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Interview: Raw Foods Chef and Author Matthew Kenney

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Chef Matthew Kenney

Chef Matthew Kenney opened Pure Food & Wine, New York’s 1st upscale raw restaurant in 2004, and has been at the forefront of haute raw cuisine ever since. Named one of Food and Wine Magazine’s 10 Best New Chefs and nominated twice for the James Beard Rising Star Chef Award, today Chef Kenney is arguably the most celebrated living cuisine chef in America. Despite his incredible success, he remains grounded and grateful.

Chef Kenney has authored or co-authored six cookbooks, including four focused on living cuisine: Raw Food Real World, Everyday Raw, Entertaining in the Raw and Everyday Raw Desserts. He also serves as Director of Culinary Arts & Operations at 105degrees, a cutting-edge raw culinary academy based in Oklahoma City. For more information on the chef, visit Matthew Kenney Cuisine.

Talk to us about your path to becoming raw.

A close friend introduced me to raw food through a restaurant he frequented. Although I wasn’t a vegetarian, it was during a time in my life that I was extremely focused on health and nutrition, but still passionate about the culinary world. I saw raw food as a path to achieve both my personal and professional goals without compromise.

Do you follow a strict raw diet?

I’m not strict about anything other than feeding my body what it desires—that usually means plant-based cuisine, mostly vegan, and lots of raw food, but with small amounts of dairy and occasionally fish.

How has becoming a raw foods chef has changed the way you think of food?

I’ve transitioned a great deal, most notably from believing that good food should be much more than what meets the eye and palate—good food, or great food in fact, should nourish us and enrich our lives.

What do you think people are most surprised about when they try gourmet raw cuisine for the first time?

It is as full-flavored and as decadent as any other cuisine!

Tell us about your “cooking” techniques. How you transform living plant foods into haute cuisine without actually cooking them?

There are many, but the main ones include thermal immersion, dehydration, fermentation and a number of other unique and scientific approaches.

Recently you took part in a pop-up restaurant experience on Treasure Island for a sustainable living event called The Ki. Talk to us about that.

The Ki was one of many events I have participated in during the past year. It was created to showcase a number of brands that represent sustainable living in a very stylish and modern way.

How do you think the raw food landscape has evolved since you opened Pure Food & Wine? What do you hope to see in the future?

Most notably, raw food has moved beyond the “all or nothing” stage and is now seen as a component of healthy living, much like exercise. In the future, I believe that all serious chefs will recognize raw as a major element of any balanced menu and it will continue to grow throughout the world.

You’ve been and continue to be involved in restaurant projects that span the globe. What cuisines speak to you most and why?

I’d love to suggest just one, but the reality is that my interest is global—I’m fascinated by cuisine and culture in dozens of countries and hope to bring a raw element to as many of them as possible.

Over the course of your career, you’ve accomplished a lot, both in and out of the kitchen. Tell us about your favorite role so far.

I’m in the early stages of what is by far my favorite role, as a mentor to talented young professionals. I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredible and passionate artists and I see my role over the next few years as being all about guiding them in tandem with building our company internationally.

What have you learned since you began your career as a chef?

There is far too much to list, but the most valuable lesson is that being a chef is all about team building, relationships and consistency.

You’ve had incredible success as a chef and entrepreneur. What’s been your biggest challenge to date?

I have had many challenges, but the biggest one was in building 105degrees, our high-end raw food culinary school. The restaurant business is a challenge, but education requires an entirely new level of commitment and dedication.

What’s next for you?

The next two years will focus on completing projects that are already underway, several new restaurants, a couple of books and products, and a media project. After that, I hope to focus on expanding some of our brands to markets that I’m most interested in.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you! I’m flattered that my work with raw food has captured the interest of such a large audience.

Nikki Jong is an earth-friendly eater who’s never met a vegetable she didn’t adore. In addition to her edible plant obsession, she nurses a neverending hankering for sustainable seafood and is a champion oyster eater (and shucker). Nikki loves hoppy beers, bold, spicy reds, and believes that nothing beats a cold glass of moscato d’Asti on a hot summer afternoon. As Editor of The Menuism Blog, she has the pleasure of interviewing some of the hungriest, thirstiest and most ambitious folks in food and wine.