You open a new culinary academy in Miami. Then you chef a splashy dinner for South Beach Food and Wine. Then you open a new Miami restaurant. All in the same week. Oh, and did we mention the pizza restaurant you just opened in New York? You are either insane or fueled by raw power. In the case of raw vegan pioneer Matthew Kenney, we’re definitely in the latter camp.
“I feel like I’ve been working 13 years to be able to open a place like this,” Kenney said. “A place like this” means Wynwood’s Plant Food + Wine and Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy. “When I opened my first plant-based restaurant in New York, no one wanted to invest in it, no one understood what it meant.” Miami’s foodies and vegans get it, though, and have been flocking to the restaurant, housed in the sleek and sweeping Sacred Space.
Having worked at both Seed Food and Wine events and three years of South Beach Food and Wine dinners, Kenney and his longtime culinary director Scott Winegard have gotten a feel for Miami. “There’s interest in wellness and planted-based and health, yet there are less plant food options here. It’s an emerging market,” Kenney said. “It’s how New York felt 12 years ago.”
Both the food and the vibe here differ from those of Kenney’s other Plant Food + Wine, which opened in Los Angeles last year. “It’s a little more lighthearted, more fun,” Kenney said. Tropical and Latin influences play out in dishes like banana leaf tamales with corn and shiitake ($20) and hearts of palm and avocado ceviche with leche de tigre ($16). Produce comes from local growers including Paradise Farms.
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There’s more focus on raw, which isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds. Dishes are full-flavored, nutrient-dense and exquisitely plated, like the kimchi dumplings ($15), which look like butterflies on a plate. “This is some of the most emblematic cuisine I’ve ever done,” Kenney said.
With no school or restaurant to open at the moment, and buzz only growing, now would be a good time to savor the moment. Even Kenney realizes that.
“Instead, I feel a sense of responsibility to keep delivering the quality and experience,” he said. “That’s the most powerful feeling.”
Ellen Kanner is the author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.”
Hearts of Palm with Leche de Tigre, Avocado, Choclo and Shiso
Recipe courtesy of Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy and Plant Food + Wine.
Leche de Tigre
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow pepper), whole *
1 habanero, whole
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
1 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
1 cup coconut milk
Sea salt to taste
In a high-speed blender, blend the celery, cilantro, aji, habanero, ginger, lime juice and garlic until smooth. Add coconut milk slowly and continue blending until emulsified. Salt to taste.
*Available at many Latin markets and some gourmet grocers.
1 cup Peruvian choclo (large-kernel corn — fresh sweet corn may be substituted)
1 teaspoon agave
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 star anise
Pinch of sea salt
Mix all ingredients a bowl and reserve.
Hearts of Palm
1 pound fresh hearts of palm (canned and rinsed hearts of palm may be substituted)
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 ripe Hass avocado, diced
Micro shiso (Asian herb in the mint family)
Watermelon radish, sliced thin
Celery, sliced thin
Red palm oil
Arrange hearts of palm, avocado and corn in center of a bowl. Pour leche de tigre around ingredients without covering. Garnish with micro shiso, watermelon radish, celery and drizzle of red palm oil.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6