Growing up in a small town on the coast of Maine, I was as unlikely a candidate to become a plant-based chef as anyone. But my earliest memories are of devouring blackberries off the vine along the path we walked to the rocky shore, and tiny wild strawberries that grew in the field just outside my bedroom. Although my family sourced much of its produce locally, and grew a beautiful garden in the backyard, consumption of animals and fish was a main part of our diet. I grew up with the premise that hunting wasn’t a sport, but rather part of our food ecosystem, and I began hunting at the age of 10.
When I was in college, I spent a lot of time during my breaks in New York City, where I realized that much of the city’s energy was found in dining establishments. I would find myself going into many of them, obsessed with every facet of hospitality. In 1993, I opened my first restaurant, Matthew’s, in New York City, a gorgeous North African–themed Mediterranean concept. One restaurant evolved into three, then seven. In my free time, I was learning more about meditation, and gravitating toward a vegetarian lifestyle. Years of yoga and conscious attention inspired me, and opened me to the possibility of an entirely plant-based lifestyle. I dove into it wholeheartedly, with a passion and fervor I had never experienced before.
Despite years of forward momentum and positive results, it wasn’t until I moved to California several years ago that I began to see the true potential of plant-based cuisine take shape. Southern California has long been a pioneer in American and global cuisine, specifically when it comes to market-inspired, fresh cooking. That spirit, which has been led by Wolfgang Puck, Michael McCarty, Jonathan Waxman and so many others, is alive and well today. Los Angeles is a true melting pot of cultures, and it shows brilliantly in the food offerings of the city. Farmers markets are bursting at the seams all year round, and the active, sunny lifestyle lends itself to fresh, healthier foods.
While our ideas now come alive on the West Coast of the United States, our aim is to inspire and help others utilize their own geographical and cultural influences to create plant-based food suited to their own locations. As more chefs embrace this way of living and show diners how brilliantly obvious it is to cook and eat this way, the global food paradigm will shift. That is our goal. matthewkenneycuisine.com
Matthew Kenney’s favorite refreshing summer recipe:
Green Gazpacho, with Tomato Water and Chipotle Crema
6 beefsteak tomatoes, chopped
Liquify the tomatoes in a food processor or blender. Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the pulp and seeds. Place 3 layers of cheesecloth in the fine-mesh strainer and pass the tomato water through the strainer again, allowing it to drain overnight, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. Reserve the liquid that drains through the cheesecloth and store it in the refrigerator.
GREEN GAZPACHO (Makes 5 cups)
2 English cucumbers, peeled, seeded and quartered
2 yellow bell peppers, peeled, seeded and quartered
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 ripe avocados
2 cups tomato water
2 cups spinach
6 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh cilantro
½ serrano pepper, seeds removed
1 tsp. sea salt
2 cups ice
Blend all ingredients, in two batches, in a high-speed blender until smooth. Pass the soup through a fine-mesh strainer and refrigerate for 2–3 hours, or up to 3 days, to allow all the flavors to meld.
1 cup water
1 chipotle chile, dried and seeded
1 cup sunflower seeds, soaked
½ tbsp. chile powder
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
½ tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
½ tsp. spicy paprika
Bring water to boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add the chipotle chile. Rehydrate the chipotle chile in the hot water for 20–30 minutes, then remove the chile and reserve the water. Blend the chipotle chile, sunflower seeds, chile powder, lime juice, sea salt, apple cider vinegar and spicy paprika until creamy. Use liquid from the rehydrated chipotle to thin, if needed. Season with additional sea salt to taste.
1 English cucumber, diced
4 radishes, sliced thin
6 cherry tomatoes, sliced thin
2 tablespoons radish sprouts
1 avocado, medium dice
Pour 1 cup of gazpacho into a soup bowl. Using a spoon or a squeeze bottle, place dots of chipotle crema on top, totaling 1 tablespoon. Garnish with diced cucumber, sliced radishes, sliced cherry tomatoes, radish sprouts and avocado.