Over the years, the UAE has become home to some truly exciting vegan concepts, and Expo 2020 Dubai will continue that trend.
Earlier this year it was announced that Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion will host a number of plant-based restaurants. And among them will be three by celebrity chef Matthew Kenney.
The chef is the author of 12 cookbooks and helms more than 40 restaurants around the world, so vegans and vegetarians in the city have plenty to look forward to.
Located on the ground floor of the pavilion will be Veg’d, a fast-casual concept serving burgers and fries, with brightly coloured interiors and a relaxed vibe.
Meanwhile, XYST, on Terra’s first floor, will be a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern spot, with traditional plant-based dishes and several gluten-free options.
Finally, Mudra will be a rooftop venue featuring DJs, sushi and a drinks menu. It will also offer beautiful views across the Expo site.
So why three concepts, instead of simply merging them into one giant restaurant? “What we do at Matthew Kenney Cuisine would be difficult to express with only one concept,” Kenney tells The National. “We have more than 40 restaurants around the world – each with a different energy, aesthetic and feel, so we wanted to offer a bit of that variety to the millions of visitors to Expo 2020.”
That being said, he does admit the restaurants will have something in common. “We use innovative techniques and creative thinking to produce minimally processed plant-based cuisine that is delicious, vibrant and nutritious. Our ethos is reflected in Expo 2020’s theme: Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.”
What vegan dishes are on the menu at Expo 2020 Dubai?
Diners at Kenney's Expo restaurants will be able to find a number of exciting dishes. Expect a range of meat-free burgers and kung pao cauliflower from Veg’d. Visitors to XYST will be able to gorge on plant-based shawarmas, mezze and stuffed flatbreads. Those checking out Mudra can order gourmet pizza and sushi.
Kenney is certain the UAE audience is ready for it. “Home to more than 200 nationalities, the UAE has a wonderful sense of universality. Combine this with the government’s forward-thinking approach, and the UAE is the perfect place to showcase sustainable food options,” he says.
You really would expect nothing less from Kenney, who has been plant-based for more than 20 years, and is a staunch advocate for health, wellness and sustainable living. He says that once he started adapting to a plant-based lifestyle there was “simply no turning back” and that he finds "vegetables are the most exciting foods to cook with”.
This is why an ideal meal to him is handmade pasta with fresh vegetables and a nut-based cream sauce. “I also love simple snacks, such as dates with peanut butter or almond butter, bread with really good olive oil – it’s all about quality.”
As is evident, his penchant for wholesome food goes beyond being vegan. Kenney’s idea of good food is that which comes as close to its natural state as possible. “We prefer to use the term ‘plant-based’ and do not use any animal products at all in any of our dishes. We find that it’s a more appealing word than ‘vegan’, because we focus on all-natural, unprocessed ingredients,” he explains.
So where does he stand on faux meats that are now flooding the market? “These are great products for people to be introduced to, and test the waters of plant-based eating, but we don’t use them in our restaurants,” he says.
Instead, there is a focus on foods “packed with nutrients that support good health”, he says. “If you can make fruits and vegetables most of your diet, you are going to be doing and feeling better than 99 per cent of people. It’s an advantage.
“I imagine a future where animals are consumed on a much smaller scale, our planet starts to heal and people are vibrant and healthy. I believe we can get there.”
Kenney launched his Folia concept at the Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach in 2019, and when asked if we can hope to see more plant-based restaurants from him in the UAE soon, he answers with a mysterious “stay tuned”.