scott-winegardEarlier this week, we brought friend + MooShoes Brand Manager over to the west side for what we thought would be a pretty standard dinner before dropping her off at LAX for her return trip to NYC. Instead, what we got was mind-blowing culinary experience consisting of thirteen courses of raw, vegan delights (if you count every dish brought to the table).

I know what most of you are thinking—”Ew. Raw AND vegan? Count me out, man.” And I hear you. That’s my usual response to most standard raw food. But I honestly think that the way Chef Scott Winegard of Matthew Kenney’s M.A.K.E restaurant prepares his food could sway even the staunchest disbelievers.

For anyone not already familiar with raw veganism, it essentially means preparing relatively unprocessed plant-based foods that have not been heated above 104-120°F (depending on who you ask). The theory being that overheating or over processing plants robs them (and you, the consumer) of valuable enzymes and can even add toxins to the plant that weren’t present before cooking.

Whether you buy that or not, I can tell you that, whatever they’re doing the food at M.A.K.E., it’s working. And it’s fucking tasty—honestly, that dinner was one of the best I’ve ever had.

We thought we’d share some photos we took at dinner and took a few minutes to talk with Scot Winegard, who chose our menu that night and acts as Director of Culinary Operations for Matthew Kenney. Side note—he’s also the bassist of seminal second wave emo band, Texas is the Reason. Read on to hear Scott’s favorite dishes at the restaurant, his thoughts on raw veganisn in general, and what you get when you mix kimchi and cashews.

raven + crow: Alright, I know there was a decent amount of time between things, but tell me—how does one go from bassist in NYC-based Texas is the Reason to Executive Chef of a raw, vegan restaurant in Santa Monica?

Scott Winegard: The whole time I was in TITR, I was working at Angelica Kitchen. I’ve been involved in restaurants since I was 15 years old. At AK, I did everything from delivery to waiting tables to managing the floor and then the kitchen. I worked there on and off for about 10 years. I learned so much about respect, community, seasonality, and the importance of organic and sustainable farming during that time. This was in the early 90’s as well, way before “farm to table” was on every restaurants mission statement.

Yeah, the scene had to be so different back then. Happy Angelica’s still staying true to their roots though. Texas is the Reason did some reunion shows last year too, right? How were those?

The shows were incredible. The others in TITR are my best friends in the whole world—I feel incredibly lucky and honored to have that opportunity to do that again.

So, starting in at 15 years old—guess it’s safe to say that cooking + food have been passions of yours for a while, yeah?

I always have been interested in food. I didn’t know how or what I was going to do, but I knew that it was either going to be music or food. Turning vegetarian at a young age made me look at food differently and I always enjoyed cooking as a kid with my family. My dad and Grandfather always had an amazing garden and that definitely influenced my future.

What is it about raw food in particular that interests you beyond the vegan realm?

I think we have to challenge ourselves to rethink how we put together dishes. I never feel that I am missing out on anything and the challenge actually drives me.

I love that it’s super clean and fresh and we don’t rely on trying to replicate cooked dishes as much as we used to, although it is a challenge to write a menu for a restaurant like MAKE without using words like lasagna or tacos. That’s why we offer the tasting menu so we can showcase some new techniques and flavor profiles that might not be something that anyone has had before as a vegan.

Yeah, that tasting menu blew everyone’s minds, man. Dish after dish kept just kept coming and each and every one was something totally new and totally delectable. You guys try to source from the Santa Monica Farmers Market whenever possible, correct?

We visit the SMFM every Wednesday and Saturday, the Venice Market on Friday, and Mar Vista on Sunday if we have to. Our Purveyors also source from a lot of local farms as well.

How does that impact the evolution of the menus over time?

I always say that the farmers write our menus as they harvest the next seasons vegetables. I use the time at the market to take a mental inventory, talk to the farmers, and find out how long something may be available or what else is coming up next. We also do some foraging and we just met a cool local urban gardener who we hope to partner with in the near future.

Any seasonal favorites coming up that you’re excited about?

Right now we are loving the lobster and chanterelle mushrooms; tomatoes are incredible too right now. The fact that I can get citrus and avocados that are so great completely spoils me as a chef.

Totally. What are some go-to’s as far as vegan raw food that you like to whip out to impress even the most dismissive of the food?

We always suggest the lasagna, the kimchi dumplings, and the black pepper kelp noodles—those always seem to change everyones mind right away.

Love the dumplings + kelp noodles. Favorite current dish at MAKE and rough idea of what goes into it in terms of prep + ingredients?

