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Exclusive Interview with Celebrity GreenChef Matthew Kenney
Posted By G Monkie On March 31, 2009 @ 6:12 am In Exclusive Interview Series,GreenChef Foodie Talk,Pop Culture / Celebrities | 3 Comments
Photographer: G Monkie
It’s 4:30 in the morning and I just finished watching a version of the movie 1984 (The Love of Big Brother) by director Michael Radford, which I had never seen. The film, which is based on George Orwells novel 1984, came out ironically enough, in … 1984. I was only 16 at the time, and I somehow missed it. I guess the big brains here in Hollywood, thought this was a nice bit of marketing genius and a scary look backwards at what could have been, if the world had actually gone Red. We would all be living in a world which required us to chant things like “We love big brother” and “Drill Baby Drill”. The population would have also freely given up their personal rights to keep themselves safe from the Axis of Evil in East Asia. And of course we would trust completely in our leader the decider! Good thing that never happened.
I am only bringing this up because for years I have owned both the DVD of the film 1984 and a CD by the Eurythmics called 1984. The CD’s 9 songs are based on the book and have been hardwired in my mind as sort of a personal soundtrack, along with songs by the Clash of course. In all this time, I had no clue why the music was never part of the film. The music in the film is this dull grey sounding stuff which it turns out the director wanted and the financiers didn’t. The company funding the movie turned out to be the Virgin Group and I guess they got their way for the theater release and the director got his way for the DVD. So for all these years, I had no idea a Eurythmics version of the film even existed. Kind of strange, since in the book, the main theme is about not knowing what existed or what will be. The government had total control of all memories, by constantly altering the history of what was. I have always thought that was spooky and a little too close to reality, because who is to say we really know what happened at any given time. Our only knowledge is what we are told. For the most part, we have very little first hand knowledge of any major events in the world that happen during our lives.
Face it, if you’re human (and I am assuming you are), you grew up with a version of Big Brother telling you what you should eat, how often and even what brands. My only memories of food are non-stop messages about drinking milk to build strong bones, drink a coke to be happy , eat a cow to build my muscles and suck down ample amounts of happy meals, so I can join the crazy clown in McDonald’s fairy land.
For me that was my reality until I was nearly 30 and then my happy 1984 world came to a crushing end. I met a girl (just like the girl in the book, Julia) who showed me a different reality. A reality where milk didn’t build strong bones, it ate them for lunch. Dead cow meat didn’t build my muscles, it gave me cancer, heart disease, clogged arteries and would do it’s best to drop me by 60. This reality was ugly and scary and full of plus size pillow butt, SUV driving zombies, who made it their daily goal to suck down buckets of crappy chemical laced, genetically modified corn based dollar meals.
Now that I have set the scene for you, and you know what the hell goes on in my head, let me get to the point and tell you what we are doing here. We are here for a chat with a GreenChef many of you already know a little about. His name is Matthew Kenney. Now Matthew wasn’t always known as a green chef. In fact he was once the toast of the New York food critics as a chef to watch, in the more traditional world of heavy creams and exotic meat restaurants. But that was a long time ago before he too met a girl. A girl named Sarma. Together Matthew and Sarma turned their collective backs on the zombie food world to open a raw organic vegan restaurant called Pure Food and Wine, in the heart of New York City. And this is where, I enter the story and where I will start my chat with Matthew. You see, I have actually met Matthew for a few fleeting seconds, when I was in New York, trying to close a deal to fund G Living. While I was there, my soon possible partners/funders wanted to have our meetings at Pure Food and Wine, so we did. They paid, I ate and I fell in love. Not with the partners, but with the food. I was completely blown away. I had forgotten how good food could be. How combining flavors and textures was an art, and not just a job for under paid, migrant workers, like the ones who pack the kitchens in L.A. I had no idea that raw food didn’t have to look like something cavemen made and was served to you on a leaf.
So, lets start our exclusive chat with Matthew and maybe if we are lucky he will help a few of us turn our caveman muck into something worth falling in love with.
G Monkie: Matthew, first I just wanted to thank you for sending us your new book, Entertaining in the Raw, and for giving us a few recipes from the book for GreenChefs. I have the book in front of me right now, and it really is beautiful. The styling, design and photography of the book, makes the recipes look so good.
