Raw talent

They move to the “anti-griddle,” a
flattop made for freezing on contact, rather than heating, on which
dollops of nut-based “butter” and “cream” are chilled into icecream
“omelets.”

This isn’t happening on the Food Network or
in one of the exotic eateries of New York or Los Angeles. It’s
happening right here in Oklahoma City, at the Matthew Kenney Academy.

A
quick look around its kitchen, which serves as a classroom, yields no
grills, ovens or microwaves. This is because the academy, formerly 105
Degrees, specializes in raw, vegan cuisine.

Students have come from Florida, California, Brazil — even as far as Zambia — to learn from chef Matthew Kenney.

The words “raw” and “vegan” probably don’t figure into the average diet, especially here in the home of Stockyards City.

Students
are not coming from all over the world to plate salads and carrot
sticks. Kenney’s creations are works of skill and imagination,
transforming basic ingredients into vibrant and exotic dishes that evoke
the tastes and textures of foods both familiar and entirely new.

“We don’t try to imitate,” said Kenney. “We want a point of reference for people trying this for the first time.”

Many
of the dishes have familiar names but are original creations by Kenney.
“Dumplings” are actually a cashew kimchi in soft coconut wrappers. The
“classic heirloom tomato lasagna” is not the heavy pasta dish we know,
but layers of raw tomato, zucchini, pesto and a “macadamia ricotta.”

“We didn’t invent dehydration,” he said, “but we were the first to make a coconut wrapper using dehydration.”

While Kenney is now the leading figure in the raw movement, he was not always focused on healthy cuisine.

“I grew up hunting, eating the standard American diet,” he said.

He
graduated from the French Culinary Institute, and his restaurants in
New York led to him being named one of America’s Best New Chefs by Food & Wine magazine
in 1994. Although he has changed his diet and outlook on food, Kenney’s
experience with traditional French cooking influences much of his
creativity in altering raw ingredients.

“Classical
training gave me the tools for raw food,” he said. “French cooking
teaches you about the fundamentals, how to layer flavors, how to season
things.”

The academy
has graduated students from more than 30 countries. Many of them are not
professional chefs; they range from engineers to contractors to
documentary filmmakers.

Mubanga, a mother from Zambia, talked about her prior cooking experience.

“Now I’m learning how to un-cook,” she said.

Originality aside, the underlying reason for this new brand of cuisine is health.

“The
food we’re used to is overcooked and over processed,” explained Johan
Everstijn, a raw, vegan chef at the Matthew Kenney restaurant. “Most
people don’t realize that once it’s processed, the nutrients aren’t
there anymore.”

If
you’re unconvinced by the theory, give it a try and see how the body
responds. Most raw-dieters claim to feel a remarkable difference.

“The
energy level is amazing,” Kenney said. “I’m almost 50. I can go out and
run 10 miles, do what I did when I was 25 — almost better now. I don’t
get sick. Ever.”

With
projects in New York, Chicago, Miami, Santa Monica — as well as Spain,
Thailand and Australia — Kenney chose Oklahoma City for the only
licensed raw food academy in the world. He said he recognized it as a
“city on the move,” but one “without an emphasis on healthy eating.” And
he wanted to change that.

The restaurant alone is a huge contribution to Oklahoma City. In 2010, Forbes named it one of America’s Best New Restaurants.

Meanwhile, the academy has made OKC a hotbed of creativity in an unexpected field.

“If we can make people happy who would not normally be into this kind of cuisine, that’s good,” said Kenney.

Want to devote your home kitchen to raw creation?

You’ll
need new tools and ingredients to make it happen. The Culinary Kitchen,
7302 N. Western, is a supplier unlike any other and should be your
first stop for the specialized equipment to get started.

For
any aspiring home chef — raw or otherwise — the essential starting
point for skilled preparation is a quality chef’s knife. The Culinary
Kitchen carries several brands of knives suited for beginners and pros.

Owner
Claude Rappaport has some of the more advanced raw equipment, such as
the Vitamix blender, essential for making smoothies and gazpachos. He
even stocks a sous vide, cookbooks included, if one wants to recreate Kenney’s mushroom “sirloin.”

For
quality ingredients, look no further than Epicurean’s Pantry, 1333 N.
Sante Fe in Edmond. You’ll find a variety of local and imported raw and
organic foods you won’t find in grocery stores.

Owner
Leah Haskins also carries a wide selection of spices, vinegars and raw
honeys. The store prides itself on foods with no additives or
preservatives.

Raw food at home may be an ambitious undertaking, but Oklahoma City’s local kitchen suppliers can start you on your raw journey.

Sam Lower

This material falls under the archives category because it was imported from our previous website. It will eventually be filtered into the proper category as time allows.

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