In the past few years many Americans have tried to turn their diet and lifestyle around introducing healthier alternatives. While some have limited their dietary improvements to Meatless Monday, others have made more significant changes becoming vegan. The vegan diet has become more and more popular because it was embraced by Hollywood. Some celebrities have been quite outspoken about their lifestyle choices when it comes to animal products, taking the meaning of being vegan to a totally different level refusing to buy any product (including clothes) that originate from animals. While the stories of actresses refusing to wear leather shoes at the oscars may be just aimed at building a persona, there are countless people who have reduced their blood pressure, (bad) cholesterol and risk of hearth disease, by embracing a vegan diet.
One chef was on the forefront of this new healthier lifestyle as the prophet not only of a vegan diet but a proper raw revolution, Matthew Kenney. I confess, being Italian the idea of eating raw is not new to me, especially because my mom is a vegetarian who has always enjoyed experimenting with different types of cuisine. But when I met Matthew 10 years ago (wow time flies!) I was not aware that it could be as delicious enjoyable and creative as any other style of cooking involving well… Heat.
I know what you are thinking… Raw food = salad. Raw food is not only salads and juices, and through Matthew’s restaurants, books and online academy, you can see how people are revisiting the equation above. The food is visually beautiful as it is delicious. What’s more is that it is good for you. Do you want tangible evidence? Here you go. Years ago Kurt, the pirate and I went to one of Matthew’s restaurant for dinner. Kurt was suffering from an allergic reaction that cause him to have pretty severe headaches. No doctor had been able to identify the allergen causing the reaction. The Pirate was initially skeptical that raw food would make a difference and yet after that dinner he felt much better and had no reaction. From that moment on, whenever there is an allergic reaction brewing, the Pirate goes raw and vegan. Considering that I am the one who does the cooking guess who had to learn? Me of course. And who better than Matthew to learn from? So I have been using his vegan recipes. The books below have been a source of inspiration for the past few years and I strongly recommend that you check them out because the recipes are creative and yet simple. While I don’t have a dehydrator, most recipes require tools that are in every kitchen so I have been improvising quite a bit but the outcome has always been outstanding.
To experience Matthew’s creations you can visit one of his restaurants in Chicago, Santa Monica, Oklahoma, Miami and Maine. But I confess that my aspiration is to one day join his Matthew Kenney Culinary, the first plant food academy offering a classically structured program, he created in 2009. He agreed to chat with Lemonade 25 about the plant based revolution, the tools you need for a successful raw kitchen and whether he ever eats steak.
L25: Matthew, you have spearheaded the raw vegan revolution in America in the past 10 years. How where you first exposed to vegan food?
MK: It was a bit of a process, as a young chef I was trained to prepare a lot of traditional French Cuisine, heavy on butter, oils, and salt. As I started carving out my own career I felt more drawn to preparing the lighter meals I enjoyed eating. I was heavily influenced by Mediterranean and Italian Cuisine. A friend dragged me to a raw vegan restaurant in New York city and I changed the direction of my career overnight.
L25: Vegan and raw food is proven to reduce and even reverse heart disease. What was your reason for changing your lifestyle and diet?
MK: Because of my active lifestyle I was drawn to eating foods that allowed me to recover quickly. I’ve always been an athlete who wanted to feel and perform my best.
L25: Preparing a vegan meal is often considered time consuming and not very cost effective. Raw food is considered even more complicated by most home cooks. Yet you have made raw food more approachable with your “Everyday Raw” Series. How would you recommend that newbies approach raw food and start introducing vegan and raw options in their diet.
MK: We created “Everyday Raw Express,” both the book and the iPad app to help people prepare raw foods in 30 minutes or less. I think the simplest way to consume raw food is through juices and smoothies as you are able to get maximum benefit without having to have much skill or expertise. Some raw desserts are actually also quite simple to make, mousses, puddings, and even some pies are tarts are simple and flavorful ways to get excited about raw cuisine. Even something as simple as replacing pasta with spiralized vegetable noodles will boost your raw food intake without compromising much time or steering too far away from familiar dishes.
L25: Your academy is growing exponentially with every term and most accomplished raw chefs come from your training. Do you see more home cooks participating to your classes?
MK: We truly see a range of students, they vary in age, nationality, and profession. What I would say most of our students have in common is their entrepreneurial mindset. A lot of our students are visionaries and change makers even if they don’t know it when they come to us. We have had students who head their household and participate from their home kitchen via www.matthewkenneyonline.com who then desire to start their own product line, open a juice bar or a cafe, and they are truly inspired by what they have learned. It’s really amazing the diversity amongst our alumni.
L25: Through your books you have democratized raw food so that people perceive it as more approachable and the results are more consistent. What are the 3 ingredients or tools/kitchen equipment that every raw home cook should own?
MK: A good knife, a juicer, and a blender.
L25: Lemonade25 is all about squeezing one more hour out of every day. What tips can you share with our readers to maximize time in and out of the kitchen?
MK: Mise en place! Our culinary academy is classically structured, we teach our students to prep before they begin creating a dish and we can’t emphasize enough how much time and stress this saves. If you prepare and clean as you go you will be surprised by your own efficiency in the kitchen.
L25: Are you 100% raw? Is there any other type of food you indulge in from time to time? Will we ever see you eating a burger or a lobster roll?
MK: I’m not. I approach raw food the same way I do exercise, I think it’s important and I think people should incorporate it into their lives daily but it’s very difficult to maintain an active social life if you limit yourself. Most people don’t do well with strict limitations and it’s very important to find your own balance. I enjoy a small Americano every morning before my green juice and I love wine, but I don’t eat a lot of things– fried foods, burgers, and traditionally heavy cuisine because I really don’t like how it makes me feel.