Matthew Kenney’s NYC culinary mini-empire was as hot as it gets around the turn of the Millennium. His Monzu, Mezze, Canteen, Commune and Commissary perfectly embodied the new generation of restaurant-as-mediarati-social-incubator, galvanizing the in-crowd from Soho to the Flatiron to the UES.
Along the way, the star chef discovered something a bit more ideological: the joys and benefits of the plant-based lifestyle. Indeed, his 2004 book Raw Food World was just the first of seven he authored on the subject. He eventually decamped to, of all places, Oklahoma City, and began an experiment which became a philosophy – opening the world’s first plant-based culinary school – Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy – which he moved to Santa Monica in 2012.
1 Hotel South Beach
His Plantlab brand now oversees restaurants from LA to NYC to Bahrain and Miami, where his new plnthouse has done the impossible: made the already super hot 1 Hotel South Beach even hotter. We already loved 1HSB for its breezy chic style, plush Bamford Haybarn spa, and gorgeous, ocean-facing pool. (Celebs the likes of Adrian Grenier, Jessica Alba, Ellie Goulding and superstar DJ Steve Angello agree.) Now Kenney joins STK and Tom Colicchio’s Beachcraft, making the hotel one of the city’s top culinary destinations.
The casual-chic plnthouse veritably presents a new paradigm for veggie-focused cuisine, with dishes like French lentil pâté, a carrot ginger kelp noodles bowl and sprouted garbanzo hummus (see recipe below) – all perfect for maintaining the Miami beach bod, of course.
BlackBook caught up with the chef for a rather philosophical discussion about it all.
You once lorded over some of the hottest restaurants in NYC. Are their particular reasons you’re focusing more on California and Miami now?
In general, the health and wellness lifestyle is gaining popularity. But Los Angeles has the most health-conscious community in the country – and the wellness lifestyle is building momentum in Miami. My team and I at Plantlab wanted to continue leading the charge in the wellness realm by offering beautifully designed, nourishing, raw vegan dining experiences and bringing plant-based education to a mainstream demographic in these cities. I’m really excited to be working with the 1 Hotel South Beach, because plnthouse is their first plant-based restaurant – and we are bringing our focus on locally sourced, sustainable ingredients to the hotel’s clientele in an accessible, grab-and-go form.
What first drew you to the plant based culinary philosophy/lifestyle?
I developed an appreciation for the plant-based lifestyle, implementing this philosophy on a personal level little by little throughout the years. I worked as a chef at several fine dining restaurants in New York City, and I was somewhat turned off by raw vegan restaurants, because I found most of them to be void of the atmosphere and culinary design that would excite the guest. I noticed a disconnect between fine dining and plant-based living, so I set out to create something that combined the two.
Tell us a bit about Plantlab.
Plantlab is a lifestyle brand my team and I created to drive the sustainable health and wellness movement forward, in a number of different ways. We offer accessibility to plant-based cuisine through our restaurants, such as Plant Food + Wine in both Venice and Miami, Double Zero in NYC, Make Out in Culver City, Matthew Kenney NM at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and, of course, plnthouse.
As well, Plantlab is grooming the next generation of plant-based raw vegan chefs through The Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy, a culinary school offering courses in raw vegan cuisine at the highest level via nine global locations and an online “campus.” And we’ve just officially launched Matthew Kenney Wellness, offering retreat experiences that give guests the knowledge and tools to implement a plant-based lifestyle when they return home. Plantlab hosted a wellness retreat in Kauai this May, and the next venture will be our collaboration with Camp Âme at Turnberry Isle Miami…for a weekend retreat this July 7-9, including nutritional education, group fitness, spa services, and social events led by health, nutrition, beauty and fitness practitioners.
plnthouse at 1 Hotel South Beach
What are the benefits of a plant based diet? And some of the misconceptions?
Plants are nutrient-rich and fuel our bodies with the minerals we need to operate at our best. Plants not only provide the basis for optimal health, but a plant-based lifestyle also contributes to the overall well-being of the planet.
There tends to be a certain stigma surrounding the term ‘vegan’; people think it means you have to sacrifice all enjoyment around your food, and you’re definitely not getting enough protein, etc. But there’s no need for an ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude when adopting a plant-based lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be a major shift from eating meat to suddenly gnawing on raw vegetables and nothing else. You can implement more plants into your daily routine quite easily by making small tweaks.
Why was the 1 Hotel South Beach the right locale for plnthouse? Is it a philosophical alignment?
Miami is already ahead of the curve when it comes to promoting an active and healthy lifestyle, and wellness is in the DNA of the 1 Hotel South Beach; it emanates health with a certain cool factor. It seemed like the perfect location because it’s so accessible. My hope is that people living in and traveling to Miami will realize how easy it can be to integrate a plant-based diet into their busy, on-the-go lifestyles.
What can diners expect that is new and unique about plnthouse and its menu?
The menu includes salads, wraps and sandwiches, bowls, and smoothies. Any of our smoothies can be turned into meal-replacement bowls with natural super-food granola and tropical fruits, which a lot of our guests enjoy. The One Salad is quite a crowd-pleaser and includes shaved vegetables, hemp seeds, sunflower sprouts, avocado and more. We also have really great shareable plates like sprouted garbanzo hummus and yuzu guacamole with wasabi crackers.
Can you quickly sum up your culinary mission? And the mission of Plantlab?
Our ultimate goal, through our restaurants, Culinary Academy and unique programming, is to help the world move towards a more sustainable outlook on health by offering accessibility and education about a plant-based lifestyle.