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Vegging out

Cookbook author and Springs native makes it big in U.K.


Vegetarian cookbook author and Springs native Celia Brooks Brown in search of fresh nectarines.
  • Vegetarian cookbook author and Springs native Celia Brooks Brown in search of fresh nectarines.

As gardening books and plant catalogs capture me each spring, fall is the season when I fall for cookbooks.

None have enthralled me as much as two by Colorado Springs native-turned-British expat and vegetarian caterer to the stars, Celia Brooks Brown: New Vegetarian, published in 2001, and the recently published Entertaining Vegetarians (U.S. title, Party Food for Vegetarians).

Both offer gorgeous photographs and luscious recipes; both are easily at home on the coffee table as well as the cook's work counter.

New Vegetarian covers breakfast through dessert, and begins with sections on basic nutrition and basic vegetarian ingredients. Recipes for dishes like Roasted Teriyaki Tofu Steaks served over Glazed Green Vegetables (broccoli, leeks, bok choy and fennel) and Chestnut Spinach and Mushroom Phyllo Torte are fancy enough for any dinner party (and simple enough you'll have time to enjoy your party.)

Party Food for Vegetarians similarly balances entertaining tips, including entertaining survival staples, with recipes that inspire: Sweet Onion & Ricotta Cheesecake with Cranberries & Sage; Ricotta & Herb Dumplings with Vodka & Porcini Butter Sauce; or Asparagus Tart accompanied by a Warm Mushroom Salad with Creamy Caper Dressing, to name a few.

In a recent interview, Brooks Brown described her inspirations, her life Vegging Out on television, cooking for the stars -- and growing up in Colorado Springs.

Celia Brooks Brown: Colorado Springs was a lovely place to grow up and I still call it home. I look forward to my annual visit and absolutely hate being so far away from my family and the mountains, but London is a much better place to do my business. I went to Bristol Elementary, Holmes Junior High, Fountain Valley and a brief stint at Palmer before I started at CC at age 16 (eek -- too young) and left for London [at] age 19. I did a lot of hanging out in my teen-age years at Poor Richard's (great veggie food), Michelle's (killer sundaes), and worked through my college years at Panino's on Tejon, which was then called Pizza Plus -- I literally lived on veg paninos and it's still my first stop when I come home.

Indy: What took you to England?

CBB: My parents took me to England when I was 2 for one year and I still have memories from that time. My love affair with the U.K. started then and I always dreamed of living in London. At college I majored in drama so it seemed the best place to go to direct plays. I went to London in January 1989, originally on a work-study program in a theater and never came back (not to live, anyway). Cooking was not at all a part of my life until I moved to London -- it eventually replaced directing as my creative outlet. Actually there are a lot of parallels -- in both, it's creating something enjoyable for an audience -- only now I use vegetables instead of actors.

Indy: Why did you become a vegetarian?


CBB: Even as a child I didn't like the taste of meat, but naively I did eat typical American junk like hamburgers and hotdogs -- the worst kind! When I moved to London, there was a salmonella scare. Although it was mostly to do with eggs, it illuminated the horrors of mass chicken farming and put me off all meat for good. I still use eggs but strictly organic ones.

Indy: Have you encountered any obstacles to a vegetarian lifestyle in England?

CBB: It astonishes me, but although nearly 10 percent of the U.K. population are vegetarian, there's still a huge stigma attached to vegetarian food and some people still expect it to be brown, boring and unsatisfying. I have made it my mission to prove them wrong and to create recipes that even the staunchiest carnivore will relish.

Indy: Have you had any chef role models? Influential cookbooks?

CBB: I have never aspired to have a restaurant but I have huge admiration for people who do, such as Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers from the River Cafe in London. I'm a big fan of Donna Hay, an Australian who is a prolific writer of cookbooks such as The New Cook and Food Fast.

My very first cookbook and the one [that] inspired me from the very beginning was The Moosewood Cookbook by Molly Katzen. It really is from the "socks and sandals" era of vegetarian food but I just love the warm spirit that comes through her words and illustrations.

