Matthew Kenney is a guru of plant based food in the world. He has the best plant-based restaurants in major cities; and since this month, he already operates in Miraflores Plant Food + Wine Lima, his first headquarters in Peru. He receives us via Zoom with great enthusiasm and narrates how much he has learned about Peruvian vegetables thanks to his Peruvian partner Andre Patsias.
– When did you start eating ‘plant based’?
Twenty years ago I learned about sustainability, hospitality, health and wellness; and I realized that I should put my passions together, that’s why I started cooking more and more ‘plant based’ cuisine until everything I did was ‘plant based’. And twenty years ago I felt that this was the future for chefs and the culinary world. This was a long time ago, but at the same time it took me a long time to get to that point.
– Do you still consider that ‘plant based’ food is the future or is it already the present?
I would say both. Plant-based food is a real cuisine, like any other, like Italian or Japanese, it is a style of cooking, but it is also a very relevant lifestyle today. It is growing very fast and can grow even more. We are in an important time because many people are paying attention to it and I think it will define what is coming, we will be more ‘plant based’ in the future.
– Why did you start eating ‘plant based’?
I started for health, but I found a challenge as a chef, because I could do something new and colorful. I think it’s much more inspiring to create plant-based cuisine than to use animals. Also, with the population growing and climate change, it is important for humanity to eat plant-based. I love animals, I care about them and I save them through this kitchen, but it is not something that is talked about much. As a chef, my goal is to make plant-based cuisine as delicious as possible so that more people can enjoy it, and if they integrate it into their diet, the rest will take care of itself.
– That’s right, there are people who are not interested in animals, but when they eat plant-based, they are saving them.
Yes, because the food tastes good.
– Do you use Peruvian ingredients in your restaurants around the world?
Sure, and now we’re learning more because Andre (Patsias) is teaching us. He knows very well the ingredients of Peru and how to integrate them into the dishes. We are learning a lot from him, from his knowledge and his passion for Peruvian ingredients.
– What are the culinary techniques you use in plant-based cooking?
We use any of the techniques used in an advanced kitchen. In other words, we use all the classic techniques such as fermentation but with innovative equipment. We use dehydration to get the most out of the flavors. But nowadays we also use techniques that any good chef around the world uses.
– In some of your visits to Lima, have you been to a vegan restaurant?
No, I have not visited vegan restaurants in Lima. I have eaten vegan in traditional restaurants. It is quite easy to eat ‘plant based’ in Lima. Many of the good restaurants have ‘plant based’ options or can prepare them.
– Vegan or ‘plant based’ food in Lima is usually what is called ‘comfort food’. Many of the restaurants prepare hamburgers, pizza, pasta…
I think a lot of the young vegan restaurants focus on burgers, pizzas and comfort food because that’s the first step: recreating food that is familiar to everyone. But every time one experiments more and more, begins to use more vegetables and new flavors, more innovation is generated with these inputs. I think it’s necessary to have both options, because people are at different stages of plant-based food.
– Do you identify yourself as vegan or ‘plant based’?
Well, both are the same. A vegan is ‘plant based’, a ‘plant based’ is vegan. The reason we use the term ‘plant based’ in our companies is because we focus a lot on plants and not chemicals. For example, Oreo cookies are vegan but there are no vegetables in there, just chemicals and oils. That’s why we focus on the term ‘plant based’ because I like the fact that we focus on plant-based cooking.
– A few years ago in Lima, when you asked for vegan food in traditional restaurants, they didn’t know what to offer you or even didn’t want to prepare anything for you. Was the same thing happening in the United States?
Yes, it was similar. Even now there are some restaurants in Los Angeles that are very good, but they don’t have a vegan menu, they have a vegetarian menu, they don’t want to do 100% plant-based food. But if they don’t do it in three years, they won’t survive because the population of people who demand this type of food is growing. Many of the best restaurants have ‘plant based’ options and not only in the United States, but throughout the world.
– How have you managed to convince your non-vegan partners to open a ‘plant based’ restaurant?
First of all, I think it’s because when someone tries plant-based food in an exciting place and in a comfortable environment, and realizes that they can have that complete experience without eating animals, it stands to reason. Chefs are very sensitive people, even if they are cooking animals. I have had a conversation with Gastón (Acurio) and he loves animals, and he is very open minded about cooking with vegetables and so on with other chefs in other parts of the world. I think many of the world’s most talented chefs are open-minded to trying this food and realize that plant-based cuisine is just as competitive as others.
– Do you consider that raw food is superior to cooked food or are they a complement?
They are a complement. For example, there are vegetables that do not taste good, that do not digest well if they are raw and that taste very good cooked or pureed. It really depends on the product and how we understand it.
– Will your new restaurant in Lima with Andre Patsias be influenced by the others you have?
Yes, it’s going to be influenced by Plant Food + Wine from Los Angeles, but this one is going to have a lot more Latin influence. Plant Food + Wine does not have the same menu in each country, it is more of a platform for local and seasonal food. Not very expensive but very thoughtful and creative. Each Plant Food + Wine will be very local and depends on where it is. Andre has interpreted what we do here to do it there with Peruvian supplies.
– Are you writing a new book?
I have written 13 books. Currently, I am not doing one because we have several businesses in the gastronomy field to manage, I will do it in the future. In May alone we are going to open six new restaurants. It is a busy time for our company. In addition, we are innovating with plant-based products. In the future, I’m sure we will release a new book.