“LIVING IN NEW YORK, THERE IS SUCH GREAT FOOD, BUT THERE ARE NO CALI VIBES,” muses plant-based chef Adam Kenworthy from his sun-drenched apartment in Manhattan. “I think there is room for improvement here.” To wit, Kenworthy has taken up the mission to bring West Coast vibed food (read: plants, plants and more plants) to his own kitchen and to those of his lucky clients. Just take a gander at his Instagram feed, which features inspired vegan dishes like maitake mushroom and squash tacos, his signature “sexy salads” that rival works of art and mouth-watering pizzas with crusts whipped out of cauliflower and oats–the latter, which girlfriend Carole Radziwell has publicly gushed over. Below, the former extreme sports enthusiast-turned-model-turned-culinary pro talks flexitarianism, moving meditation and his daily midnight indulgence.
When did you start cooking?
It all started with breakfast burritos. I was in college, at Colorado State in Fort Collins and I was really into endurance and action sports like mountain bike racing. My friends and I would go hard on the biking trail, come home, cook dinner and then go out. I got into cooking because I was so hungry all the time. My roommates and I would hold cook-offs for the best breakfast burritos.
How did it morph into your profession?
I got into the whole circuit of working in restaurants and being a snowboard bum. I was waiting tables at that time and I’d get random jobs at wedding showers if people needed a cook. I never had the desire to go from a server to a chef. It was more like, I’m doing what I love all day long and I’m going to come in at night make money to survive. In the process, I gained a ton of respect for the chefs.
Was there an a-ha moment when you began to look at cooking and food as a healing instrument?
When I lived in Aspen, I watched Food, Inc. At the same time, there was a huge egg recall in Iowa and people were getting sick. I became intrigued by raw veganism.
What would you call yourself now?
I don’t like to label myself or make anyone else feel insecure, but I feel inspired by the way I eat and there is a lack of it right now.
Do you find that most of your clients want clean foods?
They know what they want but a lot of people get confused about food. I have to deal with what other people tell them, which gets complicated in the health industry. They start to read online and get scared about certain things, so I do a bit of of mitigation around that and make sense of it for them.
Do you only cook vegan for you and your clients?
I try to steer people toward veganism and vegetarianism but some of my clients like white fish and some only want salmon. I took a break from being a full-time vegan when I was cooking on a yacht for a client who wanted more seafood. I used to think I could make the food and not taste it, but I had to let that go and taste what I was offering my clients. Now I tell clients, don’t focus on the labels and the little things. Do it for the great practice but remember it’s a first-world modern luxury. I just read an article about flexitarianism. I like that. Especially when you’re in a relationship. It’s not about “Where can Adam go eat tonight?” it’s “Where can we go eat tonight?”
When did you first get into plant-based cooking?
It was mostly aesthetic for me. I’ve been drawn to food for its artistic component. I started a farm down in Nicaragua about five years ago and started doing these visual recipes to market it. That grew into my website and video content. The videos led to more photography, menu-creating and vegetarian cooking.
Do you cook for clients every day?
My client list is always rotating. I’ll have some that I’m with for six months to a year where I’m cooking dinner parties or three days of meals a week. It’s very competitive in New York. You have to be a people person to do this work. A lot of people graduate from Natural Gourmet [Institute], the scene is definitely growing.
What do you think the biggest misconception is about being vegetarian?
People assume that you’ll be a certain way because of an idea they’ve experienced in the past. It could either be positive or negative. If they’ve had an annoying co-worker who talks about it all the time or if they know someone super cool who has done it, it will affect their mindset. There is a lot of general misconception around food.
Do you notice a change in your own health since going vegan?
Yeah. My immune system is really strong. In athletics, I recover quicker. I’m not as sore for so long. I’m also so hydrated because of the fruits and vegetables. Most of the time, if I get sick, it’s my own fault, self-inflicted when I’m traveling too much or going out.
What’s the first thing you have when you get up?
Usually in the morning I like to have a juice or a smoothie. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of classics: cucumber, celery, green apple, fresh turmeric and ginger.
What’s your indulgence?
Three bowls of Bakery on Main Gluten-Free banana nut granola at midnight and Van Leeuwen vegan ice cream.
You were recently traveling in Africa. Were you influenced by the Ethiopian cuisine?
I liked it. It was a lot of lentils and turmeric. To be honest, when I was over there I would be at the hospital for 14 hours a day where I’d have pancakes and bananas and at night I’d come home and have pizza. I don’t eat meat and I didn’t want to eat the raw vegetables to avoid getting sick, so for two weeks straight I was on a diet of pizza and French fries. I was okay with doing it because I like to be flexible with wherever I am. Along the same lines, if someone is hosting me, I try to be as gracious as I can and I’ll eat whatever they provide.
When you come home from trips like those, do you do anything to get back on track?
I don’t necessarily do a formal cleanse but I’ll eat lots of greens and salads and try to drink lots of water and juice. I come back pretty quickly to my equilibrium. That’s the tricky thing when you eat this way, because you get thrown off so much. I really love to travel and a lot of places I travel to aren’t L.A. and New York. But for me, my life experiences far outweigh the discomfort of what I’m eating or any stress about eating pizza.
Do you have a self-care regimen?
A client of mine connected me with Gravity in the East Village for colonics. I like to go every couple of months. Then I just eat clean and exercise.
Do you meditate?
My meditation happens when I swim or go on runs. I’ll be in the pool for 2 ½ hours counting laps, so it can feel like meditation. Cooking, too. When you have a sharp knife in your hand, you’re not focused on too much else.
What will you make if it’s just you and your girlfriend?
I really like to do salads. I’ll do vegan caesars with romaine and pine nuts. I’ll add chopped olives, hummus, quinoa, so it’s a big substantial salad. It’s out of convenience. Sometimes when I’m really lazy, I order Blossom Du Jour. I get the smoky avocado wrap with tempeh bacon and onion rings.
What will you make when you’re overseeing a dinner party?
I would probably do vegan tacos. Simple stir-fried veggies, some homemade salsa and guacamole and a side salad or rice and quinoa. I really like to do jicama shells. They bend and don’t break. I’ve done some really great combinations with them. Its like a blank canvas, very crisp and refreshing. My girlfriend really likes my zucchini pasta with a pesto sauce.
What was the last most inspiring meal you’ve had?
Last night I made this root vegetable dish that I saw on Instagram, by a guy named @Mississippivegan.
Are you a reluctant vegan?
I’m not, but the woman I’m dating is essentially the reluctant vegan. We’ve been talking about it lately. She said, ‘I didn’t know you were a vegan and if I had known, I probably wouldn’t have started dating you.’ She dated someone before who had also watched Food, Inc. and became really militant about it.
How have you influenced her?
I’m pretty sure she doesn’t eat Pringles anymore.
Groceries: Integral Yoga, Lifethyme and Union Square Greenmarket
Cafes: Blossom Du Jour, Caravan of Dreams and Quintessence
Restaurants: Café Clover, Omen Azen and 12 Chairs
Self-care: Aire Ancient Baths and a massage place around the corner from Lifethyme where its $40 for two hours.
Kitchen Essentials: Blendtec, I like it so much better than the Vitamix.