Matthew Kenney, top vegan chef, embroiled in controversy

By Liis Hainla. Published: May 2024.
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Matthew Kenney is one of the most famous vegan chefs in the world – living a lifestyle of glamor and luxury, paid for by his global business ventures. But now his empire may be crashing down.

Mr Kenney was the founder and owner of Matthew Kenney Cuisine, a global company which operated, managed or invested in more than 50 restaurants. Plant Food, its flagship restaurant, had relocated to the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel in July 2023. 

But in January of this year, Plant Food closed. 17 other restaurants associated with Mr Kenney have shut since 2021. 

And now, the New York Times reports, more than 60 former employees and investors have come forward, revealing a pattern of mismanagement lasting more than 30 years.

The New York Times reports: “Many investors and employees said they were willing to overlook financial warning signs and excuse [Mr Kenney’s] past failures because of their devotion to animal rights and mindful nutrition.” Mr Kenney’s reputation, built on 20+ years promoting vegan cooking, served as excellent protection.

Mr Kenney was quick to hit back, stating the Times’ reporting was “despicable” and “not based in reality”. 

But the facts suggest otherwise. 

Peter Cassell, who managed one of Mr. Kenney’s restaurants in the early 2000s, told the New York Times: “Nobody that I know that has ever dealt with Matthew has ever gotten away clean.”

Mr Kenney’s companies have been named in dozens of lawsuits all over the US, brought by creditors, landlords and employees. Among them, a lawsuit brought by a Black employee alleges harassment and discrimination. 

A former employee of Mr Kenney’s flagship restaurant, Plant Food, claimed staff had to lie to Mr Kenney’s girlfriend about the other women he was seeing – who he frequently brought to the restaurant. 

According the New York Times, Mr Kenney also had sexual relationships with junior staff – many of them much younger than him. There was the 19-year-old hostess at Plant Food. And in the mid-2000s, Mr Kenney dated a personal assistant in her early 20s. 

Former HR head Rebecca Rubel told the New York Times that employees’ paychecks often bounced when she worked there back in 2022. Money problems were solved, according to several former employees, by the transfer of money from one of Mr Kenney’s business entities to another. Mr Kenney, according to staff, was aware of these transactions. 

Mr Kenney’s defense is that he was a victim of embezzlement – which, he says, he has reported to the FBI. 

All through the controversy, he has continued to secure investors. Seven former supporters, all of whom had invested in Mr Kenney’s businesses in recent years, spoke to the New York Times, alleging Mr Kenney won them over with his charm and charisma – and by “taking advantage” of their commitment to veganism. 

Even in the midst of all this controversy, Mr Kenney is starting new ventures. In February, he secured a partnership with a Canadian company looking to develop plant-based seafood recipes. 

Should Mr Kenney receive support from the vegan community? Cindy Landon, one of the former associates who spoke to the New York Times, said she spoke out upon hearing that so many others had been negatively affected by Mr Kenney. “They tell me this man needs to be stopped,” she said. 

My name is Liis. I have been a vegan for a long time and I advocate for the vegan lifestyle. Through Vegan Avenue, I aim to provide quality information about vegan products and bring attention to amazing vegan companies.