Making the change to a plant-based lifestyle can seem more daunting than it seems but in reality sometimes you cannot even tell the difference, declared 57-year-old American celebrity chef Matthew Kenney to Food by Gulf News.
You may have heard of cuisines that come from different cultures, countries and traditions. However, have you ever heard of MKC? It is short for Matthew Kenney Cuisine. Known for his green approach, the American chef, plant-based lifestyle guru, restaurateur and author, saves the planet one dish at a time.
We caught up with the plant-based food mastermind, who narrated his journey from the beginning till now – opening four new restaurants at Terra – the Sustainability pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai.
Where it all began
As the plant-based market continues to grow, and Google searches of ‘veganism’ and ‘plant-based' are seeing a significant rise over the past five years, with MKC leading the way in revolutionary developments in food science and agritechnology (the use of technology and innovation to improve the efficiency and output of agricultural processes).
After graduating with a degree in political science, Kenney always thought he would pursue a career in law. It was only until later that he decided to become a chef after his love of food and cooking came after seeing how restaurants work in New York, USA.
Kenney then went on to graduate from the French Culinary Institute (now known as International Culinary Center), and adorned his chef’s toque in the heart of New York when he was just 23 years old: “I was one of the main chefs behind New York’s downtown nightlife favourites like Commune and Canteen. Then a friend introduced me to the joys of vegan and raw foods, and I was hooked. It reflected my newfound eating habits and I realised a lot of education was still needed surrounding the many found benefits of vegan and vegetarian. I made a commitment to making the monkish (limited meat) diet palatable to Manhattan’s most fashionable diners with dishes that were as gorgeous-looking as they were tasty, fresh, and healthy.
“I then moved to Los Angeles, where I cooked for health-conscious celebrities, and eventually opened my restaurant, focused on plant food in Venice (USA).”
A norm and not an exception
While this was only just the beginning, Kenney has been on a green path since 12 years now, learning something new from it every year. “It’s only in the last year, year and a half, that I’m seeing the indicators that validate a tipping point. A few years’ ago, I was just toiling away. Now we have professional sports teams looking to provide plant-based meals for their teams. Professional athletes want to eat this way for better performance and longevity.
“A lot of major tastemakers in different industries want to get into this from the investment perspective. Some of the biggest spa and hotel chains in the world—even major multibillion-dollar food conglomerates known for processed, non-plant-based food — they’re now reaching out to companies like mine to say they want to explore plant-based alternatives. It’s much more than a trend, it's a lifestyle that’s moving in a totally new direction.”
However, making the transition can be quite difficult, especially if you are doing it to follow a trend, rather than a conscious decision. Kenney believes there is a tipping point coming relatively soon, where this kind of eating will become the norm rather than the exception: “I see positive indicators wherever I turn. You reset your palate; reset your body’s expectation of what it needs.
“Personally, I don’t do a whole lot of cleansing, myself. If I feel I am getting sick or run-down, I will do it. However, for me, just focusing on mostly raw, unprocessed, plant-based food, for a week or a month every now and then, there is a huge benefit to that. It just recharges you.”
Matthew Kenney at Expo 2020 Dubai
The chef’s presence cannot be missed on your visit to Terra – the Sustainability pavilion. Located across three floors, four restaurants – M.A.K.E, Veg’d, MUDRA and XYST – are now open for visitors.
What is the difference?
“Located on the ground floor of the pavilion will be Veg’d, a fast-casual concept serving burgers and fries, with brightly coloured interiors and a relaxed vibe. Meanwhile, XYST, on Terra’s first floor, will be a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern spot, with traditional plant-based dishes and several gluten-free options. Finally, Mudra will be a rooftop venue featuring DJs, sushi and a beverage menu. It will also offer beautiful views across the Expo site,” said Kenney.
Mudra is a 360-degree experience within a socially shareable space. The concept offers a unique dining experience combining art, design and healthy, seasonal food with an open kitchen as one of the main attractions of the restaurant.
“As UAE is a melting pot of culture, it has become home to some truly exciting vegan concepts, and we are confident Expo 2020 Dubai will continue that trend. We use innovative techniques and creative thinking to produce minimally processed plant-based cuisine that is delicious, vibrant and nutritious. Our ethos is reflected in Expo 2020’s theme: Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” added Kenney.
Bookings to experience the chef’s finest dishes are through the Eat App or via the Expo 2020 Dubai website. The four restaurants will run through 12pm to 12am during the six-month event.
You can also try out these recipes for pumpkins roasted in almond oil and Makrut lime leaf, kale polenta and butternut squash carpaccio by Matthew Kenney or tell us about your favourite plant-based recipes on firstname.lastname@example.org