Matthew Kenney is without a doubt one of the most influential raw food chefs and authors whose work, recipes and eateries have inspired many other chefs and restaurateurs and have treated many to top world class cuisine, raw one! I was fortunate to meet up with Matthew in his beautiful restaurant in Venice in Los Angeles where I have enjoyed definitely the most exquisite beautifully presented food – I still cannot get out of my mind the fresh coconut smoothie I have had there. And as Matthew has mentioned here his black pepper kelp noodles… I have tried them and may I say, 11 out of 10! I cannot wait to visit his new ventures for larger doses of health and happiness with Mr Kenney’s special touch.
Matthew, as soon as you started your career as a chef you were known for innovative cuisine, opening some of NY ́s top eateries in the ‘90s. I’m sure you have been asked millions times following question but here it is! What intrigued you to go raw in your personal and business life?
I had plans to have dinner with a friend in New York, and just before our meeting he let us know he was eating all raw. We ended up visiting a really small place where I was struck by the radiance and energy the people there seemed to have. The meal inspired me to approach raw foods using my classical training.As a part of my exploration of raw foods I also began eating raw and it only fueled my curiosity and eventually realigned my passion in culinary arts.
Did you consider yourself brave starting a 100% raw food restaurant years ago when it was even more taboo than these days? Or did your gut instinct tell you it would be a success?
I wasn’t sure how it would be received entirely, but I was sure that I was more passionate about creating raw cuisine than I had been about creating anything else in a while. I certainly believed that great dedication and passion often proceed to success.
You are well known as one of the leaders, innovators and pioneers in raw food cuisine. You are an inspiration to many with your unique style. Where does your inspiration come from?
I would say a lot of my early inspiration came from growing up in Maine where I spent a lot of time in nature. These days I am heavily inspired by art, fashion, my travels, our team and our students.
When dining in your restaurant I didn’t have much of a feeling that I was in a raw food restaurant even though the menu is entirely raw! The class, the presentation, the ridiculously high quality ingredients, straightforward names of the dishes – the fact there’s nothing ‘hippy’ or weird about it makes it a completely unique raw dinning experience. I think doing
things in this way will appear more to more to the masses. Is that your intention or your style is ‘accidental’, meaning, simply your style?
We happen to make plant-based and raw cuisine but we are dedicated to ‘crafting the future of food’ and being at the forefront of change. We never intended to appeal to people who were into raw food, we consider other high-end, contemporary, cutting-edge restaurants our counterparts because we want to change the way people think about food as a whole. Before I got into raw food I was already a chef and restaurateur.
Apart from running successful raw food restaurants, opening new ones and publishing new books before one can say a kale chip, you also have a cooking academy! Tell us more about it and what made you start such a big project? What is your vision?
We started the first Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy because we realized that education is the key to changing diets and lives. At the moment we offer a variety of plant-based courses onsite in Santa Monica, Maine, and in the fall in Miami. We also have an online academy with an even larger course catalogue and students from all over the world! We strive to really empower our students to go out and create change in their communities. Having a conscious eatery myself I feel there is a bigger demand for it these days.
You are about to open a new restaurant in Miami, are we going to see you opening more raw food restaurants?
We receive more and more inquiries for private chefs, consulting, prospective students, and potential partnerships each day so I think there is a much higher demand. Miami will open in the fall of this year and we are also opening a juice bar/takeaway concept in Los Angeles as well as a restaurant and juice bar/takeaway in Merida Mexico. Everything we do will include raw cuisine.
We all know that a dedicated team is a secret to every business along with the passion of the founder and leader. You sure have a team of great chefs and restaurants staff. How important do you feel your personal presence is in your restaurants?
I love to be a part of almost everything we do but as we grow it’s becoming less realistic for me to be everywhere. When I’m in L.A. I visit our restaurant and academy there regularly and when we open in Miami I will spend a significant amount of time there.It’s important to be connected with my team and our students.Our core leadership team is also integral to the business as they represent a variety of talents, strengths, and traits and each of them work hard to support each sector of our business.
Do you still get in the kitchen quite often preparing food yourself or demands for other things from you have completely overtaken that?
I still love to create dishes for others and myself, I’ve been making a lot of my own dinners lately but we have a Director of Culinary Operations who oversees the culinary aspect of our business so I can focus on the business as a whole. He’s super creative and talented and I worked with him many years ago when he first got into raw cuisine so we are very much in alignment. When recreating some standard recipes and making raw food versions.
I always find it fascinating in your recipes and of some other raw food chefs, how on earth you come up with a formula using completely different ingredients than those used for that non raw dish and make it taste so similar and amazing! I mean… how do you guys do that?!
