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Food and Drink Features

Raw appeal

A culinary academy offers one-time or extended courses in raw food techniques and tenets.

Christina Nihira April 4th, 2012

Tucked away on the Classen Curve, the Matthew Kenney Restaurant and Academy is a place where chefs in white aprons and pants happily bustle about the kitchen.

Along the sleek steel counters, you’re more likely to spot heaps of freshly pared fruit and vegetables than a stack of dirty dishes. Jars of herbs, spices, nuts and seeds sit neatly organized on a shelf. And against the wall, a dehydrator stands uniformly at attention.

The facility is the nation’s first raw foods academy.

Kenney describes this type of cooking process as using “live” food. That is, using raw plant-based ingredients that are organic, seasonal and local, while applying classic culinary techniques. Additionally, Kenney said the foods are not pasteurized, processed or cooked above 118 degrees, keeping all the essential vitamins and enzymes remain intact.

To make the work easier, he noted that several key appliances are employed. Traditional items like the microwave oven and stove are swapped out for a smoking gun, blender and juicer.

“We don’t use anything that is opened with a can opener or prepared,” he added.

Come class time, you’ll find that might mean goodbye to junk food, drive-through restaurants and sodas. You can join those seeking to expand their culinary repertoire with an emphasis on new flavors and visual presentation.

Diverse course work

Raw vegan options don’t have to be boring. Plenty of delicious recipes can be prepared, thanks to intensive, four-week courses like Fundamentals of Raw Cuisine and Advanced Raw Cuisine.

The introductory course concentrates on knife skills; preparing sauces, flours, bases and dressings; understanding spices; fermenting and sprouting; balancing flavors, tastes and textures; preparing pastries; plating and finishing a dish; and recipe writing.

The first class is a requirement to enroll in the advanced program, which focuses more specifically on the inner workings of a professional kitchen. Some of the topics include menu planning, textural diversity and color coordination, as well as working in the cafe.

Students from more than 30 countries have flocked to Oklahoma City to study these techniques.

From across the Atlantic, South African restaurateur Antonia Deluca journeyed to Kenney’s kitchen after reading several of his cookbooks. The chef and owner of a Johannesburg vegetarian eatery, Deluca wanted to add a formal raw chef certification to her résumé.

“There is a shift in taking care of our bodies,” she said. “(The challenge) is to make it taste and look good.”

Engineer Rob Crabtree from Jacksonville, Fla., does not have a culinary background, but was intrigued by the raw movement. He liked the idea of eating a healthier diet.

“I have always had a passion for food and exploring,” he said. “I am thinking about opening my own business and getting involved in raw foods.”

Pure flavor

That’s where culinary inventiveness comes to play. Students are taught about important pairings using a flavor bible. Recipes are further enhanced through unique, creative combinations that draw upon diverse fare, including Mexican and Italian.

Take Kenney’s wild mushroom tamale or popular heirloom tomato lasagna, for example. Finish it with dessert. The pistachio nougatine is a complex blend of rose water, citrus marmalade and dark chocolate. On the lighter side, opt for a smoothie, which can be whipped up in a host of fruity flavors.

The students baked up their version of fig bars. They were a delicious mix of oat flour, maple syrup, raw almond butter, date paste, vanilla extract and purified water for the dough, while the filling was a simple paste of fig and raw agave syrup.

Deluca felt that the message of conscious eating is not only valuable, but critical for people to eat food in its natural state. She said initially it may require some alteration in shopping habits and meal preparation. Yet, the result is a healthy addiction that can’t be given up.

“The palate is so warped and our stomachs are so stretched,” she said. “Once [raw foods] get more momentum, it can change the world and touch the soul.”

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