A dead end in a dark and almost desolate street on the edge of Edgewater and Wynwood is the last place you’d expect to unearth a kingdom of plants, but this is exactly where raw guru and vegan authority Matthew Kenney has planted his much awaited (and delayed) Plant Food + Wine and adjoining Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy.
The two times James Beard nominee, Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef, 12-time cookbook author, and overall envoi for food and health (he even gave a TEDx Talk on the matter in 2011) has been working to bring this project with local events maven Karla Dascal to life for five years, and the result is pretty astounding.
Understated elegance and minimalism is the overall theme here, from the stunning (to put it lightly) design of the sprawling indoor/outdoor space to the presentation and execution of dishes. Floor to ceiling windows and geometric mirrors create an optical illusion, bringing the outdoors inside whilst simultaneously eliciting a feeling of infiniteness. The same paradox applies to the food. Kenney’s ingenious use plants (a lot of which are local and sourced from nearby farms) challenge the palate’s preconceived notions of taste and nourishment. Items like the Flora Artisanal Cheese Plate (made with nuts of course); Kimchi Dumplings with ginger foam; Watermelon Poke doused in lime-ponzu and crowned with macadamia, pickled ginger and mint will have you saying dairy, pork, and tuna who?
Likewise, Kenney’s rendition of the simple yet complex Italian dish Cacio e Pepe – which swaps white pasta for kelp noodles and is steeped in a cashew cream, green olive puree, sundried olives, and watercress – will leave you in utter amazement and wanting more. By no means is it authentically cacio e pepe (nor is it trying to be) but rather an innovative ode to the origins of gastronomy whilst crafting the future of food, which is Kenney’s philosophy.
Of course Kenney isn’t in the kitchen himself as he’s got several other restaurants to manage throughout the country, so to carry out his culinary viewpoint he’s solicited the talents of local chef and fellow James Beard nominee Horacio Rivadero (formerly of The District and who we’re personally big fans of). He tells us that though the restaurant is fully vegan and plant-based, it is not for vegetarians but an alternative option for omnivores to relinquish their craving for animals without sacrificing flavor. Case in point, you can still have Tacos (with coconut ceviche and sunflower ceviche); Lasagna (only with zucchini, macadamia ricotta and spicy marinara); and Strawberry Hibiscus Cheesecake or a Vanilla Hemp and Chocolate Maca Banana Split (sans the dairy). Or you can opt in for the chef’s tasting menu like we did and take your taste buds on a gastronomic journey through the plant kingdom.