When did you start this book and what is different about this book compared to your other books?
Matthew: Thank you G Monkie. The outline for the book began about two years ago, as part of a two book deal with my publisher, Gibbs Smith. I finished the writing and recipes late last summer. Entertaining in the Raw is a personal artistic expression of raw food, exploring and celebrating its culinary potential. My other books to date have been more practical, focused on the day to day lifestyle of the consumer, whereas Entertaining looks through the eyes of a chef.
G Monkie: Did you ever have a 1984 moment like I describe above? A moment where everything you thought you knew about food in your life, was turned on it’s head?
Matthew: Those moments happen to me quite regularly. I feel as though I am constantly learning and re-learning on this journey.
G Monkie: What kind of lifestyle are you living now? Are you a vegan? Do you believe in the whole green movement thing?
Matthew: My personal lifestyle is mostly parallel to my work – it revolves around health, fitness, nature and seasonal cuisine. Although my professional life consumes most of my schedule these days, I devote a lot of time to exercise, food preparation and rest. My diet is very straightforward and vegan – mostly raw juices and smoothies, salads and a few cooked vegetables and occasionally, grains. Lately, I’m loving green smoothies, chia seeds, avocados, sea vegetables and I can never get enough Lacinato Kale – in green smoothies, raw, steamed or dehydrated with sea salt and macadamia nut oil.
G Monkie: At what point did you decide to pursue a career as a chef and why? What is it about food that you find so fascinating?
Matthew: Shortly after college, while working at Christie’s auction house in New York, I found myself constantly reading about and observing the city’s fascinating restaurant scene. It’s the clearest message I had received at that point in my life – shortly after, I began a job working in the kitchen of a Sicilian restaurant on the Upper East Side, and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute. My initial goal was to learn about the business itself, but my career path as a chef took on a natural life of its own.
G Monkie: What do you love and hate most about working as a chef and owning your own restaurants? I know you have had a bit of a bumpy ride, when it comes to starting and growing restaurants into sustainable businesses. Also, how has your thinking evolved about the business of restaurants?
Matthew: At this point, I enjoy nearly every aspect of my work – that is almost entirely due to the great partnerships I have. Those business relationships reflect the core change in my business philosophy, which is to work with others who have different and complimentary skill sets, as well as common goals. It took me years to recognize this and also to admit my own weaknesses.
G Monkie: What happened with The Plant? It looked like such a great idea to have one central hub and kitchen that made all the food and delivered it to all the locations around Manhaton. I was really looking forward to going to it the next time I was in New York, then it seemed to vanish overnight, to my shock.
Matthew: Gourmet raw food is still a new and developing concept. Although it is now firmly established that people love it and it can be the core of a viable business, there are some characteristics of mainstream food that don’t apply well to raw. One of them is the concept of transporting high end prepared foods to retail locations. It can be done, but as a restaurant chef with experience in gourmet cuisine, it is not something I fully understand yet. We considered brining the Plant to Manhattan, and had identified a location in Tribeca, but ultimately we decided it was not the right avenue for this cuisine
G Monkie: Will you ever give up owning restaurants?
Matthew: My personal role in them will continue to evolve, but it would be hard to imagine a life without restaurants.
G Monkie: Do you exclusively work as a raw food chef and author or do you still at times revert back to more traditional chef work?
Matthew: Much of my work is with raw food but not all. However, I am a partner in Freefoods NYC with Peter Schatzberg, which currently has two locations. We are an organic, health driven concept and, although we offer a growing range of raw cuisine, it is only part of our business. I also developed the culinary concept for a restaurant in Madrid last year, among others.
G Monkie: What do you think of the Tabloid media? Is it a love hate kind of thing? Or just purely a hate thing? I am asking just to get past the elephant in the room. Some of the New York Magazine Post our kind of harsh.
Matthew: For better or worse, all of my projects have always been well covered in the media. My general sentiment is that I feel fortunate to have had the exposure. My work is for guests, readers and clients, but I still take all press seriously and do my best to obtain the best results for the business.
