The core principles of raw vegan cuisine are to keep things simple, uncooked, untouched, and often elevated to a stature of modern art. These often resonate with the likes of anthropologists who dictate a precision in cooking for human zen, or to those species who endure sweltering climates and prefer gobbling unheated food. As a vegetarian, and a fairly health conscious individual with a diet that I cheated on frequently with desserts, I was more intrigued than hungry for the concept when seated at M.A.K.E in Los Angeles.
Matthew Kenney‘s restaurant was an offspring of his vegan cooking school. He earned awards for his vegan cuisine after working through a number of Mediterranean and French restaurants in New York itself. With a specialty in techniques and craft of food decor, Kenney’s raw cooking comprised of florets that would put florists to shame, dehydrators, silicon sheets and scientific tools aplenty. For his food was always served cold, uncooked, and architecturally plated.
Located in a mall food court, I appreciated its clean aesthetic, and perched myself on the bar, watching the chefs whip up a meal. A view that I often liked courtesy of the orchestra of sizzles and the circus of fire, but was more curious about this time owing to a lack of cooking, per se. The open walled design made it difficult to see where the restaurant ended exactly, but was in sync with the free-spirited, vibrant nature of the vegan cuisine. A peak showed me slabs of cauliflower resembling white steak or fish fins, a mountain of carrots enough to convert any carnivore into a bunny, buckets of mushrooms, asparagus, and even cauldrons of nuts like walnuts or pecans. It was truly a world of its own, where lasagne was made of shaved zucchini, cheese was concocted from cashews, rice of coconut and jicama slivers, and ricotta replicated by macadamia puree.
Which is precisely where my journey began. I started with the smoked macadamia nut puree with horseradish chunks and florets. It was accompanied by seaweed crackers, a grimy taste that I often refrain from. But the collective combination was surprisingly delectable.
The seaweed had been dehydrated crisp to a biscuit like texture, lacking its green, retaining a salty undertone that paired well with the smokey, bitter flavor of the nutty, thick and indulgent macadamia. For freshness, the raw horseradish acted like the staple onion of an Indian meal: crunchy and borderline pungent.
I next got kimchi dumplings, knowing clearly that what I would receive would be a wild departure from its roots. And truly, what arrived were more Alice in Wonderland‘s vegan travel trinkets than a Korean staple. Wrapped in dehydrated coconut meat, it had a strong flavor of basil, pushing it into an eerie Italian direction juxtaposed with Indian cilantro micro-greens.
A departure from its origins, I nonetheless enjoyed the burst of flavor, especially when paired with beet sauce. I could have done with raw ginger instead of a mild ginger foam, and with less marigolds and florets, which required much chewing and consequently transformed my mouth into the snout of a cow.
Next up was a trip to a vegan Mexico, a thought that was as improbable as a fish riding a bike. The raw coconut, avocado and tomato chili tacos ceviche came on a boat of romaine lettuce as a mock taco, topped with more sliced coconut meat which replicated the slimy texture of raw fish.
Radishes, lime leaves and cherry tomatoes balanced the acidity and gave the dish a taco feel and taste, minus all the greasiness. A side of tamarind sauce was the perfect slurp after the green inhalation.
Dessert went in a Mediterranean direction, with a pistachio, pomegranate and persimmon tart. Served on a succulent pink plate, the base was constructed of nuts and pistachios, topped with vegan cream and speckled with fresh, tangy persimmons and my favorite pomegranates.
Truly art on a plate, it was one that I ogled and salivated over visually before touching with my taste buds. While slightly crumbly, I appreciated that it was not a cloying saccharine dessert, but an overall tangy one. It worked like a palette cleanser, to enable the digestion of a healthy, raw vegan meal.
I wondered off towards the Pacific ocean, feeling truly satisfied and inspired. And to my surprise, alarmingly full, without being weighed down by my stomach.
Truly how a good meal should be, paused at the crossroads of creative, artistic and sumptuous.