TD Conversations: Breaking down vegan myths with Veg’d and Chef Matthew Kenney

For celebrity chef Matthew Kenney, Veg’d is about breaking mental barriers involved with going vegan.
Chef matthew kenney is here to dismantle notions of vegan food being boring by creating a 100% plant-based menu at veg'd
Chef Matthew Kenney is here to dismantle notions of vegan food being boring by creating a 100% plant-based menu at Veg’d.

If the term vegan reflexively causes you to think of salads, soy milk, and other bland albeit steeply priced dishes, you’re not alone. Nobody associates veganism with delicious food, at least, not usually.

That’s where Chef Matthew Kenney steps in, demolishing these myths one successful restaurant at a time. A two time James Beard Award Nominee, a Food + Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef, and best-selling cookbook author, Chef Matthew is one of the world’s leading plant-based chefs. Of the 25 established eateries under his brand Matthew Kenney Cuisine (MKC), we take a closer look at Veg’d. 

Veg’d is his quick and delicious answer to questions about veganism being healthy but boring. This fast-food based concept allows you to explore a thorough plant-based menu without compromising on taste or health. With a pop-up at Dubai Expo 2020, MKC struck gold with Terra as a location. Since the spot meets the highest available accreditation for sustainable architecture, Terra reflects the brand ethos perfectly.

Located in the Sustainability pavilion, MKC spans across three floors on Terra. At the ground floor is Veg’d, a fast-casual concept serving burgers and fries, with brightly coloured interiors and a relaxed vibe.

Veg'd by chef matthew kenney sits on the ground floor at terra in the expo 2020, making a haven for vegan and plant-based lovers
Veg’d by Chef Matthew Kenney sits on the ground floor at Terra in the Expo 2020, marking a haven for vegan and plant-based lovers.

With the Middle East responding positively to the vegan movement, Chef Matthew is all about showing diners how different a plant-based diet can be. And in a good way too, what with recharging your body and giving it a break from heavy meat and dairy. Veg’d is all about high energy and great tasting food, so diners can have their pizza, nachos, and health benefits too! 

Given the excessive negativity and skepticism around vegans and a plant-based diet overall, it’s unsurprising to discover that Chef Matthew had a social lag too. In order to avoid awkwardness at the dinner table, he would often cook ahead of meals for himself, ordering only small plates while out with friends. That, in turn, is what spurred MKC on, and more specifically Veg’d as well. Being vegan shouldn’t have to come at the cost of a social life, a philosophy the chef wholeheartedly champions.

“The biggest challenge is the lack of mainstream accessibility. There can be a misconception around raw and plant-based foods that they are not as flavourful or filling as other foods, and my goal is to change people’s minds with our trendy, approachable restaurants,” says Chef Matthew.

While he now boasts an extensive portfolio of plant-based work, where did it all begin for him?

“By the early nineties, I was one of the main chefs behind New York’s downtown nightlife favourites such as Commune and Canteen. Then a dear friend introduced me to the joys of vegan and raw foods, and I was absolutely hooked. Pure Food and Wine 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 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 celebs, and eventually opened Venice’s Plant Food and Wine,” he shares.

For chef matthew kenney, vegan and plant-based options are as much about culinary experimentation as they are about wellness
For Chef Matthew Kenney, vegan and plant-based options are as much about culinary experimentation as they are about wellness.

While consumers examine the nutritional differences between plant-based alternatives and the traditional foods they’re meant to replace, it’s a little more layered for chefs. For chef Matthew, too, his first foray into the raw lifestyle began with ‘exploring fermented foods primarily for their health benefits.’ However, it quickly became about the depth of flavour and the ability to preserve fresh ingredients naturally in comparison to overly processed foods.

Of course, as a practising vegan/plant-based member of the community, it’s almost imperative to brush up your cooking skills. According to Chef Matthew, all it takes is a little practice to enable you to reliably prepare delicious vegan meals on the cheap. It also eliminates the fear of any meat or dairy sneaking past your eye! 

It’s impossible to talk vegan without addressing the elitist facets of it, however. Organic and sustainable ingredients come at a cost, and one that isn’t always the most affordable option. In a world struggling to recover from the pandemic in more ways than one, financial restraints are often at the cost of health taking a backseat. However, animal-based farming is super resource intensive as well. So what would need to happen for plant-based foods to make a significant dent in world hunger and poverty?

To this, Chef Matthew says, “A vegan diet would mean the earth producing calories most efficiently, going directly to consumers without animal intermediaries. The subsequent abundance of land would lead to more space for additional crops, which could certainly help feed hungry people around the world. I feel we are certainly at a tipping point now and the world is starting to wake up.”

As culinary sciences continue to evolve, that is one conversation that could go on forever. As a chef, however, the most fundamental aspect of a plant-based diet lies in the food itself. It’s simply about letting the plate of food do the talking. So which cuisine would Chef Matthew recommend under the plant-based umbrella?

“I would say personally right now, under the plant-based umbrella that either Mexican or Asian cuisine is very versatile and can work best naturally with most ingredients. Vegan tacos, vegan nachos, vegan dumplings, the list goes on,” he adds. That being said, there’s a special pistachio puree recipe that’s a go-to favourite for the celebrity chef. Give it a whirl, and you might just find yourself taking the first delicious step to a plant-based/vegan path.

Suggested Read: Chef Naved Nasir gets candid on his journey with Asian Glitch and more

Chef Matthew Kenney’s go-to Pistachio Puree

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups toasted pistachios, plus 4 to 6 pieces for garnish
  • 2tbsp salt
  • 2 cups filtered water

Method 

  • Simmer pistachios and salt in water for 30 minutes, or until soft.
  • Blend all ingredients until smooth. Add additional filtered water if necessary.

To plate

  • Spoon 2 tablespoons pistachio puree on a plate. Dress Tuscan kale with lemon dressing. 
  • Season with salt and pepper. Place greens on top of pistachio puree and add persimmon wedges. 
  • Microplane 1 toasted pistachio per dish. Place sprouts on top as garnish. Reserve 6 pieces for garnish.

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