I can’t speak for others but I would say that my classical training laid the foundation for me. It’s really important to learn the basics of flavor balancing, recipe writing, proper knife skills, etc. Some dishes have been made by ‘mistakes’, our Kimchi Dumpling wrappers for example were invented while I was trying to create something else.
As a restaurateur myself and being the creative force behind it, having my name so close to it like yourself I’m still struggling from time to time to deliver expectations so many expect of me and my restaurants and sometimes regardless how much you give, offer and effort you put in people will still find space for criticism. I try not to stress about it even though it is not easy. Do you come across the same situation and what is your view on it? How do you respond? How do you deal with stress that naturally comes with the restaurant industry? As I have met you personally I felt a pleasant calmness about you that is rather rare to see in a busy restaurant entrepreneur!
I do the best I can each day. I always rise early and try to balance my work with things like exercise and spending time with my cat.Yoga has always been extremely important to me as is spending time outside.I often feel like I can’t keep up with everything I need to keep up with so I try my best to ignore anything I don’t need to know (like criticism that isn’t constructive).
When talking to people about raw way of eating I’m constantly told that it is too complicated and takes lots of time to do it. What do you say to people when given this ‘excuse’ that eating raw is hard for them to do time wise?
We wrote Everyday Raw Express so people could make raw food quickly, we also created the app for the same reason, and a lot of reasons why we are in education is to teach and show people that it can be incredibly simple and amazing but also give them the skills to create complex dishes if they want to. I eat pretty simply and I think the more dedicated you are to quality ingredients the less you feel like you need to tamper with them.
What advice you can give to someone deciding to start a raw food lifestyle or to simply incorporate more raw in their diet and let go of eating habits that do not serve them?
The best thing to do is to start your day with a green juice, preferably, or a smoothie. It sets your palate and helps you make smarter choices as the day progresses.
If you were to serve a dinner to a meat and potato eating person and expecting to ‘impress’ them, what would you serve? Is there a top dish you make that never fails to impress even the most skeptical?
Our lasagna continues to impress people over the years and we have a Black Pepper Kelp Noodle dish that is also a very popular dish.
You are dessert and chocolate master. Does this mastery come from your love of sweet pleasures?
I think raw desserts are a really great way to get people to be less hesitant about raw cuisine so it’s really important for us to perfect them. We wrote Raw Chocolate and Everyday Raw Desserts with this in mind, we are also developing a course called Plant-Based Raw Desserts for www.matthewkenneyonline.com in hopes that more people will begin to abandon sweets high in unhealthy fats and sugars.
I guess raw food cuisine is quite accepted as a cuisine in Los Angeles where your restaurant is and surely Miami will be responding the same. When travelling abroad or even within United States how easy or difficult is it to present this cuisine and inspire people to have a go?
Los Angeles is just starting to create a buzz with plant-based, not necessarily raw, cuisine.There are lots of people who eat raw cuisine in Los Angeles but M.A.K.E. sees a lot of people who are not even raw or vegan and I think the popularity of other plant-based restaurants and juice bars shows that it’s beginning to be more widely accepted and appreciated. Miami is not as progressive as far as health and wellness, a lot of the restaurants there don’t have many healthy or fresh options but our concept there will be both a restaurant and culinary academy within a wellness center and the community can’t wait. As time progresses and the more I travel and connect with people all over the world I’m often learning about new places or people who are leading these movements in places you wouldn’t expect!
What is your ultimate goal? What drives you?
I personally, and professionally, know that good food and health go hand in hand. So many people lead less than pleasant lifestyles in large part because of their diets. As a company, we are driven by our desire to bring together culinary art and ultimate nutrition. We are really dedicated to ‘crafting the future of food’ through innovation and creative thinking.
As you have welcomed me to your lovely restaurant in Santa Monica I hope to one day in near future welcome you to my home of health & happiness in beautiful Ibiza. Thank you for your time and may I and my Passion wish you all the best in your mission on spreading the message of this amazing cuisine, healthy lifestyle and consciousness that comes with it into preserving our planet and creating better future for generations to come.
Thank you so much for including us, it’s my pleasure and I do hope to connect with you in Ibiza soon. Thank you for all the work you do to create positive change and inspire others to live their best.
“Deciding to change the direction of my career is the best professional decision I’ve ever made. It’s easy to be a standard chef, people are addicted to butter, fat, meat, dairy, salt, and sugar. To give people something they need, and make them desire it, has been more challenging but who doesn’t love a challenge that can change the world?”
“Raw food is the most colorful on the planet—it literally jumps off the plate! Raw is very modern, forgoing heavy sauces, dairy products, and breads, allowing each bite to pack maximum flavor. In every one of my raw dining experiences, I have found that the food ends up not only being enjoyed but also being used as a conversational piece, where guests marvel at their surprise to learn the food before them is composed of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, none of which have been cooked, canned, or processed in any way.”