When the owner of Ovolo Hotels approached celebrity plant-based chef, author and entrepreneur, Matthew Kenney to be involved the restaurant concept for their new Ovolo hotel in Sydney, it’s an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
As a brand, Ovolo is known for its creativity and for challenging industry conventions – all rooms have a free mini bar, and the yoga mats are yours to keep. Whilst many hotel groups are still floundering with their sustainability policies, Ovolo made the commitment in 2020 that its hotels in Asia and Australia would be fully vegetarian. And at Ovolo Woolloomooloo in Sydney, Matthew Kenney has stamped his signature plant-based concept on the hotel’s primary food outlet, Alibi.
“The first thing we did when we arrived in Sydney was to go foraging and then to check out the fresh produce markets. Sydney, and Australia in general, is blessed with an abundance of fresh, local ingredients that made designing the menu at Alibi a real pleasure,” says Matthew.
And it’s Australia’s natural good fortune when it comes to ingredients that Matthew believes has meant Sydneysiders have embraced the sustainable eating revolution so wholeheartedly. “It’s so impressive to me that Sydney is at the forefront of the plant-based movement and I think a lot of that is down to the abundance of local, seasonal produce. It’s wonderful to see the many creative initiatives, restaurants and markets that operate throughout the city and how well they embraced by locals,” he explains.
While plant-based living is certainly on the rise, many people still feel daunted by the prospect of committing to being vegan 100% of the time. Alibi Bar & Kitchen is one of the few restaurants that manages to appeal almost equally to vegans and carnivores who are trying to include more plant-based meals into their diet. Matthew explains how.
“I truly believe plant-based eating is the future of food, and I make no compromise on that in any of my restaurants. However, whilst we focus on the food, at Alibi, we put just as much emphasis on the other parts of the restaurant experience that people enjoy and have come to love from the Ovolo brand. We’ve also made an extra effort to design the menu in such a way that, for most people, they don’t even realise the animal products they’re used to consuming are missing.”
For some people, the perceived barriers to plant-based eating are that it requires too much time, money are creativity in the kitchen, but Matthew has the antidote to that. “If there’s one tip I could give anyone who wants to embrace the plant-based way of life, it would be to keep it simple. Don’t start out thinking you need to milk your own nuts and make complicated recipes from scratch. Just buy simple, local, fresh ingredients that are full of flavour. You’ll soon find it’s not as difficult as you thought.”
“And, try eating at some restaurants that have a good vegan offering so you can get an idea of different ingredients that you might not have previously considered. Some of my favourite places in Sydney are Chiswick, Yellow and Gigi’s.”
Future Food Institute
It might not be long before we see another Matthew Kenney opening on Australian shores. His newest initiative is the Food Future Institute. Built by a team of forward-thinking individuals united by a shared vision that the world needs a more conscious approach to consumption, FFI is a cutting-edge culinary education program committed to imparting knowledge and providing resources on the art of plant-based cuisine – available to anyone, at any time, around the world. With over 2000 people enrolled already around the world, the next step is to open on-site programs in every part of the world.
“My aim is to have physical Food Future Institutes on every continent in the world, except maybe Antarctica,” says Matthew, and when he does we’ll be first in line!