Whether he’s carrying on the family tradition of creating new businesses in the Pacific Northwest, operating a high-end food truck in Los Angeles, or cooking for the stars in New York, Chef Ayinde Howell is always in to something. The Tacoma, Washington born vegan culinary expert is on a mission to prove that veganism is delicious and healthy, but also that vegans can be sexy too!
In Fall 2014, Howell published The Lusty Vegan: A Cookbook and Relationship Manifesto for Vegans and Those Who Love Them, which he co-authored with Zoe Eisenberg, offering advice to people who date outside their diet. Ayinde has been a vegan since birth, but has admittedly dated omnivores as long as he can remember. The book playfully speaks on how to make an inter-nutritional relationship work, and offers up some recipes that can make even the most avid meat-eater go veg.
Born into an entrepreneurial family, Ayinde was operating his own restaurant in Seattle by age 20. He was also active in performing arts as a youth, and has been able to balance acting, writing, producing and cooking all these years. He has appeared on shows like Rocco’s Dinner Party, and launched his own online cooking show Like A Vegan last summer.
It’s safe to say that Ayinde is a celebrity go-to, as he’s cooked for a plethora of personalities. Actress Alicia Silverstone even featured him on her blog The Kind Life when he launched his MAC food truck in Los Angeles.
Despite all of this accomplishments thus far, The Lusty Vegan venture is only the tip of the iceberg for Ayinde Howell. Read on to find out more about the inspiration behind his work in UrbLife.com’s Slice of Life feature…
You were raised vegan, and you admit in your web series that vegans were considered “weird” for the longest time until the lifestyle became a fad. Were there ever temptations or pressures for you to try meat? What advice would you give to young people who want to take on the lifestyle despite their parents staying with meat?
Ayinde Howell: Yes I was tempted – it’s hard not to be. We live in a world that is not vegan, commercials of juicy burgers are everywhere. But it’s like what Childish Gambino said: do you really like or do you like how they sold it to you?
I’d say to kids, follow your heart and instincts. If your body tells you don’t eat meat, ask your parents to support that.
You’re going 15 years strong in running your own businesses. What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about steering your own ship, good or bad?
AH: Do what you are strongest in and outsource the rest. We often try to do it all, but that is not how your energy is best spent. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, just the one with the strongest vision.
You have a real passion for cooking, and have done a wonderful job incorporating life experience, relationships and ambition into the way you present your food. What ultimately made you decide to put The Lusty Vegan book together? What was the process of creating it?
AH: I was doing just that, writing a column for a website in New York, and talking about my relationship with my then omnivore girlfriend. My editor said, “more food less romantic life!” I moved it over to my blog, reshaped it as “The Lusty Vegan” and crafted it with my then-intern Zoe Eisenberg. She took the helm, and used a more general prescriptive approach that worked with our community.
The book grew organically from that. Creating it was great, because I was able to oversee the photography – we shot in my studio apartment – and really guide the creative vision. It was a challenge because I also created, tested and wrote the 80 recipes and the narrative part. But so worth it. I had a say down to the last detail, and I am grateful for that.
You’ve operated your own restaurant, written a book, appeared on television shows and toured the country speaking to people. What is your favorite medium to communicate with people about your lifestyle and profession and why?
AH: The stage and film, because it’s where I feel most free and can reach the most people. I use humor and information to engage people, and we all have a good time!
Who are some of your biggest influences and mentors in the business? How did they affect your life or career?
AH: I’m very attracted to the mavericks Steve Jobs, Russell Simmons, Diddy, Rob Barnett… My parents I feel like we embody the same spirit. Hustle learn, or die at a desk working for some else. I look at them and know it’s possible with work and timing. They show me there is another path – it’s not marked, it’s uncharted, but it’s there, and there is destiny at the end.
Have you ever or would you ever date or marry a non-vegan? What would (or have been) some challenges in this type of relationship?
AH: In The Lusty Vegan book I talk about Ginger, a very pivotal relationship. She is an omnivore and all my girlfriends before her were. The challenges are many, and I get into them in the book. Some being the simple things, like she can’t make me that special dish her mom taught her, or we can’t casually eat without it coming up that we make very different choices. There is also a lot of humor that comes from it.
Since a lot of people are turning vegan later in life, what are some key pieces advice you’d give them about maintaining proper diet to account for the protein they are no longer getting from meat?
AH: Eat a balanced diet. Protein is everywhere – spinach has nearly the same per pound as beef. Do research, don’t live off fries and Oreos. The point is to eat clean and mindful, so be an adult and eat right.
What are some of the health benefits of being vegan? Are there ever any instances where people should not go entirely vegan?
AH: You should listen to your body. Also know that you can live a healthy life and have healthy kids never eating meat or drinking dairy.
What are your next plans for your career?
AH: More film and TV, more books, and more food.