As a chef-proprietor of fine-dining raw food restaurants on both coasts (and in between), and the founder of the only “classically structured” online course devoted to living cuisine, Matthew Kenney’s a founding father of the American raw food scene.
Given his legacy in the land of food dehydrators, nut cheeses, and creative veggie concoctions, many might not recall that Kenney’s passion for veganism came later in his culinary career—except perhaps a very notable food critic who was tempted to call his healthy conversion a “midlife crisis” (um, Gael Greene) had the results not been so pleasing to the palate.
It’s just one of the raw-world history moments shared in Kenney’s just-published memoir Cooked Raw: How One Celebrity Chef Risked Everything To Change The Way We Eat, his eleventh book.
It starts with his Maine childhood, complete with hunting and lobster tails, lingers over the New York restaurant scene (an age of raw-food inspiration and drama), then heads into his artisanal era, culminating with MAKE Restaurant Santa Monica. And there are hints at his forthcoming Venice restaurant on Abbot Kinney called Plant Food and Wine (a name hauntingly reminiscent of his old stomping ground Pure Food & Wine in New York City).
Of course, discovering veganism changed Kenney, not just his work. “The only way to be truly successful in anything is to give it everything. I don’t believe in disconnecting my work and my personal preferences—although I allowed that to happen in previous years, I wasn’t going to do it again,” writes Kenney in Cooked Raw.
The now 50-year-old (going on 35) leads a ridiculously healthy plant-based lifestyle that includes regularly lifting weights, running, and yoga classes with girlfriend Liz Arch, an instructor at The Yoga Collective in Venice, and, yes, skateboarding, “a form of transportation” he’s used along with his bike for years, he says.
Cooked Raw isn’t a guide to a healthy life, but it does chronicle one. So we asked him for the wellness practices lives by (and often cooks by). Here’s what he said… —Melisse Gelula
1. Sip alkaline water. When I moved to Los Angeles I no longer had access to fresh Maine spring water, so I started purchasing alkaline water, it feels very hydrating, which has been highly beneficial in such a dry city. I look for a pH of 8.5 or higher, which will hydrate you faster and may also help to heal diseases linked to chronic acidity in the body.
2. Load up on fermented foods. When I first discovered the raw lifestyle I began exploring fermented foods primarily for their health benefits—for good immunity, digestion, and mood. Their probiotics I find to be super helpful to digestion. Sauerkraut and aged tree nut cheeses are two of my personal favorite fermented foods, but kombucha and yogurt are good, too. And as a chef, fermented food also add a depth of flavor and an ability to preserve fresh ingredients naturally. Just be mindful that pasteurized or sugary fermented items do not hold the same health benefits.
3. Go fluoride-free. Choosing high quality, natural, personal-care products is as important to me as sourcing high-quality foods. When I began reading about the detrimental effects of fluoride (studies are emerging that fluoride can cause issues including neurological and hormonal symptoms), I’d already been living a more natural lifestyle. But I’m always shocked that so many people still use toothpastes that contain it.
4. Take turmeric and manjistha. These are the new superfoods. I’m always incorporating turmeric into my diet—it’s a wonderful anti-inflammatory, while manjistha helps the body get rid of wastes, meaning you can shake those post-holiday blues. Most people eating standard diets experience a lot of inflammation. When you’re younger you may not notice it. As an active 50-year-old, keeping it to a minimum is incredibly important. I’m constantly exploring new herbs for elixirs and tonics: the plant kingdom truly offers us an array of medicines. Yesterday I had some golden milk with almond milk, turmeric, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, honey, coconut oil, reishi, and black sesame seeds.
5. Don’t skimp on sleep. Just one night of poor sleep drastically alters my ability to do my work. I notice when I sleep well is when I feel most clear, when my thoughts are focused, and when I am able to be highly productive. It’s tempting with a busy schedule to want to skimp out on sleep, but I have found that my mind will find a way to recover whether I like it or not. I try to get at least 6 hours.
If you have a hard time falling asleep, get into the routine of having something before bed that cues your body. Try a warm glass of almond or Brazil nut milk bended with cinnamon and half a banana. The calcium and magnesium combination functions as a natural muscle relaxant and can help you doze off.
6. Make time to meditate. I’ve consciously practiced mindfulness for more than ten years. There’s a lot of information that comes to me and through me each day, so it’s important for me to not try to silence it but sit and notice what flows freely through my mind. I try to do this in the morning and again midday.