The kitchen at Matthew Kenney Culinary School, a raw cooking school in Santa Monica California is well lit and immaculate. Each workstation is a testament to sterility and function. In front of me, in addition to an assortment of stainless steel mixing bowls, chopping devices and measuring spoons is an avocado, a grapefruit, and a bulb of fennel, some fresh mint, macadamia oil and some coriander. When assembled, this grapefruit fennel salad will be the forth dish I will learn to make on my maiden voyage into the world of the culinary arts.
What makes this otherwise, overly equipped teaching kitchen capable of producing dozens of dishes most interesting is that despite having enough gadgetry to make Sur La Table green with envy, there is no stovetop or oven. There is neither a Crockpot nor a Dutch oven. In fact, unless a fellow student at this weekend intensive is a smoker or a Pyromaniac, one is as likely to find the tooth fairy in this kitchen as an open flame. Matthew Kenney’s Culinary School, associated with his acclaimed restaurant MAKE, located next door, is completely raw. Not vegetarian. Not vegan… Raw.
All his innovative dishes are made up of organic fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and in order to protect precious nutrients and enzymes from breaking down due to exposure to heat, nothing served will ever reach a temperature of more than 118 degrees.
And while this kind of culinary experience may have appeal to those already committed to an organic diet free from anything that has ever walked, swam or otherwise consumed oxygen, wrapping my meat loving brain around this idea was a struggle. Especially because I come from the school of thought that you could consume four score and seven pounds of veggies but without a piece of chicken or a pork chop, you’d just had the salad course.
Even the boldest and most well executed dishes where soy attempts to masquerade as a rib eye ultimately feel like a feeble attempt to pass off an animatronic cocker spaniel as the beloved family pet. Many times, I’ve left vegan restaurants marginally satisfied, but never have I left proclaiming that the “not-fish” fish dish tastes better than the fresh seared tuna that I could have had at the Santa Monica Fish Market right down the street.
And building on my marginal disdain for such a drastic lifestyle modification, might I add that rarely have I had a conversation with an individual fully committed to any of the half dozen or so variations of a plant based diets where when the conversation ended, I didn’t feel like I’d just parted ways with the altruistic, health obsessed version of fully committed doomsayer. Not to say that all plant-based eaters want to convince you that their way is better, but many do with a Scientologist’s certainty.
So naturally, the idea of indulging on a complex multi-course meal made up of a creative arrangements of nutrient dense, fresh nuts and vegetables, served raw and never prepared at temperatures higher than 115 degrees seemed slightly off-putting. That said, back when Pearl Jam was releasing their first album if you had told me that I would eat tongue, I would have said you were insane and now, as I write this, just thinking of a lengua taco from Ruben’s Taco Truck makes my mouth water so I figured, let’s give this rabbit food a dance.
Two hours later, after eating at MAKE, my attitude toward this type of meal changed entirely. So much so in fact, two months later, having never taken a cooking class before in my life, I committed twelve hours of a weekend to learning the process….
Our instructor is named Sean. His focus is to teach the small class how to make as many varying types of dishes using the greatest variety of organic ingredients as possible. Within an hour, I have created chocolate brownie dough from scratch and watched almonds, after being blended, turn in to milk, then used to make a smoothie. The milk, in our case made from almonds, is then flavor balanced to taste (something else I learned!) with a pinch of salt, dates for sweetening and a hint of vanilla. Coconut oil can also be added not only for flavor but because it adds healthy fat, which in a raw diet, just like any other, is important as it helps the body absorb other essential vitamins.
As the day goes on, we are introduced to different fruits and vegetables as well as kitchen equipment and terminology. Juicers, blenders, food processors and dehydrators all play important roles in constructing our dishes. As do knives, mandolins and various chopping techniques. Rather than making raw food, if you had told me my day would involve the terms chiffonade (a chopping technique) and that I would be using a mandolin (tool for slicing), I would have envisioned a bluegrass festival. And yet, here I am making a zucchini tartare, touched up with a touch of agave and a hint of lemon juice, and enjoying myself.
While Sean’s dishes look like masterpieces, mine look like a toddler with a box of crayons got impatient with a coloring book but I am proud none-the-less. Having eaten each and every dish I made, I am beginning to feel like I am capable of making something beyond a steak or a ham and cheese sandwich. Not only that, and perhaps most shocking of all, despite only eating uncooked things that grew from the soil of the earth, I’m also starting to feel full.
By the intensive’s end, I have made beet ravioli, zucchini tartare, a grapefruit fennel salad, a gazpacho, multiple salads, brownies, tarts, smoothies and juices among other things. Narry a dish trying to pass itself off as a steak or seafood dish anything else but what it is. Healthy and delicious. My body feels clean and I’m more comfortable with a kitchen knife. While I have no intention passing on the ribs next time someone invites me to a barbeque, I know that if it is a potluck, and there is already enough meat, I’ll be able to make something a lot healthier and it will blow some minds.
For more information on Matthew Kenney’s RAW weekend intensives, go to http://matthewkenneycuisine.com/education/santa-monica/weekend-intensives-enroll/
In the meantime, here is a recipe from the Intensive for Heirloom Tomato Lasagna from the Intensive….
1 cup soaked macadamias
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
½ teaspoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoons salt
Blend all ingredients until completely smooth.
1 cup basil leaves
¼ cup spinach leaves
¼ cup pistachios
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon lemon juice
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
Pulse ingredients, except olive oil, in a food processor until well combined but still slightly chunky. Gradually add oil last while food processor is running.
RED PEPPER MARINARA
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked 1 hour
1 medium tomato, de-seeded and roughly chopped
½ shallot, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoons red chili flakes
½ red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
Squeeze out excess water from sundried tomatoes. Combine everything in food processor except oil. Gradually add oil last while food processor is running.
1 zucchini, ends trimmed
1 heirloom tomato
2 baby heirloom tomatoes
Cut zucchini in half and slice lengthwise 1/8 of an inch thick using a mandolin or sharp knife. Toss zucchini strips with a pinch of salt, black pepper, olive oil, and thyme. Set aside while gathering other components.
Cut 2 thick slices of heirloom tomato and set aside.
Place 3 strips of zucchini on a plate, forming a square. Spread a layer of marinara on top of the zucchini slices. Place 2-3 dollops of pesto and ricotta on top of the marinara. Cover with a tomato slice. Place 3 strips of zucchini on top of the tomato slice. Repeat the previous steps for the second layer. Garnish with halved baby heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil leaves.