Indy: Which do you enjoy most: cooking, writing, eating, performing?

CBB: That's tough! They're all so delightfully intertwined in my life, but I guess cooking wins. The act of cooking sends my mind and all my senses into a passionate frenzy, which I can convert into something tangible and edible for others to enjoy. For me, cooking is an act of love. Having made it into a career, I use whatever platform is available to me to get my ideas across, be it writing, doing live demos, or appearing on TV. I wrote and presented a 25-part TV series called Vegging Out, which aired on the food channel in the U.K., and now I appear about once a month cooking on a live food program.

Indy: Any catering stories you'd like to share?

CBB: I guess some of the celebrity stories are the most interesting. When I was Stanley Kubrick's chef (his widow is still a good friend and I cook for her almost every week), he had Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman for dinner when they were filming Eyes Wide Shut. I was a little nervous but Stanley introduced me to them as "the best vegetarian cook in the world," which was very confidence-inspiring. Tom said, "Nice to meet you, I'm Tom Cruise." I was like, DUH! Then Nicole wouldn't eat -- she said she'd already eaten -- but now you know how she stays so slim!

The hardest thing I've ever had to do was to cook for Stanley's wake -- 250 people including lots of Hollywood bigwigs -- at very short notice and with no help. I wanted to make all of his favorite foods, which included baked salmon and handmade bagels. The day before, I made 60 bagels from scratch with tears streaming down my face as a gesture of love and grief. The next day they were all hard as rock and were inedible. It was truly awful watching people like Steven Spielberg and Matthew Modine try to bite into my concrete bagels.


Recently I've been cooking for fashion designer Stella McCartney. She asked me to make a gigantic two-layer chocolate heart-shaped birthday cake for her new husband along with some party nibbles. I took it to her house and it was a really hot day. As I was icing the cake the whole thing broke up and collapsed in the heat. My heart was in my throat but I had to solve the problem, so I took all the pieces and wedged them back together again, making two single-layer heart cakes. So he got not one, but TWO birthday cakes; how's that for generosity?


Celia will be in Colorado Springs in early December. If you'd like to meet her on Dec. 8 and acquire a signed copy of Party Food for Vegetarians, e-mail or call 633-7977.

Slow Food started in Italy in 1986, went international in 1989, and came to Colorado Springs several years ago. The Slow Food Movement is characterized by a commitment to the enjoyment of taste, conviviality, hospitality and fresh food.

Its symbol is a snail, a gentle reminder that food is more than fuel, that fast is not necessarily better, that life offers us much to savor if we would only slow down.

Our local convivium (as chapters are called) has 80 members and a full calendar of upcoming events. Nonmembers are encouraged to attend, enjoy wonderful food and company, and learn more about the movement.

On Jan. 11, Brent Beavers chef/owner of Sencha and Richard Warner, chef/owner of Pueblos Steel City Diner will collaborate on a dinner at Sencha. The price has not yet been set; I, for one, would pay almost anything for food prepared by these guys (and throw in my new car if Richards wife Mary sends up some of her cookies).

The annual meeting of the Colorado Springs Slow Food Convivium is scheduled for March 21 at the Fine Arts Center. Each annual meeting celebrates a theme or particular food. Last years theme was emu; the decision for this year hasnt been made yet, but its sure to be one involving inventive dishes from local purveyors.

Slow Food is embarking on an exciting collaborative project in the Arts Depot area: artists, growers and restaurateurs will add their unique perspectives and expertise in the creation of a year-round indoor Farm & Art Market with food kiosks and art kiosks showing everything from watercolors to jazz performance. A permanent restaurant will be guided by the principles of the Slow Food movement -- use locally grown products and classic cooking techniques and bring the kind of hospitality one enjoys privately (at the home of friends, for example) into the public arena.

For information on these events or any aspect of Slow Food Colorado Springs, please contact Melinda Murphy, the local engine driving the vision, at 634-5581, x318, or via e-mail at

-- Nancy Harley

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