“I LIKE TO KEEP VEGETABLE DISHES RELATIVELY SIMPLE,” SAYS CHEF GABE KENNEDY, PRESIDING OVER A BOUNTY OF VIBRANT FRESH PRODUCE IN THE KITCHEN OF HIS LOFTY APARTMENT IN BROOKLYN. “You want to taste whatever it is you’re eating.” In 2015, Kennedy broke onto the scene as the star contestant on the Anthony Bourdain-ordained cooking competition ‘The Taste’ on ABC in 2015–a contest, which he won with ease. “I was very focused,” recalls Kennedy. “I fell into a really powerful routine. I’d wake up, meditate, stretch and journal. I was really into writing manifestations. I realized the power of focus. That meant for me, taking care of my body, getting sunshine, taking care of my mental state, talking to my family every night and going to sleep early.” Today, the Portland native has maintained parlayed his experience and rigorous passion into creative plant-based dishes at the raved-about eatery The Little Beet in the Flatiron District as Chief Vegetable Officer (yes, that’s a thing). We caught up with the 26-year-old wunderkind who talked sexy vegetables, his prized kitchen appliance and what self-care trick he performs on lovers.
photos by Sasha Israel
When did your love of food and cooking begin?
I started working at restaurants when I was 14. I read this book by Anthony Bourdain and became really interested so I started dabbling. A few years after my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having this love for cooking and for music, those were the primary ways that I could contribute and bring levity to these situations.
Were you always interested in alternative healing?
Both of my parents work in alternative medicine. My mom is an acupuncturist and a Chinese herbalist. My dad is a chiropractor and an acupuncturist so I grew up with this holistic vibe. My parents were in Boulder in the 70s, then they moved to Portland. It’s just been a big part of my ethos and who I am.
Was food part of that ethos?
I learned a lot about food as a medicinal medium and started paying attention to the way that I feel and the way that food impacts the world outside of myself. I think that vegetables are a really great answer to that. It’s a step for healing people and healing the planet in a relatively easy way. We don’t have to stop driving our cars. We can just not eat beef.
How would you describe your approach to the plant-based life?
I’m not a vegan. Some day, maybe I will be a vegan but I’m not right now. That’s okay because some days I really crave meat and I want to listen to my body. I don’t want to be too sanctimonious about anything. A lot of what I’ve been trying to do is just be a bridge, a bridge to get people to eat a little bit better.
What’s the biggest thing you learned from your parents growing up as healers?
Taking care of yourself. I really believe that just eating well is the big thing. I’m not eating well, I feel it. It’s about listening to my body and the usting a little bit more in our intuition, these forces that will guide us. The big thing too is gut health. I like to thing of gut health as a garden.
What do you mean by that?
The gut-brain connection is profound. 90% of our serotonin is in our gut. 50% of our dopamine is in our gut. So what you are is what you eat. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s true. It determines how you feel, what diseases you get or what you don’t. I believe that the gut is this garden where you have to till the soil and nourish it with prebiotic food, which are the plant-life, roughage, whole foods, etc—things that keep everything rockin’ and rollin’. Then, sprinkling in fermented foods or cultured food. That’s a good combo in conjunction with healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, coconuts, etc., some sort of protein, whether that’s a plant protein or meat. I’m okay with people eating meat, but I would say no more than 2.5 oz a day or even 2.5 oz a week
If you are craving meat, what are your parameters in where you get it?
I won’t eat factory farmed meat. That’s my one thing .
Take us through a typical day in the life of meals and rituals.
I usually start off with a little tea. I do some stretches and core exercises while I listen to a podcast. If I’m into the self growth mode, I’ll do On Being by Krista Tippett. Or I’ll listen to . Then I’ll make a cup of Groundwork coffee. aises money for pollinators. I used to be super into black coffee but recently I’ve been into getting down with the cappuccinos. If I go out, I’ll either go to if I’m in the city or I’ll go to I’ll just use an organic milk but I’m not a big dairy dude. I like goat’s milk. If I had the choice, I would have a goat’s milk cappuccino. For breakfast, sometimes I’ll have some almond milk and a gluten-free granola. My favorite breakfast is a piece of gluten-free toast with some cheese melted on it, a fried egg, arugula, some chilis and maybe an avocado. Otherwise I’ll do a smoothie. Lunch, I usually eat food from the restaurant, so that means that I’m going predominately vegan and gluten-free. No refined sugars. If I’m out, I definitely enjoy salads. I enjoy keeping my lunches relatively light so I can keep working through the rest of the day.