We have been doing a dish on the tasting menu with lobster or chanterelle Mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, harissa, and a smoked cashew cream. The mushrooms are cooked sous vide at 115 degrees for 4 hours. The tomatoes and corn are tossed with some herbs, really great California olive oils, and they are lightly “cooked” in the dehydrator for an hour. (pictured above)

Loved that dish with the lobster mushrooms. Such a great texture. And the filling in that kimchi-cashew dumpling you did the other night totally reminded me of the taste + texture of deviled ham from my childhood…which might sound off but was totally awesome. Was that replication intended at all?

It’s funny—everyone always has a reference point, but I would have to ask Mathhew where the inspiration came from. When I came on to the company it was on the menu at our restaurant in Oklahoma. I really liked it instantly, but I did change it a bit to lighten it up and I was inspired by another chef friend who was putting a kimchi puree with a dish he had on his menu, so we started using red cabbage to make the kimchi to get that awesome purple color.

Well it’s superb. One thing I’ve never gotten a good answer on—why are beans + legumes generally shunned as a protein source in raw foods?

I don’t eat 100% raw. Most beans and grains, in my opinion, have to be cooked to enjoy.

We have tried some sprouting that we have had some mild success with but, for me, I don’t digest it well and I wouldn’t want to put anyone else through that. I have a huge problem serving something to someone that I don’t enjoy 100%.

There is tons of protein in nuts and other vegetables—we probably shouldn’t even be worrying about it anyway.

All music to my ears. I had a trainer who follows a Paleo diet recently tell me that the reason they don’t advocate ingesting grains is that the casing on the grains themselves isn’t easily digestible and can actually trigger disorders for some people. Does that thinking go into raw foods as well?

There is some truth to that, but we don’t boil water in our raw food restaurants so that’s why you don’t see it on out menus. We serve beans and grains at Tamazul (Oklahoma) and The Gothic (Maine) that have cooked items on our menus there.

Got it. So, what brought you out to LA originally?

I started working as the Chef for Matthew Kenney Culinary about 3 years ago. At first, my plan was to stay in NY and work from my test kitchen at my apartment there and at PlantLab in Maine (I developed most of the opening menu for MAKE there). I came out to Santa Monica and I never really wanted to go back, so after about 9 months of Air BNB rentals, I found my own space and, honestly, I love it. It’s different from Brooklyn, but I am super happy to be out here, especially doing the work I am doing. It’s perfect.

Was it tough leaving New York after so long though?

I grew up there. I will always love it. I have been back and forth a lot and it’s not that far and isn’t very hard to get back. I miss some of the conveniences of being able to meet up with anyone at any time but I don’t really need that at this point of my life either.

Assuming you spend most of your time around Santa Monica, what do you like about the west side over the rest of LA?

I love being by the Beach. I grew up in Oceanside on Long Island and I always had some connection to the water, whether it was surfing or skateboarding. I always wanted to move to California as a kid because of what I followed in the skate magazines I poured through. I haven’t been in the ocean with a surfboard yet and I don’t skate other than to get around but it feels super good to be out here. I love being in Venice now, but I have no issues with the east side at all. I just recently got a car so everywhere is available and I don’t mind the traffic that much yet either.

Well we hope to see you east-side some time, but, after that dinner, I’m guessing we’ll see you on your turf sooner. Thanks so much for talking with us, man.

You can (and very much should) visit Scott at M.A.K.E.—395 Santa Monica Place, Suite 333 (third floor), Santa Monica.

Below, our tasting menu, in order—California olives with grapefruit + herbs; a vegan cheese board, with cheeses made from cashew + macadamia nuts and served with a nut-based flatbread, lightly pickled carrots, pickled asparagus, and a house-made mustard; an amuse bouche of local fig with grapefruit caviar and puréed fennel; sweet peach + heirloom tomato gazpacho; a cucumber salad with thinly sliced fresh cucumber, spiralized cucumbers, cucumber cream, cucumber powder, and black sesame tahini; a watermelon radish + avocado salad with puréed avocado; a kimchi-cashew-filled dumpling made of dehydrated coconut and cilantro; black pepper kelp noodles with pea tendrils; which was followed by the aforementioned lobster mushroom and tomato dish (pictured above); then a palette-cleanser of fresh strawberry sorbet; fresh white + yellow peaches and a pistachio tart on a sweet mascarpone-style nut cream; a coconut-cashew-based coffee ice cream with aerated chocolate chunks and fresh raspberries; and, finally, a cute little box of vegan, raw cookies and macaroons.

What are we, the queen?

Photo of Scott courtesy Matthew Kenney.