There are many differences between celebrity chef/wellness expert Matthew Kenney’s forthcoming Plant Food and Wine on Abbot Kinney Boulevard and his existing M.A.K.E. at Santa Monica Place. The biggest difference is fire: Kenney and his team, led by chef/director of culinary operations Scott Winegard, will be cooking at Plant, something they don’t do at M.A.K.E.
“M.A.K.E. is strictly raw food, whereas on Abbot Kinney it will be more cuisines,” says Kenney, who’s aiming to open Plant in March. “It’s not fussy, but we’ll be cooking and using modernist techniques. Once you add a little bit of heat, you can use a lot more ingredients.”
Another difference, obviously, is the location of the two restaurants. They’re both on the Westside, but M.A.K.E. is in a mall and Plant, which is taking the place of Axe on Abbot Kinney, is on a formidable restaurant row that GQ proclaimed to be the coolest block in America two years before Jon Favreau and Roy Choi’s “Chef” film reignited interest in the food trucks that park outside The Brig on First Fridays.
“I live in Venice,” Kenney says. “I live a couple blocks from where the restaurant will be. It’s a lot more natural for me to be down there in that environment where I live and spend most of my time vs. something more commercial.”
Compared to M.A.K.E, Plant’s “setting and physical space will be a lot more advanced, a lot more design-oriented, hospitality will be at a different level,” Kenney says. “There will be a big wine program, it’s really about bringing our style of plant-based cuisine to a higher-end audience and a neighborhood.”
Expect a 70-seat restaurant with an open-air courtyard and modern design features like reclaimed wood and exposed beams. There are also plans for an on-site garden. Kenney and his crew will create dishes like farro with tomato, saffron, and fennel seed; grilled, pickled, and cured chiles with macadamia yogurt and spearmint; and roasted cauliflower with Concord grapes, buckwheat, and tarragon, all paired with selections from a biodynamic and organic wine list that could range from 60 to 80 bottles.
The goal is to create a complete and fully satisfying plant-based dining experience. But will Abbot Kinney diners addicted to the charcuterie at The Tasting Kitchen or the fried chicken at Willie Jane even be willing to walk into the door of a restaurant that serves no meat?
“It’s not just to appeal to vegetarians,” Kenney says of Plant. “It’s like you could go to a Japanese restaurant or a Thai restaurant one night. We just see what we’re doing as another type of cuisine that is satisfying and well-rounded. I think when food is properly prepared, it tastes good. A lot of the flavor profiles we work with and try to create are pretty evolved and well-balanced. We constantly hear from people who are like, ‘I didn’t think I would be full or I wouldn’t be satisfied, but I am.'”
Plants, after all, can provide “all the nutrients your body needs to feel satiated,” Kenney adds. “There should never be the feeling of not being satisfied.”
Educating people about the wonders of eating plants has long been a priority for Kenney. His company, Matthew Kenney Cuisine, is a multifaceted business that includes culinary schools, online training, plant-based products, and cookbooks. The chef’s memoir, Cooked Raw: How One Celebrity Chef Risked Everything to Change the Way We Eat, comes out on January 13.
The title of that book alone lets you know how seriously Kenney takes what he’s doing. Fortunately for the chef, the culinary world is catching up to him. Dishes that will be at Plant, like Hass avocado with watermelon radish, sun-dried olives, sprouts, and tahini, wouldn’t be out of place at nearby Gjelina or even hot spots all over town like Baco Mercat, Cliff’s Edge, or Commissary. Eating French lentils with carrots and cumin yogurt while drinking sustainable wine no doubt sounds like a great evening for many Venice locals who want a more formal setting than Kreation or Cafe Gratitude.
The seeds planted by Kenney (who was named a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef 20 years ago and who started a raw-food culinary academy five years ago) have sprouted all over. Plant Food and Wine will be a forward-looking restaurant, but it doesn’t sound like a restaurant of the future. There are a lot of people who want this kind of restaurant right now.