G Monkie: Over the years I have been following your books, blogs and restaurants and one thing always stands out, everything is amazingly done. The look and feel of the restaurants are alwaysmodern, clean, beautiful, and seem to be on the cutting edge for the raw food world. Your books always convey a better happy life, if only every meal could look like recipes within the pages.
Is the interior design of the restaurants and the presentation of the food itself, as or more important that the actual flavors of the food?
Matthew: There is the saying that we’re all familiar with “presentation is everything”. That said, even though I put tremendous energy into design, style and form, it is only part of the equation – food is different than clothing – we don’t consume and digest our clothes. Taste is equally important, as is our body’s reaction to what we eat.
G Monkie: At the beginning of this interview, I make a little fun of some of the dishes I have had here in California. The salty heavy nut mush, which gets passed off as ‘fine cuisine’ in some of the raw food restaurants here in Los Angeles.,by, lets face it, people who are only self-proclaimed ‘chefs’. What do you think of the raw food chef community, are you bothered at all by the loose usage of the term chef by people who are not culinary professionals?
Matthew: I respect anyone who is working to prepare healthier food for the planet, and admire the entrepreneurial spirit. I do believe that raw food will have more traction with the mainstream as its culinary potential is further developed, which is one of the reasons I wrote Entertaining and why I am so passionate about the Raw Culinary Academy we are opening at 105degrees.
G Monkie: In our GreenChefs section we do our best to find the best of what is out there today. We have been really lucky, and have some really great tasting recipes by amazing chefs and food enthusiasts from around the world.
Is there anyone in the raw food restaurant/recipe book world who stands out in your mind as an inspiration? If yes, who are they and what about them inspires you?
Matthew: I’m really impressed with the amount of creativity and passion going into raw foods these days. I don’t have a lot of books, but I am currently reading Jennifer Cornbleet’s new dessert manuscript. I really love how she understands her audience and takes the time to present her recipes in such a clear fashion. During my travels, I am constantly meeting interesting people, many who have great recipes and products, such as Olive Mackay. We met in Winter Park, Florida, when I was opening Café 118 – her kombucha is incredible.
G Monkie: As I said a little earlier, your books are beautiful, well design and friendly, but I have to admit a bit intimidating to tackle. You like components and ingredients, a lot of ingredients. What is the most important part of a recipe for you? The look, final taste, complexity, novelty or how engaging it is?
Matthew: Every recipe serves a different purpose. In Everyday Raw, my goal was to provide relatively easy to follow recipes for restaurant quality food. Entertaining in the Raw offers a number of recipes within each dish, all of which can be used independently or together. Like a pair of shoes, a recipe must fit the occasion.
G Monkie: Why did you write your latest book, Entertaining In The Raw? What was the inspiration?
Matthew: There are a number of reasons, the first being that I wanted to share the potential I had found in working with raw food. I have also learned, during the last several years, that, although basic recipes and straightforward food is great at home or when we have very little time, it is the gourmet aspect which often speaks to a broader audience and brings people to this healthier lifestyle. I’m also very passionate about writing and creative expression – it was the natural thing for me to do.
G Monkie: Which recipe in the book are you most proud of, and which recipe out of all the recipes in the book, should everyone reading this try at least once?
Matthew: I began to write the book only after I had developed a number of the dishes – I’m not even sure where the recipe writing began, but the first chapter I wrote was “Blossom”. I’d suggest everyone trying the Basil Black Pepper Wrappers, which are a good introduction to new technique, but with very familiar flavors.
G Monkie: What is your process for developing a new recipe? Do you think about it a lot before getting your hands dirty testing it? How long does it take you, and how do you know when it is ‘perfected’?
Matthew: My process is always changing, but it typically starts with a conceptual idea. The next step depends on the project. With my next book, Everyday Raw Desserts, the initial practical trial is being done by Meredith Baird, who is the Special Projects Director with my company. I often try random experiments out at home, to get an idea if something will work – many recipes are discovered by accident. Some recipes work perfectly the first time and others take months to understand. Meredith worked on a raw French macaroon that took a little while – but its often those challenging recipes that are the best.
