Ayinde Howell is the visionary behind WildFlower, a vegan pop-up restaurant, as well as I Eat Grass, an online vegan community. I recently chatted with the chef/entrepeneur to learn more about his path to vegan cooking, what’s next for WildFlower and more.
Q: Can you tell us about your path to veganism? Your bio says you’re a lifelong vegan. Did you ever question that aspect of your diet?
A: My path as a vegan was chosen for me before it was chosen by me. Growing up vegan, I never got on board with meat, and was turned off by killing animals. I decided early on that the whole “if it’s slower than me, dumber than me and tastes good I’m gonna kill it and eat it” thing is not for me.
Q: How did you get into cooking?
A: Unlike veganism, cooking is something I ran from for quite a while. Growing up in a family food business I was, well, over it. I wanted a life in the arts. I opened my first cafe in Seattle at age 20—a vegan sandwich shop. By the time I was 25, I skipped town to NYC. I landed in the height of the indie film boom and made a feature (that never saw past festivals) and toured as an MC and artist on a classic rap acts reunion tour. The (housing) bubble burst and I took shelter as executive chef at the Jivamukti Yoga School cafe in Manhattan. [While working there] I studied theater to keep my artistic fire brewing.
Q: What is WildFlower? When and why did you start it?
A: Wildflower is my re-definition of the restaurant. I’m a restaurant guy. I grew up in ’em, and worked in every position from owner to busboy. The most fun you have in a restaurant is when it’s busy, the menu is good, the customers are happy and the chef is happy… I wanted to try to capture those magic moments. As a guest, what would I want to create a complete dining experience? I try to answer that for you, the guest in my house. I want you to get the full spectrum of an evening of great food, great service, great friends, music, art and atmosphere.
Q: When and where are the dinners?
A: I have them sparingly, for special occasions, or just when I feel like seeing my friends. I did a Superbowl pop-up with five courses in four quarters. The next one will be in late spring. The location is always changing.
Q: NYC’s pop-up and underground dining scene has really exploded over the past few years. What sets the WildFlower experience apart?
A: WildFlower is a complete dining experience for the conscious consumer. All my menus are local, organic and plant-based. So, [you can] satisfy your taste buds and be good to the earth. No guilt. It just makes sense.
Q: What are you most excited about for this spring?