Just barely 29 years old, Matthew Kenney opened his namesake Matthew’s restaurant in New York City in 1993, and a year later was named the Food + Wine “Best New Chef” of 1994. He would go on to take Gotham by storm, opening five more dining hotspots – Monzu, Mezze, Commissary, Canteen, Commune – which would not only help to define the contemporary urban menu, but also epitomize the post-Millennium notion of the restaurant as social galvanizer.
Curiously enough, he wasn’t quite the social animal that his success might have suggested. “J-Lo and P. Diddy would be at the restaurant,” he recalls, “and I would be at home.”
After the 2009 crash hit the restaurant business particularly hard, he decamped to Oklahoma City, to debut his new culinary academy. But in the interim, he had opened his first vegan restaurant, Pure Food + Wine, in Gramercy Park; and though he left that venture in 2005, it would come to open up a new way of life for him, both personally and professionally. Indeed, now based in Los Angeles, he has set down a path of extolling the many virtues of the plant based diet, as well as all around healthier living through food – which also just happened to lead him to a serendipitous encounter with the New York based, Iranian born OB/GYN Dr. Amir Marashi.
“I was speaking at a wellness event in Miami for the Robb Report,” Kenney says, “and Amir introduced himself. He explained that he was really interested in producing a product that would address the concept of contemporary nutrition.”
Marashi, already celebrated in his field, himself had long been driven by a passion to not just treat his patients’ medical conditions, but also to try to improve their overall quality of life. So the meeting seemed suffused with a distinct sense of dual destiny.
Of course, shelves are overflowing these days with foods promising a healthier way of eating – some good, many certainly questionable. But specifically nutrition bars, which were such a major part of the original wave of supposed health foods, had become quite the opposite – often slathered in chocolate or gooey caramel, with worryingly high levels of sugar and artificial ingredients. Kenney had actually been toying for years with the idea of creating his own version – but only in discussing the concept with Dr. Marashi did the messaging become crystal clear.
“We talked about the medical side of it,” he explains, “and about using ingredients that weren’t typical of bars on the market. We wanted to create a functional food that was conceived from a medical point of view.”
Interestingly, Marashi is quick to point out that doctors are unfortunately shortchanged on nutritional education at medical school.
“Prevention is the key,” he insists, “and the right eating can be the beginning of prevention.”
And so this past Thursday, the edifyingly named Ntidote Life was officially launched with a high-profile media event at Laduree in New York’s Soho. An exciting new plant-based food product line, it’s formulated by an MD, Marashi, and handcrafted by a celebrity chef, Kenney, all with a determined vision. It is also driven by a mission of achieving wellness, at a time when the pace of contemporary life has left so many unable to eat as consciously and healthily as they would like. The bars that make up the initial line are stylishly packaged, but with a minimalistic aesthetic clarity that seems to convey the philosophy of what is contained within: simplification is truly the modern way forward.
“Let food be the medicine be the food,” Marashi informs, paraphrasing Hippocrates.
To be sure, the list of ingredients – mostly raw, vegan – is quite unexpected. The Energizing Emerald bar, for instance, contains brown flax meal, spirulina, kale powder and aloe vera powder; the Golden Turmeric, designed as an anti-inflammatory (so important in these times when our systems are so under threat from artificial everything), contains tucuman powder, chaga mushroom powder, and, of course, turmeric; and the Copper Caramel boasts maca powder, mucuna seed powder, and pine pollen, and is meant to act as both brain food and aphrodisiac – because, you know…smart is sexy.
“Actually pine pollen is known to be an aphrodisiac,” Chef Kenney confirms.
All of the Ntidote bars are nutrient dense, and meant to boost and nourish the essential functions of the body – which, let’s face it, is our primary and most indispensable personal asset. Culturally, it’s telling that 1 Hotels, one of the hippest, most eco-aware hospitality brands, immediately began selling Ntidote at its flagship Miami property – followed closely by the Four Seasons Beverly Hills.
But the bars also just the beginning for Ntidote Life, with other healthy, medically aware food products in the works.
“The real important messaging here is handcrafted food,” Kenney enthuses, “as opposed to factory made food – that, combined with medical advice and guidance. We’re starting to see the medical community embrace plant based diets; and simultaneously, you have a lot of chefs who are now thinking about nutrition and wellness as they make choices about what to put on their menus. We’re bringing together the culinary arts with health and medicine.”