vegan restaurant in LA with plant-based twists on French classics, including their famous namesake desserts.

Kenney notices a gender shift in his clientele, noting that nearly all of his online and offline followers were female when he started out. “There is something innately feminine about vegetables, which could be reduced to a preconceived notion that protein and strength are associated with meat consumption, but also because plants are naturally colorful and pretty.” Even though his plates are decorated with edible flowers and sprouts, Kenney confirms: “We’ve seen a huge surge in male interest, whether that be through social media or our guests at the restaurant. People are more educated about their health and well-being now, and that’s a priority that is nonspecific to gender.”

The Sage of Sexy Salads: Adam Kenworthy, New York City and Nicaragua

Adam Kenworthy is bringing sexy back… to your salads. His signature, trademarked Sexy Salads™continue to prove that a salad isn’t a boring, diet food but rather a creative, colorful and flavorful meal. Kenworthy is a dating service for lonely vegetables and esoteric ingredients who, with his magic touch, become unlikely works of art. Kenworthy combines squash and roasted maitake mushrooms in delicious union, wrapping them lovingly in raw jicama tacos.

He became interested in healthy cooking when he began to participate in extreme sports like marathons, iron man competitions and cross country bike races. After flexing his muscles on The Real Housewives of New York, he made headlines as an ambassador for supermodel-turned-wellness business powerhouse, Elle MacPherson’s WelleCo. His mission? To bring his West Coast vibes– “plants, plants, and more plants”– to his kitchen and yours.

The Alluring Adventurer: Juan Arbeleaz, Paris
Credit: @benedetta_chiala

Juan Arbeleaz, a Colombian chef based in Paris, has been serving up spicy vegetables at seven restaurants in the city and bringing his passion for plants to French TV. This Bogota-born entrepreneur worked with renowned French chefs like Pierre Gagnaire, Eric Briffard, Eric Frechon before launching a solo career behind the stove and in front of the camera.As one half of France’s wellness power couple, he runs Vida Paris alongside his longtime girlfriend, Laury Thilleman. Vida’s concept is simple: “To have fun while feeling good.” The restaurant focuses on making “fresh, natural and spontaneous” food with in-season, quality produce cooked to maintain optimal health benefits. Sit down for garden-fresh vegetable plates, quinoa falafel or corn bread, and finish off your meal with vegan crème brûlée.

Experiencing the pleasure of eating a nice piece of meat isn’t the problem. The problem is when the balance is disrupted and there is more animal protein than plant protein.

“For a long time, people believed that a lot of eating and drinking was a sign of masculinity and virility, but the truth is that the excess of animal meat and animal fat has a negative influence on blood circulation and, thus, male erections. So, gentlemen, if you want to avoid the blue pill too soon, trade pork belly and ribs for broccoli and vegetables.”

He adds, “Experiencing the pleasure of eating a nice piece of meat isn’t the problem. The problem is when the balance is disrupted and there is more animal protein than plant protein. We need vegetable fiber – it’s irreplaceable.” His go-to dish to bring balance back? “I’m a big fan of raw tomatoes with a bit of mango, lime and cilantro – a recipe so simple, exotic and sexy that will give anyone who eats it an urge to immediately kiss the person cooking it!”

The Vegetable Whisperer: Julien Sebbag, Paris

Julien Sebbag was recently described by French newspaper, Le Figaro, as “the chef who makes us dream about vegetables.” He began with his innovative concept of “je cuisine chez toi,” or “I cook at your house,” where he whipped up his signature, vegetable-centric meals in kitchens all over the city.He’s serves up vegetable fare sky-high at Créatures on the ephemeral rooftop of the Galeries Lafayette and his own restaurant, Chez Oim, on top of legendary Bus Palladium nightclub in Paris.

He’s making vegetables sexy and comfy enough for the Paris “cool” crowd. “It seemed obvious to me: Raw vegetables are precious jewels.” After writing his master’s thesis on the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, he led the “Vegolution” in Paris. To anyone who thinks a plant-based diet is boring, Sebbag says: “Just look at an eggplant. Or the inside of a blood orange. Does that look boring?”

