When guessing where the world’s first state-licensed culinary school specializing in raw cuisine might be found, common sense would suggest cities such as New York or Los Angeles. So it might come as a surprise to learn that the city playing host to students from 30 countries learning the techniques of raw food preparation is Oklahoma City. Yet, since the opening of Matthew Kenney Academy and restaurant in 2009, Oklahoma City has become a preeminent city for the preparation and consumption of raw cuisine—made entirely of vegan ingredients never cooked above 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Matthew Kenney is changing the face of Oklahoma City’s food culture in two ways: the Academy and the restaurant. In addition to training professional chefs, Matthew Kenney Academy also offers public classes, typically one and a half hours long, on a variety of topics from “Beginner’s Raw” to pizza, ice cream, and Thai cuisine. His public classes give Matthew Kenney the greatest chance to create a more vegan-friendly dietary culture in a hard-core “meat and potatoes”-eating state in a sustainable and long-term way.
But for those daunted by the thought of making cashew nut cheese or dehydrated pizza crusts at home, Matthew Kenney also houses a stellar restaurant that makes raw food accessible to all. The airy dining room allows patrons to watch as chefs prepare each dish in the chrome and bamboo kitchen or to shop in the small adjoining store for raw granola or unusual flours to take home.
The menu at Matthew Kenney is not extensive, but it is awe-inspiring. The raw lasagna, which changes somewhat each season, features thinly sliced vegetables that act as the pasta, layered with pesto, fresh marinara, and nut ricotta. Portabella mushroom caps are breaded and served with a sweet corn relish and heirloom tomato salad, and ravioli is fabricated from rice paper wrappers and whipped nut cheese.
The plate of aged nut cheeses, all made in house, confounds expectations, proving that vegan food need not try to replicate the taste of food made from animal products, but is best when it boldly shows its own unique flavors. No other restaurant in the metro can offer a similar experience to Matthew Kenney, both aesthetically and culinarily.
The pleasure doesn’t stop with savory dishes. Matthew Kenney also offers a selection of raw desserts, smoothies, juices…even wines and mixed drinks. Desserts include showstoppers such as one with the following components: “Macadamia Pastry, Raspberry Rose Mousse, Chamomile Whipped, Lemon Curd, Blueberry Cream, and Pistachio Dust.”
Juices and smoothies include choices both classic and more inventive, such as the Oaxaca smoothie with banana, cacao nibs, thai chili, dark chocolate, and almond milk, or the lavender lemonade juice. The cocktails are unique and overflowing with creativity, as evident in the “mission fig sake-tini,” with unfiltered nigori, rosemary, fig, and vanilla bean, or the “poisoned apple” with organic cuca fresco rum, honey crisps, cinnamon, and ginger. Matthew Kenney even serves brunch (think dehydrated pancakes and granola) on the weekends.
Matthew Kenney faces quite a challenge in his quest to reduce meat consumption in America’s heartland. Oklahoma City would certainly benefit from his success—as one of the most obese states in the nation, we could stand to reexamine our eating habits in a quest for better overall health. But whether or not he succeeds in his food revolution, the presence of Matthew Kenney Academy and restaurant undeniably enriches the food culture of Oklahoma City and is worth celebrating, both by vegans and by those who simply love quality food.