April 29, 2010

Makini Howell: Vegan Queen

Who can get Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix, Liv Tyler, Jenny McCarthy, Daryl Hannah, Gus Van Sant, Michael Cera and twenty or so others of Hollywood’s cool list together for a meal of tofu, quinoa and tempeh? Only Makini Howell, chef and co-owner of Plum Bistro in Seattle, WA.

A small woman with a giant smile, Makini cooked for a ridiculously star-studded Earth Day party hosted by Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix and planned by Simone Le Blanc, at the home of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner in Pacific Palisades. EcoStiletto’s Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff joined the party to nab an exclusive interview with the chef, who might just do for vegan food what Alice Waters did for organic.

Guests ranged from hard-core vegans—like Mike White, who was wearing a “vegan mafia” shirt made especially for the occasion, andSkinny Bitch’s Kim Barnouin—to admitted carnivores. All were curious about Makini’s innovative cuisine—what she calls “bridging the gap between carnivores and plant eaters”—which brought fans Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix on board as investors to launch Plum Bistro LA this fall in Los Feliz.

A lifelong vegan, Makini represents the third generation of a nearly 40-year-old family business. “I don’t believe animals are made for food,” she said. “Violence begets violence…veganism feeds a vision of peace.” She and her family own four vegan restaurants in Seattle, all of which serve certified organic food and are operated with environmental consciousness in mind. Plum Bistro LA boasts a partner in Graham Baba Architects, who specialize in sustainably rehabbing and reusing existing building materials to create spaces that are at once vintage and modern.

For Makini, veganism is a natural progression of environmentalism. “You have to see the big picture of veganism and sustainability and how it affects the planet,” she said. “By the mere act of being vegan you reduce your carbon footprint.” Her stance is backed up by facts:Livestock production is now responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions—that’s more than all modes of transportation combined. And last year, the U.N. went on record to recommend that people cut down on meat consumption in order to combat global warming.

Veganism is also about health: As the federal government exposes slaughterhouse practices that result in salmonella in chicken and feces in beef scandals, data on vegetarianism finds lowered cancer rates and rates of obesity.

But back to the food: This is not your mother’s tempeh. Makini served up mouth-watering dishes like her signature “mac and yease,” cornmeal-encrusted seitan sliders and ricotta tofu served with pears as examples of what she calls “rustic, vegan, American food.” After introducing the finale—a coconut-lime cheesecake with a chocolate cookie crust—Makini concluded, “We want to make sure you don’t miss the meat.”

With Makini in town, not likely.

Plum Bistro doesn’t look like what you’d think of as a vegan restaurant. It looks like a beautiful, elegant, upscale restaurant—that just happens not to serve meat. I feel like it’s kind of what we’re doing with EcoStiletto in a way—writing about fashion and beauty, but it just happens to be organic and sustainable.

I think it’s more effective than going around throwing paint on people. It’s hard to change people’s minds that way.

Why vegan food? Is it just about avoiding cruelty to animals?

Yes, it’s about that. But I was raised vegan. I want to bring a plant-based diet to people. I want to build a bridge between carnivores and vegans. People don’t realize how good vegan food is. I want to create a space where it’s not viewed in a negative light, where people realize how important it is to have a plant-based diet as part of our lives.

Dying to find out the rest?  Read the rest of this interview at Ecostiletto.com!

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