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Byline: Marilynn Marter
PHILADELPHIA _ Just a few years ago, chef Matthew Kenney was ascending to the height of success and celebrity, with a string of thriving New York City eateries, two well-received cookbooks, and, early on, a ranking by Food & Wine as one of the "Ten Best New Chefs in America."
But after Sept. 11, 2001, his empire collapsed in the economic fallout. And the French-trained chef took a surprising turn.
He gave up cooking. For raw food.
After a three-year culinary journey, he and his partner (in life and in the kitchen), Sarma Melngailis, have coauthored a diary cookbook, "Raw Food/Real World: 100 Recipes to Get the Glow" (Regan Books; 2005, $34.95), and opened a raw food restaurant, Pure Food and Wine in New York City.
Unlike many health-oriented cooks, Kenney, 40, and Melngailis, 32, both graduates of the French Culinary Institute, approached their raw food adventure from the standpoint of taste, after hearing about the culinary style while they were pondering their next project.
But the couple became hooked on a personal level, as the health benefits became evident. They had more energy, slept sounder, felt great.
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"After a few weeks we realized that we weren't going back to regular cooking," Kenney said. "But it took a full year before we understood how food affected us. We experimented every single day."
They began reading and asking questions, learning all they could about raw foods, from nutrients to methods of preparation.
They learned, among other things, that raw food can be easier to digest than cooked food, that it can have more potent vitamins and minerals, since up to 80 percent of some nutrients are lost in cooking, and that otherwise healthy fats turn into trans-fatty acids when heated above 120 degrees.
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After a year of navigating the nutritional maze, Kenney and Melngailis reached the point of deciding to share their newly developed food style with others. They opened their restaurant in June 2004 in the Flat Iron section of New York City, with a raw vegan menu that runs from sushi to stylized beet ravioli, green curry coconut noodles to flatbread pizza with hummus.
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