The Body Speaks: Matthew Kenney’s Winter Nourishment

During the hibernating season, let warming foods bring comfort, nutrition and alignment with planetary sustainability.
Plant Bowl with kale, squash, quinoa, lentils and avocado. Photograph by Adrian Mueller

by Matthew Kenney

As a chef and entrepreneur focused entirely on plant-based cuisine, I am fortunate to have access to an incredible circle of wellness professionals, and an overall awareness of how the food we choose impacts the quality of our life. Being a chef also allowed me to become closer to the source of my diet, and gave me a better understanding of seasonality, quality ingredients and ultimately what real food truly is. Over time, I’ve been able to rely more on messages from my body guiding me in a direction that is best for health and nourishment, which also happens to be beneficial to the planet and sustainability. I like to refer to it as alignment.

Heading into winter, we are exposed to harsher elements; depending on where we live, that may include snow, sleet, freezing rain and a higher likelihood of contracting COVID-19. It becomes even more important to nourish ourselves when the body is under stress, in need of warming foods, and unable to reap the kind of natural benefits it enjoys during sunnier months. While I was an early proponent of a strict raw-food diet, over time I’ve learned to appreciate warming foods, especially in the winter. The reality is, our cravings—when authentic, not based on habits related to addictive foods—can tell us most about what we need for guidance toward the best seasonal diets.

My go-to favorites in cooler weather have remained the same for quite some time; garnet yams, dark leafy greens, sprouted legumes (especially lentils), quinoa and in my case, a healthy dose of high-quality pastas and breads, matched with an abundant variety of vegetables. I find that eating for color really is always the best. To that end, I would be happy living on a diet of red, orange and especially green foods, matched with lots of herbs and citrus, and a variety of healthy fats. Living in California most of the year has spoiled me with incredible avocados, but we all have access to good fats, whether those be extra-virgin oils, organic nuts, young coconut and more.

Whether dining at home, in a restaurant, or even on the go, a one-plate meal is often all we have available. To fulfill the desire for a satisfying meal and our body’s need for nourishment, there is often nothing better than a well-designed vegetable bowl. We recognized the demand for this at our flagship restaurant, Plant Food + Wine in Venice, California, a couple years ago and created The Plant Bowl, a dish that is forever changing according to the seasons and one we now serve in several of our restaurants around the world. The one constant is that we always include sprouted lentils, which are the best source of plant-based protein, and quinoa. We can’t help but add a bit of a surprise element to everything we make, so we also include two condiments instead of one—typically a preserved-lemon tahini and the Spanish-inspired romesco sauce, one of my favorite recipes for the past 20 years. The rest is a combination of seasonal vegetables, dark leafy greens, sometimes a sea vegetable or a fermented food (full of probiotics) and whenever possible, avocado.

When looking at what we crave and what we need, there is generally very little discrepancy. I recommend taking the time to understand the seasons, wherever we may be, and tuning into the subtle and not-so-subtle reminders we receive from our body toward realizing optimal health. The beauty of this approach toward alignment is that we are able to have it all when it comes to food: ultimate nutrition and delicious flavors.