What’s your favorite smoothie?
I like doing frozen blueberries, diluted cranberry juice, flax seed, a little bit of honey—actually, often, it doesn’t even need honey. I don’t really use protein powder. I’m not a big protein powder guy.
Your dishes are so beautiful. What’s the trick in making vegetables visually appealing?
Purple cauliflower is beautiful. I think it’s a sexy vegetable. Pomegranate and hibiscus pickled onions give things a purplish hue. Watermelon radishes, you just salt them and they become more pliable so you can fold them and make them into ribbons.
What spices and flavors are you currently loving?
Calabrian chili. It’s just delicious. They’re spicy and they also have this pickle-y flavor to them. They come in an oil and you blend them up, they’re just beautiful. I make a Calabrian chili vinaigrette with preserved lemon. It’s great on roasted broccolini. I also like Yuzu salt. Piquillo peppers are nice sweet Spanish peppers. A good alternative to a piquillo would be a roasted red pepper. I also love Turmeric and togarashi. I like to sprinkle it on avocados. I also love smoked paprika.
Most prized kitchen possession?
The Panasonic Induction Oven. You can use it to grill anything. I like to grill avocados. It makes them more exciting.
Do you take any?
I’ve got my whole arsenal. If I’m getting sick type of thing is Kick-Ass Immune, Cold Quell or Cold Snap. Colloidal Silver if ever have a throat thing going on. Stomach chi if I have a stomach thing going on.
What about like self care?
I’m a huge body work person. I love rolfing. I like massage. I do acupuncture on myself regularly.
Yeah, myself and lovers.
For spring—what are your top 5 favorite things—like, seasonal spring ingredients? Spring/summer?
In spring, I love asparagus. I morel mushrooms. I know that people love ramps. They’re cool but I’m not going to be the ramp guy. Asparagus, peas, favas, morels, spring herbs, spring onions. For summer, obviously corn, juicy tomatoes and celery. I love really great celery and melons. I’m obsessed with watermelon. I fuck with watermelon super hard.
Favorite spots to eat out?
In Brooklyn, I love . I also like . I enjoy . I enjoy . I enjoy . for dinner, for Japanese. for lunch next door at times. In the city, I like . I really like ethnic food. I love Vietnamese, Thai, Indian. I love Blue Ribbon Sushi.
What would you say to the guy who eats steak 24/7?
Cut it out, dude. Listen to what your body is telling you. Often times when you eat meat like that, you just feel like shit. There is this notion people have that we have to be eating all this protein, but we don’t. I choose foods that I know are going to nourish me more and are going to make me feel good about what I’m doing for myself and what I’m doing for the planet.
Charred Broccolini With Lemon and Calabrian Chili
Olive oil – 1 tablespoon
Salt – 1 tsp
Black Pepper – ½ Tsp
Preserved lemon Vinaigrette- 2 tablespoons
1/4 slivered almonds
Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette
Lemon juice – 1/4 cup Tablespoon
Lemon zest – 1 tbsp
Honey – 2 tablespoon
Garlic – 1 clove
Olive oil – 1/2 cup
Calabrian chili paste – 1 1/2 teaspoon
Salt – 1 tsp
Procedure – Place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk till combined
1. Preheat oven to 450F
2. ¼ inch off the bottom of the stems of the Broccolini and cut any larger pieces in half to ensure even cooking.
3. Place in a bowl and toss with the olive oil salt and pepper and lay in an even layer on a roasting tray.
4. Place the tray of broccolini in preheated oven and cook for 10 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven and toss with the vinaigrette, top with almonds and serve.