For chef Makini Howell, being a vegan is the only dietary lifestyle that she knows. You won’t hear her telling clients or patrons, “It tastes like chicken” or asking you or being asked, “How would like your steak cooked?” That is just not the world she grew up in or is living in now. Instead, Howell is celebrating life and conscious decisions that benefit the world and others by creating delicious food that will have any carnivore fooled. At first glance, just looking at the menu for her restaurant Plum Bistro located on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, one could easily forget any carnivore cravings for one night.
A Vegan Family Affair
As an African-American foodie, what I like most is that Howell’s story is not one that you hear every day. Born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, there wasn’t a choice growing up of whether she wanted to be vegan or not, it was a family thing. Howell’s parents had embraced the lifestyle before she was born, which in my opinion put them ahead of their time, and raised their three children to respect the earth and the people and animals on it. She laughed as she looked back to what many may have called radical, but her parents were just being themselves. Being at the forefront of the movement, Howell’s family now owns four vegan restaurants in Seattle and was the first to launch a tofu sandwich in the area.
Howell’s first career path took her to New York, where she was a clothing designer for 10 years. Tired of the hustle and bustle as well as the lack of diverse vegan options, she moved back to Washington for some quality time with her family. Her planned six months turned into years, and now as the owner of the Plum Bistro, there are no plans to head back to New York anytime soon.
Since opening less than two years ago, Howell has received rave reviews for the menu and the food that patrons of all eating lifestyles enjoy. Her creativity and knack for nailing each dish with flavor can be traced back to her mother and father, whose primary option for vegan food while she was growing was to prepare it themselves. Her personal secret entails using fresh ingredients and herbs to bring out the flavor of the food, especially vegetables. Over-cooking and over-seasoning simply “murder” the vegetables rather than enhance them she noted.
A Way of Life
One look at the menu and the moment doesn’t become about whether you are vegan or not, but instead about enjoying good food. Selections for breakfast include Louisiana-style seitan steak with greens over grits, Cajun roasted potatoes with a lemon basil aioli, and herbed crepes filled with creamed tofu, asparagus, scallions and fresh dill sauce. For lunch, try a spicy Jamaican tempeh wrap and the quinoa sliders with a spicy aioli sauce, which are the vegan version of Sloppy Joes, for a great mid-day meal. Finally, burgers, pizza, pasta and salads top the list for satisfying one’s evening appetite. But it seems to be the mac n’ yease that has everyone coming back again and again, putting the traditional rendition to shame.
Howell’s decision to remain a vegan once she was old enough to make her own decisions is a personal choice that she says she in no way pushes on others. When going out with friends, she shared that one wouldn’t know she is a vegan until they notice that she excludes meat when ordering.
Furthermore, she wants others to see being vegan as a way to add to one’s dietary lifestyle and not take away. Advice for those thinking about starting the transition is to take it slowly and a day at a time making sure to find the right protein replacement for meats consumed. It is all a personal choice that we have to make for ourselves based on how tuned-in we are with the world, our bodies and our health.
When Howell opened Plum Bistro, it wasn’t about vegans vs. meat lovers, or creating a place that would segregate those given their food preferences. Instead, it is a place where everyone can come together for a drink, a great meal and conversation about one common thing that brought them there in the first place; good food.