Matthew Kenney Is Starting a Plant-Based Cooking School! Sharpen Your Knives
Matthew Kenney, the world's leading plant-based chef, with delectable restaurants such as Plant Food + Wine, Double Zero, Bar Verde, Hungry Angelina, and more, is launching his first new cooking school in years, and this time he is controlling every aspect of it. Kenney is bringing his culinary skills to anyone who wants to learn "elevated vegan cuisine" with culinary skills such as knife skills or bread making, that are worthy of a prestigious culinary academy.
For the launch this week, Kenney talked to The Beet about his latest venture and how he is getting through this difficult time for restaurateurs and making plans to expand once this period is behind us. And since most of the markets his establishments are in -- New York, LA, Boston, Philly, Baltimore, and European cities -- are closed due to COVID-19, Kenney decided to use this time to move up the launch of his Food Future Institute, FFI.
Kenney, who is a vegan for the past several decades, looked around during this fallow time in the food industry and decided to revitalize a pet project that has been on his "back burner" due to so many other initiatives. It has always been his passion to run a high-end cooking school and now the FFT is launching on May 8th. For now, he is signing up students for a fee of $350. Unlike his past venture that had a partner involved, this one is all MK, and that's how he likes it.
Here is what he has to say about the state of the world and why now, more than ever, it's critical to teach people how to cook upscale vegan food.
Q: Why now? Other than the fact that we are all at home trying to learn to cook?
Matthew Kenney: "This is in keeping with our approach to food: We try to remind people that plant-based is healthy for you and boosts immunity, and helps the planet too.
MK: "We were in education starting in 2009 when we launched the first state-accredited culinary academy and grew that over several years till 2017. At that point, we moved to LA and we sold it and the new people didn't grow it. So we canceled the license. We had been planning to get back into education, but we had been busy opening 14 restaurants last year. And then with this pandemic happened, and I didn't even think about it. I said, "We have so many talented people on this team, and let's focus on launching our education platform."
Kenney describes FFI as a culinary institute for plant-based or vegan chefs, and it could be a first step to working in the industry, opening a restaurant, or simply a way to sharpen your skills. "FFI is a custom-designed online platform that offers a comprehensive education on the art of elevated plant-based cuisine. It's like an online academy that meets an online coffee table book, that meets a culinary academy. It focuses on food and detailed techniques. He uses recipes as a chance to teach skills that are specific to vegan cooking.
"FFI gives people the tools they need to be a vegan chef. The largest part of our students would be people who are passionate about food who want to be able to cook for their family and friends. It's not an easy course, because you can learn a lot. It's advanced, and you could learn a completely different skill set."
Kenney adds that FFI is for anyone who wants to be a better chef. After the course, they "could start a wellness program or cook for their families or start a restaurant."
What Will FFI Students Learn When They Take This Couse?
MK: "There are over 100 modules in this course. Each one was made from scratch. "We could have easily taken what we had in our books and restaurants and patched together a course, but it was really important to me that this was new content, specifically developed with process and technique in mind.
"We have six chefs in LA, and they developed the content and we rented a property and filmed the content from a safe distance" [due to the social distancing rules]."
Kenney explained that the online course lets students move at their own pace, and complete the modules in a month or six months. "We are only charging $350 because with technology we are able to automate a lot of it, once we created it. We are doing it at a fraction of the cost [of the former cooking classes they offered]. Instead of having 100 users, we expect to have 1,000 and now our brand has grown so much we expect to have users in a lot of countries.
Q. Why Now? to meet the growing demand of more people cooking for the planet?
MK: "The awareness of the benefits of plant-based cooking and eating spans from personal health to the climate, and this is a growing reason for why people want to attend culinary school. Sustainability and overpopulation, the health issues society is facing, building up our immunity, and also our changing lifestyles. For all these reasons, the demand is there. People around the world are wanting to eat plant-based and don't have the skills and tools to do so."
Q. Why do we need a separate school for vegan or plant-based
"If you look at French cuisine, there are the mother samples, the stocks, the thickening agents, and sauces. Of course, basic knife skills are the same. but the building blocks are completely different, like making cream from nuts. Even the most sophisticated chef doesn't realize that, so we are teaching it through very different skillset.
Culinary school is very structured, and you learn knife skills, you learn sauces. We took all those skills and woven them into the recipes. It's like a journey, and as students go through the course, it's a pleasure to cook the recipes and it's great food ... I was really inspired.
The course is meant to be challenging and teach things you don't know. It's not a walk in the park. Cooking plant-based is not the easiest thing in the world, but anyone who can handle a knife can do it as long as they have access to the ingredients. I stayed away from most of the hard-to-find ingredients.
I did about 70 percent of the work on camera. some of our chefs are incredible at pastry and bread. But otherwise, I was on camera -- 15 days in a row."
Q. What did you learn from this "pause" in your business flow during COVID-19?
MK. "We've learned a lot. Most importantly it's very valuable to diversify and to be a little more focused on technology and grow things outside the restaurants, like meal plans and the education part.
"Never take anything for granted. That's the big lesson. The teams were working together like a symphony [before this happened] and in January and February they were working together so well. It's really tough to walk into a restaurant and now see the people who worked there. Very hard to not see the employees there. Company-wide we still have 100 or so people, but worldwide we had 700. In South and Central America, Brazil, and Costa Rica, and Argentina, we are shut down everywhere. it's going to be a slow unfolding.
We were able to stay open for delivery in some places, but not everywhere. We do it where it makes sense. Double Zero it makes sense. but Plant food + Wine not so much."
Want to learn to cook with Mathew Kenney? Sign up for Your first FFI Course here.