Photography by Becky Reams
A line graph of Kenney’s professional journey would reveal many highs and lows over the course of his nearly 25 years in the kitchen. His initial butter-drenched train- ing at the then-quite-traditional French Culinary Institute in New York laid the technical foundation for his later experimentation with Mediterranean flavors at his own restaurants.
Kenney’s talent with these lighter flavors, paired with his own personal growth toward a more holistic lifestyle, eventually inspired him to apply his classic technique to the world of plant-based cuisine.
Kenney’s approach to this food doesn’t contain the fire and brimstone we’ve come to expect from others in the raw food movement. “I don’t believe that intimidating the public into eating a better diet is going to change things,” he says. “I believe change is going to come from chefs making that kind of food appealing, sexy and beautiful.”
In short, he’s leveling the playing field by presenting raw food the way other restaurants present more mainstream fare: by making it pretty and focusing on flavor.
Such marketing dexterity demonstrates Kenney’s affinity for big-picture thinking. While he still cares about the nuts and bolts of M.A.K.E.’s daily operations (during our interview he sampled half the menu, for quality control), his ever-expanding campaign for raw foodism means that he leaves the most of the details to his recently hired director of culinary operations, Scott Winegard.
Although he initially gives an impression of quiet stoicism, it doesn’t take long for Winegard to warm up and effuse his trademark boisterous energy and genuine childlike curiosity. One innocent question about produce sourcing leads to an animated discussion of sword leaves (a current favorite ingredient), music (he is also the bassist for the band Texas Is The Reason) and the most efficient way to walk through the Santa Monica Farmers Market).
Early on in his culinary career, Winegard had an epiphany while perusing cookbooks: “I would look at these books with all the beautiful pictures, and I would think ‘No one does this with vegetarian food. It’s always a nice pork chop or a nice piece of seared fish.’” And though at the time he had no fine-dining experience, he wistfully remembers “I decided I wanted, at some point, to take plant-based cuisine and present it at that next level.”
“We work well together. We have a lot of the same interests as far as flavors and tastes. The rapport is easy.” And, referring to Kenney’s clear ability to articulately pontificate about his culinary philosophies, he adds, “Although he’s the talking guy, obviously!”
He often begins with just one ingredient and tries to pair it thoughtfully, using modernist technique to draw out its subtler qualities without drowning the dish in complexity.
“There are chefs who always need to have exotic ingredients, just to put this weird flavor in or buzz word on the menu,” he muses. “I use all of those ingredients too, but I try to use them where they need to be used. You really have to let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
And they do. Winegard’s clean-flavored dishes speak volumes for Kenney’s raw-food cause.
Thoughtfully sampling the day’s batch of nut-based “cheeses,” Kenney explains, “It’s as simple as that. We’re nourishing people here, and we take that seriously. I love restaurants, but I also love feeling good and healthy and vibrant. [Chefs] shouldn’t make people feel bad.”
They shouldn’t, and here they don’t. At M.A.K.E., the synergistic relationship between Chefs Kenney and Winegard is making people feel very good about going raw.
M.A.K.E Raw Cuisine