​Glass reaches vegan nirvana at XYST​, New York City

STAR chef Matthew Kenney is on a roll. New York City was recently blessed with the opening of not only one, but two, new restaurants by the plant-based advocate who has been a key figure in bringing high-class vegan cuisine to American audiences. Kenney, who grew up in Maine and has been based in the health haven of California for more than a decade now, started out in the Big Apple in the mid-1990s, opening his namesake restaurant, Matthew’s, in 1993. Recognised for his natural flair, through numerous awards and raving patrons, Kenney went on to take the helm at five other restaurants over the next decade. But in 2004 he had something of a revelation: a friend introduced him to vegan and raw cuisine. Kenney was dumbfounded, and his next venture, a vegan restaurant called Pure Food and Wine, was launched soon after.

Dukkah Avocado at XYSTDukkah Avocado at XYST

The climate in which Kenney first introduced the general public to vegan dining must have been pretty different to where things stand now, at the beginning of 2018. Thankfully, the image of veganism and vegetable-based cuisine has shed its unfashionable clothes, and is possibly more popular than ever. Last year, Phaidon, one of the most influential international publishers, released Vegan: The Cookbook which features nearly 500 recipes.

Za'atar Roasted Carrots at XYSTZa’atar roasted carrots at XYST

Authored by the revered French chef, Jean-Christian Jury, the book automatically sells the health benefits of eating less meat (Jury famously reassessed his diet after experiencing heart failure) and, more importantly, highlights just how delicious and hearty vegan food can be. The gorgeous photographs of burgers, cheesecakes, salads and breads will consume you for hours on end. Plus you will be actually be able to make the food on the pages – this is accessible stuff.

A hummus dish at XYSTA hummus dish at XYST

Kenney himself recently published his 13th cookbook, PLANTLAB, the subtitle of which is “crafting the future of food”. This is definitely the impression that he gives at XYST, his newest restaurant in Chelsea, where Glass dined over Christmas.

The menu is influenced by the Mediterranean and divided into four segments: cheeses, meze, falafel and vegetable dishes. On top of that you can also order side dishes, such as truffled potato puree and grilled zucchini. Glass started with two dishes from the meze section: Za’atar Roasted Carrots and Beet Manti. The carrots emitted the soft fragrance of the Middle Eastern spice mix and were complemented by a beautiful pistachio yoghurt and pieces of tart grapefruit. The combination worked extremely well. The manti – a traditional Turkish dumpling – was particularly special, paired with a cumin yoghurt and a really exciting aleppo jam which created the most wonderful heat. These small red parcels were a real stand-out

Next up was a dish of wild and cultivated mushrooms on a bed of kale polenta. What a stunning plate of food: the bright green base was covered with the most generous portion of mushrooms of all shapes and sizes. They were the freshest mushrooms I have ever eaten, I truly believed they had just been picked from a field. The roasted fennel that came with it was so deliciously sweet and melt-in-the-mouth that it completely changed my mind about this herb, which I would not usually favour.

Raspberry Pie from Vegan The Cookbook photo credit Sidney BensimonRaspberry pie from Vegan: The Cookbook

Leave room for dessert, my attentive waiter informed me at the beginning of the meal. I did as I was told, and ordered the Blood Orange Cheesecake. I promise that this creamy square of complete loveliness will make you want to ditch real dairy produce. It actually will. The basil syrup that accompanied the cake was pleasing, making you feel that you were eating something interesting and well-considered, and the crunchy pieces of citrus curd that topped the cake added a zingy texture.

As well as offering very fine, flavoursome food, presented artistically and with panache, the service is impeccable and you have the option of settling at the smart bar at the front, or taking one of the cozy tables at the back. But, perhaps, the best thing about XYST is that it presents vegan food as being the complete norm. And, if Matthew Kenney continues to build his empire, it soon will be, rather than being viewed as a specific way of eating or an ethical choice. If an XYST existed in every neighbourhood, it wouldn’t stand out for being vegan, but rather an excellent place to have a tasty dinner on a casual Friday night. This is where plant-based cuisine needs to head, rather than being limited as a trend or lifestyle choice, and Matthew Kenney is taking it there.

by Derby Jones

XYST 44 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011
Tel: +1 212 727 2979

Email: xyst@matthewkenneycuisine.com

photo credit Sidney Bensimon

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