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IN THE RAW

The Plant brings extreme vegetarian cuisine to DUMBO

The Brooklyn Paper

This is the only high-risk part," said Matthew Kenney, as he swung an oversize kitchen knife against the hard, ivory shell of a Thai coconut. "There’s no other way to do this, unless you have a chainsaw."

Kenney, 41, a raw foods chef, restaurateur and owner of three Blue/Green Organic Juice Cafes in New York City, demonstrated the laborious process involved in opening a young Thai coconut, whose juice he uses as a base for his signature Blue/Green smoothies. On Jan. 25, his class of a dozen aspiring raw foodists watched eagerly as the action unfolded before them.

The "Blue/Green Essentials" class, one in a series of raw foods demonstrations led by Kenney, took place at the newest Blue/ Green Organic Juice Cafe location, which opened in November in DUMBO. (The other two juice cafes are in Manhattan at 203 E. 74th St. and 248 Mott St.)

The Blue/ Green cafes are part of Kenney’s Organic Umbrella, a lifestyle company which he founded as a vehicle to advocate organic living. The Brooklyn addition to the Blue/Green mini chain - a 20-seat, warehouse-like space decorated in a minimalist industrial style - is located within Organic Umbrella’s headquarters, also known as The Plant.

A raw food factory of sorts, The Plant is where everything on the Blue/Green menu, except for the juices, is assembled, prepared and then delivered to the organic cafes.

After about six unsuccessful trials, the resistant coconut shell caved under the repeated swings of the sharp blade, splitting along the top and allowing the chef to extract its clear juice and white flesh.

"Make sure to get a young Thai coconut and not a mature one," Kenney warned his students, explaining that as the coconut matures, its flesh becomes pink. "We don’t use those because we think that they have gone bad."

Using coconut’s meat and juice, blue/green algae, coconut oil, agave nectar and a heavy-duty Vita-mix blender, Kenney instructed the class on how to make the Blue/Green smoothie.

"You can taste the algae a little bit," he said after taking a sip of the freshly made, bluish-green potion. Kenney even named his cafes after the blue-green algae he uses in his smoothies. ("For whatever reason, blue is a good restaurant name," he explained.)

The coconut gives the nutritious drink a "gelatinous" texture, according to Kenney, and the smoothie’s flavor is neither sweet nor salty, but healthy-tasting, like fresh vegetables. You almost expect it to give you superpowers. If you’re not exactly salivating at the thought of algae flavoring, try the black cherry, banana and cacao or the raspberry, mango and almond milk versions.

Other raw dishes prepared and presented in the "Blue/Green Essentials" class - such as tabbouleh, macadamia hummus, Zaa’tar flatbread, and lasagna made with thinly sliced squash, red pepper macadamia cheese, black olive pesto and herbed breadcrumbs - were exquisitely complex and pleasing to the eye. And surprisingly, the raw dishes were rich, spicy and flavorful.

You could barely tell that that the hummus was made with macadamia nuts and not chickpeas, which, according to Kenney, do not taste as good raw and are much heavier on your stomach. And even though the raw lasagna didn’t quite resemble, in flavor or in texture, the Italian dish it was trying to emulate, it was a treat in its own right, though a bit too salty.

The chocolate hazelnut tart, however, served with vanilla and cherry chip ice cream and raspberry and chocolate syrup, tasted so mouthwateringly good, it was hard to believe it was actually good for you.

"This is the most gourmet you’re going to get of raw cuisine anywhere in New York," said Helene Seligman, 40, a participant in the class. Seligman has been eating 100 percent raw for almost a month.

"I think [Kenney] is a real genius, I really do," she said. "He’s very creative, and I love what he does with coconuts."


What’s raw food?

So, what’s this raw food mumbo jumbo we keep hearing about? Simply put, take a hardcore vegan diet - a veggie-based diet that does not involve any trace of animal products - turn it up a notch and make it even more difficult to adhere to by requiring that all the food be eaten raw, as in not heated over 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to experienced raw food eaters, your body will thank you for the effort.

"You’ll notice how great you feel and you’ll want to feel that way over and over again," said Tracey Henry, a "Blue/Green Essentials" class participant and a vegan who’s testing the waters of "living food," another name for "raw."

The menu at Blue/Green offers a wide range of raw delicacies, from corn tortilla chips, seaweed salad, portobello fajitas and zucchini pasta to cheesecakes, puddings, 10 delicious flavors of ice cream and, of course, smoothies and juices.

"People look at the diet as in ’you can’t eat this or that,’ but there are so many things you can eat on a raw foods diet," Kenney said. "Raw food is not so much about being extreme, but being aware and in tune with your body."

Before going raw, Kenney, was an accomplished chef and restaurateur, trained at the French Culinary Institute. Since the early ’90s, Kenney has opened several Mediterranean restaurants throughout Manhattan and was named one the 10 best "new chefs in America" by "Food and Wine" magazine in 1994.

From 1999 on, he turned his attention to regional American cuisine, followed by several restaurant openings in New York, Atlanta and Portland, Maine. During this period, Kenney published two cookbooks: "Matthew Kenney’s Mediterranean Cooking" and "Matthew Kenney’s Big City Cooking."

Several professional setbacks later, Kenney’s culinary career took a new turn in 2002, as a result of a revelation he had during a meal with a friend at a raw vegan restaurant. A former omnivore, Kenney has been eating almost 100 percent raw for the past two years. He co-authored a raw-food cookbook, "Raw Food, Real World" and opened a raw food restaurant, Pure Food and Wine, in 2004, followed by Heirloom, an upscale vegetarian eatery in November of last year. (Both restaurants are in Manhattan.)

One of the greatest adjustments of switching to raw is learning how to prepare this type of food, said Kenney. You will need a cutting board, cleaver, blender, juicer, food processor, spice grinder and a dehydrator.

The other challenge of eating raw is the social implication of not being able to go out with friends to restaurants of their choice. But he said that he still goes out and opts for vegetarian selections on the menu.

"It’s amazing how raw food changes your cravings, because you can’t have things immediately," said Kristen Reyes, Kenney’s pastry chef, who prepared the dessert for the class. Reyes, 21, has been eating vegan for three years and 100 percent raw for almost a year. She also teaches the dessert class, "Sweet," at The Plant.

"Eat raw for a week and then try a piece of white bread," she said, explaining that processed food starts tasting artificial.

The good thing about raw food, she said, is that you find out what you do and do not like and what you can and cannot digest.

"The number one thing I learned from eating raw," Kenney added, "is how to chew my food."

The main reason that he is sticking to the raw food diet, he said, is because of how it makes him feel.

"I used to have a lot of off days," said Kenney. "Now I never do."

The raw food movement has been on the rise over the years and it’s going to get bigger and bigger, Kenney said. He plans on sowing the Blue/Green seeds across the country, by opening a plant in Los Angeles in the next year.

"If I didn’t believe in [raw food cuisine] as a business," he said, "I would have pursued it on a personal level only."

 

Blue/Green Organic Juice Cafe at The Plant, is located at 25 Jay St. at John Street in DUMBO. Blue/Green is open daily, from 10 am to 5 pm. Raw foods: $6-$11; juices: $6; smoothies: $7; ice cream: $5-$9; dessert: $3-$8. Raw foods classes are $65 each and are offered on Wednesdays, from 6 pm to 9 pm, and Saturdays, from 1 pm to 4 pm, but the dates and times may vary. For an exact schedule, and the type of class offered, refer to the Organics Academics calendar at www.theplantindumbo.com Web site or call (718) 722-7541.

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