G Monkie: You use a lot of cashews and coconuts in many recipes. Do you think people can get imbalanced nutritionally on gourmet raw food dishes with too much fat, if they don’t plan it well enough?
Matthew: On that level, raw food is like any other – common sense, balance and moderation should always be considered.
G Monkie: In the book, the recipe names seem to have gotten away from you. What is the story behind that? A design choice or you just couldn’t leave anything out?
Matthew: In the introduction, I tried to explain that the best way to use Entertaining would be to read it cover to cover, and look at it in terms of components. The reason I gave the dishes such exotic titles was to highlight the main components in a way that they could be distinguished, either within that dish as a whole, or taken out to be used independently.
G Monkie: So, it seems you don’t live in New York anymore, is that true? What is your life like now and what do you hope for in your future?
Matthew: I’m in New York from 2-10 days a month – more if I am working on a specific project. In the summer, I spend most of my time on the coast of Maine, and I travel a great deal the rest of the year for work. I was in Madrid in early fall at La Mucca, Florida to open Café 118 after that, and then New York to open the second location of Freefoods in January. I was downloading the 2000 or so photos I’ve taken in the past few months last week – until I did that, I don’t think I even realized how many places I’ve been recently. I have very much enjoyed my lifestyle the past couple years and expect it will be similar for quite some time.
G Monkie: What is the Orlando culinary scene like compared to New York? Why Orlando for your new restuarant, Cafe 118?
Matthew: Although there are a few good restaurants in Orlando, including a branch of one of my favorites in Maine, Melissa Kelly’s Primo, it would be hard to even compare. New York has such a deep and passionate food culture, both from the culinary and consumer sides, it is likely unimpeachable.
G Monkie: What is your 105degrees project in Oklahoma City all about?
Matthew: 105degrees is a very special project – without question, the most advanced that I have ever been involved in. There are three components, each of which we hope will bring new and fresh ideas to their market segment. It will house an upscale raw and living foods restaurant, with an incredible, fully open modern kitchen, wine bar and outdoor café.
A retail shop will be located inside a ‘glass box’ along an entire wall of the restaurant – this component will also have an extensive e-commerce site, 105degreesshop.com. We will be carrying some very interesting raw and sustainable lifestyle products, along with our own line of snacks, ingredients and components.
The 105degrees Academy will be a professional, licensed culinary school, dedicated to the art of raw cuisine. We will offer two professional courses, a one month, ‘Fundamentals of Raw Cuisine’, and a 3 month ‘Advance Raw Cuisine’. We will also hold several daily and local courses, as well as guest instructors and special events.
G Monkie: How many projects are you currently involved with now? How do you find the time to work on so many ventures at once?
Matthew: There are several, although my role is limited in most. Other than 105degrees and Freefoods, which are all day every day, the others have much more flexibility. Along with my last two books which came out in the last few months, I am writing Everyday Raw Desserts and have a pretty clear idea of what I’d like to write after that. I’m involved in a very cool new sustainable wine product, Cheers2go, which should launch next month, and in very early stages of a raw chocolate brand. There is a boutique Peruvian concept opening in Chelsea this year that my company is involved in, and some ongoing work with Café 118. There may be a mainstream, raw lifestyle television show in the near future – we’ll have more info on that soon.
Managing the various projects is more about timing than any other factor. For example, the second Freefoods location will have been open 9 months by the time 105degrees launches. More importantly, I am fortunate to be working with incredibly talented people on every project I get involved in. My partners in Oklahoma, Mandy Canistelle and Dara Prentice, Peter Schatzberg at Freefoods, Meredith, my editors – it’s always a team effort. That said, I generally begin work at 7am and end late at night, 7 days a week, taking a little time out for exercise, getting outside (and preparing raw meals of course).
G Monkie: I have to say I really am a fan of your work and I appreciate your dedication to the perfection of what food can be in our lives. I hope to see a lot more books, recipes and restaurants in your future. Thank you again for the recipes you have posted in our Green Chefs section and I hope to read some posts by you on gliving.com soon.
Matthew: Thanks G Monkie: – its my pleasure – you have a beautiful site and thank you for spreading the word about the endless attributes of a green lifestyle.
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