The Plant Poet: Gabe Kennedy, New York City

Winner of ABC’s The Taste, this Colorado native is known for his flavorful, seasonal cuisine that includes meat– although his mission is more plant-based: “To heal and connect people and the planet through the power of plants; to inspire people to explore the kitchen, their senses, and rediscover the joys of cooking.” He hates labels, but his sensual and fun approach to plants turn up the heat in the kitchen and around the world. Kennedy’s approach to plants is uniquely poetic: “Knowing that the whole world is in a vegetable has always inspired me – the wind, the rain, sun, our ancestors… All in a single grain,” he explains.

At the end of the the day food goes beyond being plant-based or not. It is how we consume.

“I always wanted to make eating consciously a sexy thing to doand now it has become a major part of culture. Now more than ever, it is easy to get people excited about vegetable centric dishes.” His approach creates communal, shared experiences around food in one big love soup. “My focus has shifted from perfect service and execution to one of community, conversation and nourishment. At the end of the the day food goes beyond being plant-based or not. It is how we consume.”

Kennedy has just upped his green factor even more and gotten into the CBD business with his company, Plant People – a cannabis wellness brand.

The French Force of Nature: Julian Mercier, Paris

A former executive chef at Alain Ducasse’s famed cooking school in Paris, Mercier is now a chef and consultant focused on healthy food for professional and amateur athletes. His mantra? “Eat good, feel good.” When he’s not running marathons or competing in iron man competitions, Mercier is creating plant-based, protein-packed meals in the kitchen. His favorite plant-based protein sources include grains like spelt, quinoa, pumpkin and hemp seeds.

“I’m not trying to replace nutritionists, but instead work with them to provide dishes or menus that take into account the essential needs of athletes for performance, while also overseeing the qualities of the products and adjust them to their tastes.” His unique approach continues to attract more and more men into the plant-based world looking for protein-packed, plant-based meals with flavor and flair.

The Godfathers of Green: Alain Passard and Alain Ducasse

Alain Passard was one of the first “fancier” French chefs to put vegetables in the spotlight when he shocked the food world in 2001 by removing red meat from his Michelin-starred restaurant, l’Arpège. He takes the “farm-to-table” concept to new heights, serving only vegetables he grows at his very own organic gardens just outside of Paris. His unparalleled enthusiasm for plants has dramatically influenced the French culinary world. With three Michelin stars at l’Arpège, he continues to wow the world with his way with plants.

The most beautiful cookbook was written by nature itself.

“I grow my own vegetables to be able to tell a story from the seed to the plate.” His conscious shift to more sustainably-sourced cooking may have shocked his peers at the time, but the world is catching up to his vision. He lets plants steal the spotlight even if meat or fish are involved: “The most beautiful cookbook was written by nature itself.”

Another French Alain, namely Alain Ducasse, also made waves in the culinary world when he announced he wouldn’t be serving meat at his eponymous restaurant at Paris’ Plaza Athenée. He designed a haute cuisine menu around vegetables, grainsand fish that has earned him three Michelin stars (among 21 Michelin stars to his name to date). He defines himself as “an esthete, an artisan of living and eating well,” and treats each dish as a story that begins with the raw ingredients.

Rebecca Leffler

Rebecca Leffler is a Paris-based writer and journalist who, after a career as the French correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter and as a film critic on Canal+, traded red carpets for green smoothies. She’s written five books about healthy lifestyle from Paris to NYC and beyond, including Très Green, Très Clean, Très Chic: Eat (and Live!) the New French way with plant-based, gluten-free recipes for every season, and most recently Le Nouveau Manuel de la Cuisine Végétale. Rebecca has pioneered the “vegolution” in Paris, where she continues to organize events focusing on healthy eating, yoga and la vie en rose… And green! You can keep up with Rebecca on Instagram!

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