Matthew Kenney’s New SCEN Restaurant Elevates His Plant-Based Ideology

All images ©Adrian Mueller

When we last connected with Matthew Kenney in October of 2020, we were chatting with him about his new East Village restaurant SESTINA, which he had opened in August in bold defiance of the still harrowing pandemic conditions. (It has survived, by the way.) At that time, his enthusiasm was nothing short of inspiring; as daily headlines blared ominous predictions for the hospitality business, he confidently spoke of plans for significant expansion, whilst continuing to spread the plant based gospel he has been preaching for going on twenty years now.

That culinary mission has now culminated in the debut this month of a new zero-waste fast casual concept called SCEN, located along a stretch of Broadway that cuts through NoMad near 27th Street (amusingly its absolute antithesis, the proudly decadent Oscar Wilde Bar, is just around the corner). The name actually refers to the space, however, rather than what you’ll be eating in it. And the clean, verdantly minimalist interiors are based on the tenets of the Japandi philosophy, which marries Japanese simplicity with Scandinavian functionality. Exposed brick lends just the right amount of atmospheric contrast.

But the food is courtesy of a similar intercontinental marriage, mating New Nordic cuisine – which focuses on local, natural and seasonal ingredients – with a Japanese style of cooking known as shojin-ryori, which has been exalting the plant-based diet, as well as resource conservation and sustainability, for more than a thousand years. Though at SCEN, modern nutritional science was applied to put it just a few steps ahead of the general sustainable food zeitgeist.

Kenney’s partner is 23-year-old entrepreneur Maximilian Koenig, who explains, “We set out to develop every detail of our concept based on the health of humans and the planet. It is our mission to create a circular food supply chain for the cities of the future.”

To emphasize that this is not just throwing around of-the-moment buzzwords, SCEN is actually working in collaboration with the Total Resource Use and Efficiency program, which is backed by the world’s leading sustainability and health certification and credentialing body, Green Business Certification Inc (GBCI). TRUE is a holistic, total system approach to changing how materials flow through society, emphasizing diversion from landfill and maximum re-use.

The menu highlights? Breakfast bowls featuring bases such as chia cacao, chia and red fruit and overnight oats, toppings including protein brownies, protein banana and seasonal fruit, and finishers like coconut flakes, almond butter and cocoa nibs. A lunch bowl might include sushi rice, soy maple glazed tempah, and sesame golden beets, and there are sushi options like the kimchi swiss chard roll with cashew kimchi, swiss chard, pecan dukkha, beetroot hummus and squash, the mosaic roll with beets, cucumber, radish, avocado and carrot ginger, and a mango roll made of mango, cucumber, avocado, chili and sumac. 

And yes, it’s all vigorously sustainable, even the compostable packaging, which is conjured from plant-waste, and colored with algae ink. Yet it must still be emphasized that, since Matthew Kenney is involved, the food at SCEN will be as consistently good as the ideology.

“This is a time of exponential growth for the plant-based market,” he enthuses like the guru that he’s very much become. “People are realizing that they need to take care of themselves more than ever, in a way that is sustainable and pleasurable. We continue to see a real shift in the restaurant industry, something I’ve been working toward for a very long time.”

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