He's been vegan since birth—back before PETA even existed
and "vegan" was hardly part of the American vocabulary. Now chef
Ayinde Howell is running a vegan restaurant, and his food is a hot commodity.
Ayinde says the ticket to changing people's minds about
eating vegan is to change the way in which they taste—and he's doing just that,
cooking up fresh, real, delicious vegan meals.
We caught up with him to learn a little more about his own
path as a vegan, what he thinks about the food that he cooks, and his thoughts
on the vegan food revolution.
You've been vegan your whole life. Tell us about being
vegan as a kid. What did you think of it then?
Growing up vegan was definitely not the norm. I was also
home-schooled until high school, so it was relative. I knew I was weird because
the kids in the neighborhood made sure to tell me that. They'd make jokes about
how we must have eaten grass at home. Back then, you could say "vegetarian,"
and that was odd enough—the word "vegan"
was not even in the American lexicon like it is today.
In my early years,
I was vegan even before PETA officially existed, so the awareness just was not
there. But back then, it was just the way we ate. It was different, but luckily
I really liked tofu and never "cheated."
Describe your food to us. What sets it apart from other
Well, I'm the only chef I know—outside of my sisters—who has
been vegan since birth. I've been practicing how to keep it interesting for
many years. Being an executive chef for 12-plus years and serving mostly nonvegans
throughout my career has given me a keen sense of what works for omnivores and
vegans alike. I focus on flavor, texture, and familiarity without being a "fake"
or "faux" anything. People ask me if I make any fake meat stuff. I
say, "No, I only make real food."
As a chef, what role do you play in furthering the vegan
The tagline on my vegan lifestyle site, IEatGrass.com, is "Feeding the Revolution."
The bottom line is you cannot change people's minds unless you change how they
taste. Food is more than politics—it's emotions, memories, comfort. It's what
your mom made. So to say, "Walk away from all that," you have to be
able to feed all of those complex human idiosyncrasies—in the first
My role is making sure that when people make the conscious
change to become vegan that they have a good meal waiting at home for them, which
is why I take my "show on the road" with my culinary event Wildflower—to
show people how it can be and what is coming.
When you're not cooking for others, what kind of foods do
you mow in your free time?
I get in ruts. Because it's my work, I get lazy and will
live off cereal or a quick pita pizza, but the meal I'm most likely to cook is
breakfast. I love breakfast.
To learn more check Ayinde on Facebook, Twitter, and on Instagram at @ayinde.
What do you think will make the vegan food revolution
effective? Let us know in the comments section below!
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