Consider raw. Now those are two words that can get even the most diligent of vegans a bit nervous as to what to expect. Definition? A raw food diet consists of unprocessed vegan foods that have not been heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. “Raw foodists” believe that foods cooked above this temperature have lost a significant amount of their nutritional value and are harmful to the body. Sounds a bit bland and unfinished, right? Wrong! If you would have asked me the same question over the summer I would have said yes, but I humbly sing a different tune after being bitten by the raw food bug while visiting Santa Monica.
Nestled in The Market at the upscale Santa Monica Place, and located in one of the most sought-after locales in southern California where residents and visitors alike pronounce fitness and healthy living as a way of life, is M.A.K.E., an open-air, multi-layered and forward-thinking living foods restaurant for the masses. While its far away impression has you wondering if you’re still strolling through the food court, its up close and personal view transports you to a sacred food “ashram” of sorts amidst natural woods, fabrics, communal seating and folksy meditation music, including the likes of Norah Jones and Feist. Created by expert raw food chef, author, and entrepreneur Matthew Kenney, M.A.K.E.’s mission is simple: to use whole, organic and unprocessed plant-based foods in order to achieve healthy, aesthetically refined and flavorful cuisine… well, mission accomplished!
Based on the premise that good food and good health go hand in hand, M.A.K.E.’s menu, which includes sharing plates, market starters and classic mains, features inventive cuisine inspired by Southern California’s seasonal ingredients prepared as wholesome raw fare. Clean flavors and natural enzymes ring true with each menu item ranging from the favored Kimchee Dumplings topped with Ginger Foam and Coriander (my favorite!) to California Kale with Blood Orange, Sun-Dried Olives, Wild Dulse and Spiced Almonds and Kenney’s acclaimed signature Market Tomato Lasagna with Zucchini, Macadamia Nuts, Santa Barbara Pistachio and Basil. No menu item is heated above 105°F so as to preserve essential nutrients and enzymes.
M.A.K.E.’s Tasting Bar is what really sold me on the “raw food thing” I had been so apprehensive to explore. Only available at the Santa Monica location, the Tasting Bar (12-seat bar in front of the restaurant’s open kitchen) allowed me the opportunity to sample five specially prepared courses: three savory and two sweet. Even more impressive than the thoughtfully curated foods that were clearly purifying my soul (at least is felt that way), was the incredible knowledge obtained from the server. In my experience, most plant-based restaurants have a fairly menu-educated staff but very few can actually tell you the innermost workings of the food preparation process in the kitchen and offer a true understanding of the plant-based lifestyle, raw or not. My server, however, rattled off the ingredients of every dish, the preparation process and exactly what each menu item was designed to do. For instance, who knew that a purple cabbage puree could awaken your palate? I sure didn’t and whether it did or not, I did not really care because it was delicious! And who knew that sea kelp in a cashew cream sauce could taste so good? I didn’t, not until I tried it.
There was one menu item that didn’t sit too well with me. The King Oyster Mushroom Parsnip Mash with Lemon Foam was not my favorite dish as I found the multitude of flavors a bit overwhelming but a mushroom lover would enjoy it just fine.
The theme of education, not only of the food M.A.K.E. serves, but why and how it cleanses the body and how it’s prepared, came together when I realized that located adjacent to M.A.K.E. is Matthew Kenney Culinary, the area’s first raw-food Culinary School. It is here that culinary hopefuls obtain professional chef certification in the preparation of living cuisine and an opportunity to work with state-of-the-art kitchen equipment. All chefs at M.A.K.E. attend raw culinary school.
If your goal is to purify your body, then M.A.K.E. is for you. While most omnivores would probably have a hard time sitting still long enough to take in the soothing décor color palette and the educational process that comes with eating raw food, the opportunity exists to cleanse from the inside out. When Food & Wine’s Best New Chef, VegNews’ Chef of the Year and twice-nominated James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef is at the center of it all, I’d expect nothing less. Well done, Matthew Kenney.
- Zucchini Hummus. Muhamarah. Sesame Tabbouleh. Za’tar Crackers
- Wild Arugula. Herb Caper Cream. Sweet Potato Chip. Malted Vinegar Powder
- California Kale. Valencia Orange. Sun Dried Olives. Wild Dulse. Spiced Almonds
- Black Pepper Kelp Noodles. Mushroom, Snap Peas. Olive Crumb. Pea Vines
- Market Tomato Lasagna. Zucchini. Macadamia. Santa Barbara Pistachio. Basil
- Chocolate Cake. Cinnamon Gel. Churro Ice Cream
Share Plates: $12-14
Wines by the glass: $9-14
Words by Lindsay Wagner