You need a spreadsheet to keep track of Searsport native Matthew Kenney. Or, better yet, an app.

It had been four years since I interviewed the University of Maine alum and celebrity chef who has made a name for himself in recent years by crafting cutting-edge, raw, plant-based cuisine.

Since then, he’s been busy. Extremely busy.

Kenney has published six books, cooked sold-out dinners at food festivals in New York City and Miami’s South Beach, expanded his classically structured plant-based culinary academy with campuses on both coasts and in Thailand, given a second TEDx talk, started a private chef placement business, closed a couple restaurants and opened three more, including The Gothic, in Belfast.

And these are just the highlights.

Filled with passion and seemingly boundless energy, Kenney, 51, is a man driven by a desire to alter America’s relationship with food.


Not only is he a creative force in the kitchen, but his memoir, “Cooked Raw: How One Celebrity Chef Risked Everything to Change the Way We Eat,” reveals him as a fast-paced dealmaker who tackles a constant stream of new projects with a zen-like focus. His regular yoga practice no doubt helps keep him in the flow.

The swift-moving and hard-to-put-down memoir, which hit store shelves in January, not only chronicles Kenney’s culinary transformation, it provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the work of one of the key figures responsible for the rising popularity of “haute vegan” cuisine.

“Cooked Raw” begins with Kenney’s childhood in Maine and his days as a hunter. A post-college move to New York City finds Kenney immersed in the city’s high-end, meat-centric restaurant world, but in the economic downturn following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, his food empire crashes around him. Shortly afterwards, a skeptical Kenney tastes raw, vegan cuisine for the first time. Everything changes.

“I couldn’t wait to crack into this mystery world and, even more importantly, to make my mark on it,” Kenney writes.


With few raw food cookbooks or resources available at the time, Kenney turns to his classical French training to begin developing recipes. First, he crafts a raw lasagna, then a chocolate pudding and then a shiitake ravioli with asparagus. Soon he has created enough recipes that he and his then life and business partner Sarma Melngailis launch the upscale and much-praised raw vegan restaurant Pure Food & Wine in Gramercy Park.


“As I was discovering these brilliant flavors,” Kenney writes, “my body was loving every minute of it, my mind and vision was clear, and the professional passion that had been gone for so long was alive and well in my new plant-based world.”

Kenney is once again in the swirl of crafting menus, designing restaurants, sealing deals and overseeing six-figure restaurant remodeling.

But as relationships sour and deals fall apart, Kenney finds Melngailis and their investor Jeffrey Chodorow pushing him out of Pure Food & Wine.

He writes: “I stopped getting paid, and instead was getting cornered. One weekday afternoon, I realized I may never set foot in Pure again. I wasn’t about to go to court to fight a bitter ex-girlfriend and a multimillionaire convicted felon – this battle would have to be won over time. As they say, success is the ultimate revenge, and all I wanted was to build my dream company, show the world what real food could be, and establish a solid business model.”

(In the latest chapter of the drama, Pure Food & Wine closed this summer after Melngailis disappeared without paying the staff.)

Kenney leaves the Big Apple for the heartland. In Oklahoma City, he opens a raw restaurant with a new investor and launches his culinary academy. This brings his story to where it was when he and I last spoke.


It was also around this time that he developed his company’s mantra: “Crafting the future of food.” Part aspirational phrase, part mission statement, it sets the Matthew Kenney Cuisine brand on a course to infuse nutrition into the culinary arts while showing that good-for-you food is also gorgeous and delicious.

“Natural food tastes incredible, and it can be delivered without compromise while still making us feel better than we ever have,” Kenney writes in a chapter devoted to the experience of delivering a TEDx talk titled, “Are You Feeding Your Body or Feeding Dis-Ease?”

During that talk, he points out that when you look at cause-of-death statistics, you realize, “The dinner plate is 10 times more dangerous than a car.”


While Kenney and his family have long owned property in Maine, his plant-based empire arrived in Maine only in 2013 with the opening of The Gothic in Belfast and the establishment of the East Coast campus of his culinary academy.

Unlike his other recent restaurants, The Gothic initially served seafood. However, after an investor expressed concern about funding what he considered animal slaughter, the menu was changed to all-vegetarian.


“The Gothic in Belfast is different for many reasons,” Kenney told me by email, “but largely due to the ingredients that are accessible to us in Maine. Fiddlehead ferns, vegetables with sea water brine, and cabbage with marifax beans are some of my favorites.”

This year he opened two vegan restaurants, the fine-dining eatery Plant Food and Wine in Venice, California, and the fast casual cafe Make Out in Culver City, California. Make Out serves all raw food, and Plant Food and Wine offers both cooked and raw dishes. A Miami restaurant called White Lotus is slated to open in November.

His Oklahoma restaurant has since closed while his academy has moved and expanded. It now has the Maine campus in Belfast and others in Venice, California and at the Evason resort in Hua Hin, Thailand.

“Thailand is our first international location,” Kenney said. “We’re now reaching a whole new group of students, including tourists seeking culinary experiences, in one of the world’s most beautiful locations. In November, we’ll be opening in Miami, so it’s a very exciting time for us, and for plant-based cuisine as a whole.”

In addition to the school’s core curriculum (structured into three month-long courses), the school offers weekend intensives and one-day workshops on topics such as plant-based food photography and the art of raw chocolate. A Web-based program allows students to learn from the comfort of their own kitchens. So far, the academy has more than 3,000 alumni.

Kenney tapped into this cadre of alumni to launch his Pure Chefs Worldwide placement service in 2012. Describing the genesis of this company in his memoir, Kenney writes that it began when he was contacted by the agent “for a well-known couple, one of the world’s best athletes, a star quarterback, and his equally accomplished supermodel wife.”


Since I live in New England Patriots country, I immediately assumed he was talking about Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen. According to published reports, the power couple and part-time Boston residents employ a raw-vegan chef, but when I asked Kenney whether my guess was right, he declined to comment.

In our prior interview, Kenney told me the country was at a “tipping point” when it comes to better eating and vegetarian food. Today, society continues to tilt toward vegetarianism, he said, adding, “We’ve seen some wonderful progress in the last four years.”

What the next four will hold for Kenney and the plant-based food he is so passionate about remains to be seen. We do know his next book, “The 90-Day Raw Food Diet: Improve Health, Heighten Energy, and Get the Glow,” will drop in January.

Beyond that, it’s a fairly safe bet that Kenney will continue to crank out new raw-food books, restaurants and – most significantly – chefs.


Stacey Cramp/”Plant Food”


From “Plant Food” by Matthew Kenney, Meredith Baird and Scott Winegard

Makes 4 servings



1/4 cup lime juice

1 teaspoon miso


2 Hass avocados, peeled and cut into even dice

4 Easter egg radishes, sliced


1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup radish sprouts

Sea salt, to taste

1 cup nori strips

To make the dressing, mix the lime juice and miso together.

Add just enough water to thin the dressing, if needed. It should be a light, liquid consistency.


To assemble the salad, divide the avocado evenly among 4 plates and add the radishes. Top with the sunflower seeds and radish sprouts and drizzle with the dressing. Top each salad plate with a pinch of salt and the nori.

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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