Plum Bistro owner and head chef Makini Howell was genetically destined to spread the gospel of healthy eating. Her father, James, inherited a grocery store that led to the opening of a chain of restaurants. Her mother, Niombi, founded the massively popular Hillside Quickies vegan sandwich company. Mrs. Howell raised Makini and her two siblings in Seattle on an organic, vegan regimen; not only did Makini not rebel, she used her mother's guidance to catapult herself to the highest levels of the vegan-restaurant food chain.
Howell worked in New York City as a graphic designer and men's denim designer for Rocawear for a time in the aughts, and even in America's biggest metropolis, she found quality vegan food options to be scarce. In 2009, back in Seattle, Howell turned her lifelong reverence for a meatless/dairy-free diet into one of the city's most well-regarded vegan eateries—and one of Capitol Hill's finest destination restaurants. Howell also runs Plum Cafe on Capitol Hill (formerly a branch of Hillside Quickies), recently opened a Plum branch in the Armory at Seattle Center, and has a Plum food truck coming soon. Customers' inquiries about her recipes eventually grew too loud to ignore, so this spring, Howell published Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle's Plum Bistro.
In the introduction to her cookbook, Howell explains her approach: "My recipes are shaped by traditions such as butter sauces, chimichurri dressing, and handmade pastas... I'm really not trying to replace anything because I don't feel... like I'm 'missing' anything. I'm just using other sources of protein... This idea of changing the way you taste pushes us to experiment and recraft, to look at our dishes from outside the box and try to make them even tastier, more indulgent, and more vibrant." Howell isn't always so verbose.
Which restaurants, bars, bakeries, sandwich shops, cafes, and food trucks in Seattle do you like to frequent?
Healeo, High 5 Pie, and Bar Cotto.
What was your worst-ever kitchen disaster?
A pressure cooker full of seitan exploded.
What's the weirdest order you've ever gotten?
Fried tofu with no oil.
Do you have a hangover cure that you recommend?
What "shameful" food do you like?
I'm pretty shameless with my food.
Who would play you in a movie?
What do you cook for yourself at home?
Peanut butter and jelly rice crackers.
Who are your role models?
Women who kick ass.
What are your favorite cooking shows?
I don't have a TV.
Where do you buy your food?
Organically Grown Company and Frank's Produce.
Where do you hope to be in 20 years?
What's your favorite dish to make for yourself that isn't on the menu?
Paula Deen: pro or con?
What is the first record you ever bought?
Maxi Priest's "Wild World."
What is the first concert you ever attended?
What recurring dreams, if any, do you have?
I don't dream... I make it happen.
What would your deathbed meal be?
I'm not planning on dying anytime soon.