Raw Master Matthew Kenney on His Wynwood Restaurant: "It's One of the Most Stunning Spaces We've Been Involved With"

Raw guru Matthew Kenney's Wynwood restaurant and cooking school will open in mid-January. The launch date has been delayed by a year and a half because of construction-related issues; however, the James Beard Award-nominated chef says it will be worth the wait. What's more, the mostly raw, plant-based eatery will no longer be called White Lotus, but rather Plant Food + Wine. Kenney recently opened a restaurant with the same name in Venice, California, and said he wants his first Miami spot to share the moniker. 

Local architect Rene Gonzalez designed the indoor/outdoor restaurant, as well as the attached Matthew Kenney Academy. "It’s one of the most stunning spaces we’ve ever been involved in," Kenney tells New Times. The Wynwood spot will feature high-end materials such as Carrara marble, natural woods, and stone and steel elements that will render the space modern yet warm. There will be a bar inside where the team will concoct various elixirs and serve organic wines and cocktails, and the dining space will look into the open kitchen. In addition, there will be a glass wall into the academy where diners can glimpse students and teachers hard at work. As for the exterior, there will be about 50 seats on the patio, which will feature a stunning infinity pool and palm trees. "It will be a beautiful place with beautiful food," Kenney says.

Kenney was in town to prepare a feast at the Raleigh Hotel as part of the Seed Food and Wine Festival. He says that he will also participate in the South Beach Wine & Food Festival this February and that he's thrilled to finally have a restaurant of his own in Miami. "We’ve always found that the Miami audience is so receptive and welcoming to plant-based options, and we feel like we’re bringing something new to the market, and we’re excited and honored about that." 

Kenny boasts more than 15 restaurants/culinary schools under his brand umbrella and is working on opening a non-raw-food school in Thailand, where he already has a raw cooking school. He also has a restaurant under development in Santa Barbara and says he's working on a vegan pizza concept in New York City. Furthermore, his culinary academy is adding more classes to its online portfolio, and the chef is writing a new book. Basically, Kenney is a busy man. It also must be noted that he looks at least a decade younger than his 50 years. 

A graduate of the French Culinary Institute, Kenney owned seven restaurants at one point — all of which served animal protein. The accolades were pouring in, and he was named one of Food & Wine's best new chefs in 1998. But his restaurant empire expanded too quickly to maintain, so he had to start anew. That experience, along with body aches and pains and dedicated yoga practice, motivated Kenney to make a change to plant-based cooking. 

"I went to a French culinary school, and you're taught that you need protein at every meal and this amount of butter and salt, and it's drilled into our head that that's our craft. So to go from that perspective to being a raw chef, you go through a lot. I went through a lot," Kenney said in a previous interview with New Times

To help others deal with the challenges he faced while learning to work with raw food was one of the driving forces for the Matthew Kenney Academy. According to Kenney, the structured classes attract professional chefs, entrepreneurs, and people of various ages and backgrounds looking to embrace this type of cuisine.

He says that now is an amazing time for plant-based food and that whether it's in retail outlets, mainstream restaurants, or specialized vegan eateries, the acceptance and demand for plant-based cuisine is growing fast. "We've worked hard all of these years to make it happen, so I’m excited." 

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Valeria Nekhim was born in the Ukraine and raised in Montreal. She has lived in Manhattan and Miami. Her favorite part of food writing is learning the stories of chefs and restaurateurs.