Cooked Raw, Matthew Kenney’s latest book, is a tantalizing must-read for raw foods enthusiasts as well as chefs, restaurateurs (and entrepreneurs in general), lovers of memoirs and biographies, and of course fans of Kenney’s. Unlike his other books, this one is a memoir, and it's a delicious read. Its subtitle is: “How one celebrity chef risked everything to change the way we eat.” It’s mostly about how Kenney has kept taking risks to move his career along in the path from cooked carnivorous to raw vegan, and it also mentions many of his love affairs. (We would also love to read a memoir focused exclusively on those!)
I read this book in two nights, and could not put it down. It would also make a great read for high school students everywhere, about the challenges and perils of entrepreneurship, as Kenney is honest about some of the seedy characters who he partnered with when he was desperate to get funds for his next projects — partnerships he would later regret. And it is impressive that he is forthright about how much money many of the projects required to get off the ground and to flourish, which is especially educational for those of us who are far from the world of venture capital.
The book not only records the restaurants Kenney worked in early in his career, and later designed and opened, but talks about newer projects that many of us may not have heard about. For example, in addition to his “brick and mortar” teaching Academies that help to seed the world with new generations of raw vegan chefs, he writes about his relatively new online classes (although the name of that portal is not mentioned); his company Pure Chefs Worldwide, which recommends and hires out Academy-trained raw vegan chefs; and the exciting development of three product lines for Whole Foods Market: a cashew-based ice cream; tree nut cheese; and vegan chocolate.
I love that Kenney lists some of the kitchen equipment in PlantLab, his Maine innovation center that is “everything a raw chef could dream of.” But there ought to be more details, as the following sentence leaves us wondering: a Pacojet thermal immersion circulator [Is this the same as the Pacojet Ice Cream machine? If not, the book needs to explain it to us], an ultrasonic homogenizer [What exactly this does that do that, say, a power blender does not do?], smoking guns [Are the foods that these guns “smoke” really raw?], and an anti-griddle [But what is THAT?].
There are other ways the book disappoints. Ethical vegans will have trouble reading the first chapter, “Hunter,” especially, which — spoiler alert! — is about Kenney learning how to kill a deer as a boy. And Kenney prefaces each early chapter (in the years before he became a diehard vegan) with carnivorous and/or cooked recipe suggestions that raw vegans will not appreciate. I wonder if these non-raw, non-vegan recipe ideas were put in to please the publisher, because by the end of the book, Kenney is commited to spreading the gospel about the health benefits of raw vegan cuisine.
Kenney — who is a gifted writer, and could have a brilliant career as a writer and nothing else, if he were not a chef and entrepreneur — writes: “I want to build a foundation that will last, evolve, and become a company powerful enough to reach every major market and bring mind-blowing healthy food to [the] world.” He also writes (and I, dear reader, have the same ambition, albeit nowhere near Kenney’s success and influence): “I must admit, my desire is ambitious: I’d like to see raw food define culinary art — to be the rule rather than the exception….Food will be more exciting, chefs will be more creative, and the people of this planet will be healthier."
Here are two more suggestions the publishers might consider for their next edition of this book: An index would be very helpful; and how about a timeline of Matthew Kenney’s career? That would also be very useful.