Representation of the Black Portlanders on the vegan scene is rare, but Jewan Manuel, owner of the All Vegan Plant Based Papi, wants to change that.
After launching a series of pop-ups and residencies starting in the summer of 2019, Manuel currently serves his kitchen at Fortune in Old Town (614 SW 11th Ave), featuring an often-changing menu with everything from jackfruit birria tacos, truffle mac and cheese, oyster mushroom fried chicken sandwiches, In-n-Out-style burgers and Sunday brunch. Her goal: to get more black people to embrace the vegan lifestyle and build representation in the predominantly white vegan food scene along the way.
Manuel became a vegan ten years ago. One day he was eating a chicken and white bean chili soup he had made, and all of a sudden it wasn’t going well with his stomach, so he decided to give it up. A month later, he eliminated dairy products and eggs.
But her love for cooking started long before she switched to a plant-based diet. In fifth grade, he went to summer day camp, where he took his first cooking classes, learning to make everything from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to homemade bread.
“We have to make cinnamon toast from scratch and make our own dough,” Manuel explains. “I remember being super excited about this process, and going home and trying to do it every morning.”
Manuel grew up in Flint, Michigan, where his family of nearly 20 gathered several times a month for meals prepared by his grandfather.
“He was a cook, and I would sit there and pay attention to him,” Manuel says. “I remember he had a little clock radio that he played while he cooked and I used to sit on the bar stools in the kitchen of their island, and I would just look at him and he would ask me to read it. help from time to time.”
It stuck: Manuel took cooking classes in high school, worked in restaurant kitchens in college, temporarily diverted to a corporate gig in Los Angeles and finally landed in Portland in 2016. He worked as a sports model while working on his vegan recipes here in the Rose City, long established as one of the nation’s vegan hotspots. He groped his way, finding substitutes for acids and fats in butter and cream, cooking first for himself and then, at the request of friends, for others.
While black vegans might make up a relatively small percentage of Portland’s plant-based population, Manuel believes the city’s black community has the most to gain from a plant-based diet. Statistically, Black Oregonians have some of the highest rates premature mortality, according to the Oregon Health Authority’s Division of Public Health. Although Manuel’s family members have struggled to understand his lifestyle change, he hopes a vegan diet could help them avoid some health issues. “You see the disparities in health issues in their families that they sustain by eating the same thing,” Manuel says. “I say that to a lot of people…[hereditary] diseases can lie dormant, but I think the transmission from the food we eat is somehow hereditary.
Food is tied to culture, and for many it provides a sense of familiarity and comfort.
“Your mom or dad eats a certain thing and it feels like home, but all of a sudden you activate these diseases that could never have been predominant in your system,” Manuel says. “I hope it’s something people think about, especially in the black community, because it’s literally killing us.”
Behind the scenes, there is a lot of creativity in Manuel’s kitchen. The cheese he uses on his caprese burger is made from his homemade garlic cashew cream, pressed on the hot stovetop with a little oil for a few moments until it reaches the consistency of a slice of cheese.
One thing that sets Plant Based Papi apart is that, with the exception of Impossible Meat in his burgers, Manuel doesn’t use pre-made ingredients like soy curls or seitan. Instead, it focuses on using whole vegetables such as mushrooms to create “fried chicken” or jackfruit to create birria.
“Trial and error taught me the most in terms of flavor and seasoning, because I certainly failed a lot trying to deliver certain things, but that’s part of the process,” Manuel says. “I use all the techniques in the book down to trying to use my own buttermilk and real spices. I use a 13 spice blend. I know it’s important.
Ultimately, Manuel wants to normalize black ownership, but owning a black business in Portland comes with preset challenges.
“It’s been a task as a black man and understanding my black business to be in collaboration with people who maybe don’t understand my outlook and culture,” Manuel says. “It’s been an annoyance, but it’s the crown we have to wear when we’re in these predominantly white spaces.”
Owning a food business as a person of color, especially a vegan, requires tough skin, says Thuy Pham, owner of a Vietnamese vegan restaurant Mama Dut Foods and former neighbor of Plant Based Papi. She and Manuel would confide as business owners and friends. Having him around made Pham feel more secure, she says.
“We were talking about our experiences and what it meant to us. I don’t think I would have had the strength to continue if Jewan wasn’t there when I started,” Pham says. “I felt like I didn’t belong, and Jewan made me feel like I belonged. I don’t think people realize how inspirational he is, especially to the black community from Portland.
It encourages a whole new generation of black people to incorporate more plant-based foods and break away from the systematic oppression of food, she says.
“It’s really great to see Jewan being part of this change for his people. He’s doing it in his own way and setting a great example for people.
Manuel hopes to inspire others as a black vegan chef and business owner to have more impact.
“I understand the importance of that and I want to fill that space for a black man,” Manuel says. “I don’t want to miss this ship. If this is going to be the conduit that is going to help me change my family lineage or help me impact my community in the right way, then I am fully invested in understanding that.