She reinvents “rabbit food” with Beatrix foods

Kristine M. Kierzek

Melanie Manuel studied Plant-Based Nutrition at Cornell University and taught in China and Germany before moving to Milwaukee in 2015.

Seeing a growing interest in vegetarian foods, she founded Beatrix Foods in November, offering pop-ups and catering. Its slogan, “Rabbit Food, Reinvented” is inspired by Beatrix Potter’s favorite childhood stories.

She finds a growing basis for her vision of vegan cuisine and looks forward to further day trips to explore her new home state.

Manuel, 39, teaches full time at an alternative school and lives in Shorewood. She hopes to make Beatrix Foods her full-time business by the fall. Find her cooking classes at Urban harvest, 1024 S. 5th St., later this year, as well as cooking demonstrations at Vegetarian Expo May 6 at Hart Park in Wauwatosa.

Adventures while eating

My family is from the Midwest, but I grew up overseas. My parents were and are very adventurous eaters. They encouraged us to try everything. We ate guacamole and Indian food long before most people knew it. I think it opened my mind to experience food.

The beginnings of Béatrix

I lived in England when I was a child. My mother always read Beatrix Potter books to us. We didn’t have a lot of money and my dad was in the military. We would pile into our van and visit castles, villages and things like that on the weekends. Seeing the landscape and reading the books is a beautiful memory.

Love of vegetables

I have always liked vegetables. My mom told me when I was a kid that I would always choose to eat vegetables, not meat. When I was 16, I became a vegetarian. I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years, dairy free and vegan.

Cooking lessons

My grandparents had a farm. Now my parents have the farm in Kansas with 80 acres. When we came back to the United States, we went to the farm. My grandmother was this chubby, happy, super crazy, laugh-loving woman who cooked everything from scratch, from sauces to cookies.

One of my favorite dishes that I made with my grandmother was the cream of new potatoes with peas. We would go to the garden to get the baby potatoes and the peas, then we would go to the kitchen to make a roux and pour it over the vegetables with salt and pepper. That was it. It was fresh from the garden, but still decadent. It was a side dish that I loved.

My grandmother was such a gardener and cook that when we buried her, we buried her without shoes. She liked to be barefoot in the garden.

Rabbit food, reinvented

Many people see vegetarian food as hummus and sprouts. I want people to see vegetarian as a reinvention not only of traditional dishes, but also in a surprising way focusing on the flavors of the world. I am not only interested in reinventing the carrot, but in reinventing the protein on the plate, even the potato or different ways with bread.

What’s been really delicious about this trip is that a lot of omnivores say, “Oh my God, isn’t there any meat in there? The surprise is the best part.

Speaking of surprise

Seitan was the most surprising to people. I like to share with people that it is cholesterol free and virtually oil free. You can do anything with it. You can bread it and pan fry it, grill it, bake it in the oven. We make scallops with and tacos. It’s like a chicken breast: a blank canvas.

Vegan and versatile

I feel like there is a gap in Milwaukee for food like this. I think people are looking for it. Healthy, whole foods, clean but still fun and exciting and new, but somehow always comforting foods. People can do it with meat, but it’s more amazing for me to do it without meat or dairy.

In his pantry

I imported Chinese peppercorns from Sichuan. What people call Sichuan here is not what they have there. I also have an Indian black salt. It smells like madness, like sulfur. Once I spill it and the whole kitchen smells bad, but in food, if you use it in the right proportions, it can be really delicious.

Favorite food gift

Home cooked meals. When you are sick or moving in and someone brings cookies, a casserole or a soup, this is the best gift. It’s way better than anything you can get in the store.

Milwaukee Meal

I like Jing’s in the third room, and I like Siam, and the owner Joy makes you feel like you are at home.

His own rabbit

Last summer, we adopted a rabbit from a farm in Viroqua. Alastair has his own Instagram.

Day trip destination

We love going to Viroqua. It’s our weekend. I love the co-op there and the quality of the produce is fantastic, as well as great beer and great food. Definitely worth the detour. I still have a lot to explore.

Fork. Spoon. Life. explores the daily relationship that local notables (within and outside the food community) have with food. To suggest future personalities to profile, send an email[email protected].

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Raymond I. Langston

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