Q&A with Matthew Kenny

Written by Kajsa IngelssonJune 5, 2019

First time I went to one of Matthews restaurants, XYST in New York to be exact, I was blown away. For the first time at a vegan eatery I felt a genuine interest in the food being served. As I was eating, I curiously tried to figure out the spice combinations and techniques attributing to the specific flavour or texture.

Context; If you don’t know me, maybe you’re not aware of the fact that I am a seriously picky-eater and quite good in the kitchen. You might not be informed about my lengthy (and boring) list of allergies that make eating quite challenging either. So for me to sit and be blown away like this, trust me, it had to be something.

With a restaurant empire spanning from Bahrain to Sydney, Buenos Aires to Los Angeles and a lot of places in between, I knew I had to try to get a hold of Mr. Kenny and pick his brain. Ready for it yet? Thought so 😉

What made you decide to go build a restaurant empire totally based on plant based food?

After years of yoga and meditation, I came to the realization that in order for us to fully enjoy food, its companion must be based on a sustainable model, one that promoted health not only for the citizens of the planet but the planet itself. It was eye opening for me to realize how far we were removed from our dharma with food and I wanted to do everything possible to change the global food paradigm.

Are you a city person or more of a nature guy?

I’m a nature guy living in cities.

What’s your favorite vegetable? You opened up a lot of restaurants and always seem up to something new.

It really changes for me seasonally, but artichokes are pretty incredible.

What inspires you?

Innovation inspires me, but the core of my inspiration lies in the potential for us all enjoy food without harming ourselves or the planet and everything involved in making that possible.

Plastic consumption and food waste are two of the biggest challenges facing our earth today. Are you mindful about this when it comes to your kitchens?

We are very conscious and always looking for ways to reduce waste and promote sustainability. It is very rare, for example, to find a can in any of our restaurants.

What’s your favorite dish at the moment?

I’m loving the new cacio e pepe that our director of culinary, justin hilbert, made for the double zero venice menu.

What advice do you want to give people who are trying to break into the plant-based business space today?

As predictable as it sounds, I always advise anyone interested in becoming part of the large and growing plant-based market to choose a path that offers them to do something that they are obsessed with. For me, building a company that prepared innovative plant-based cuisine and distributes it through every possible method has been and continues to be my passion. Some may love creating products and should enter the CPG market. Others may love to educate. There are so many outlets and if we do great work, are endlessly creative and original, the path will be joyful.

I really like your mission statement, “crafting the future of food”. When you envision the future of food, or the future as whole for our planet (since they are strongly linked) what do you see?

I wholeheartedly believe the future of food is plant-based, in the sense that plants will become the center of the plate and the core of what we consume for the rest of humanity. As you mentioned, this is not only for our health as humans, but is also a clear necessity for global sustainability, not to mention moral obligations we have to our land and animals.

Lastly, what are your top three tips on how to be a green eco-warrior?

  1. Lead by example. Authenticity is the only way to truly fulfill a leadership role.
  2. Never stop innovating.
  3. Relentlessly pursue excellence in whatever segment you are working in.