If you would prefer a printed softbound version of When Vegans (Almost) Rule the World, you can pick one up for just $11.99 at Amazon. Kindle eBook coming soon!

Meet America's First Vegan Superhero - The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero
Available in either softbound or Kindle/Nook/etc. eBook at Amazon

Vegan Street: The Community Web Portal of Marla Rose and John Beske


Marla interviews Fran Costigan – the queen of vegan desserts

Marla interviews Fran Costigan – the queen of vegan desserts
I first met Fran Costigan at Vegetarian Summerfest in the late 1990s. I was immediately impressed by her youthful, unpretentious, dynamic spirit. She could be doing cooking demos all day and still be a lively conversationalist. I became reacquainted with Fran through Facebook and because we had her come out to do a cooking demo at our second Chicago VeganMania. Once again, I was impressed by Fran’s unflagging warmth and “show much go on” spirit despite having started coming down with a cold the day before. In short, she’s an inspiration and she just came out with Vegan Chocolate, an amazing new cookbook (see our review). If you are at all interested in getting involved in the world of vegan pastry and chocolates, Fran Costigan is your hook up. Please enjoy this interview with a true vegan pioneer and all around goddess.

Marla Rose: How long have you been vegan?

Fran Costigan: I have been vegan for about 22 years. I didn’t pay attention to the exact date.

MR:  I know that you originally went vegan for health reasons. How has your consciousness about animals shifted along with your diet?

FC:  Someone said to me early on, "This change in your diet [to one that is plant-based] will completely change your life."  I didn’t get it at the time, but in fact, what started as a dietary change was the catalyst for enormous change.  I learned very quickly about the horrors of animal abuse for food, clothes, testing meds and more.  It is impossible to ignore or compartmentalize. I learned about other issues too; chemicals on our food that harm growers, consumers, and the earth, and that slavery, including children as slaves, shamefully still exists today in the production of sugar and chocolate, and much more.

MR:  What changes have you noticed in the vegan landscape since you first went vegan?

FC:  As the vegan population continues to grow exponentially, everything has changed. Sales of plant milks (and now they taste good) are surpassing those of dairy milks. Vegan restaurants were few when I eliminated animal foods, and I don’t remember any that were upscale or appealing to both vegan and omnivores. Vegan in a cookbook title is now a positive marketing term actively sought by publishers, and there is really are vegan cookbooks for everyone from absolute beginners to professional chefs.

You’ve been traveling a lot over the years as someone who does cooking demos, public speaking and book tours. What community has surprised you the most with its vegan offerings?

I still pack my own food snacks when I travel but traveling and eating as a vegan is infinitely easier. In Paris, I ate a perfect meal at Krishna Bhavan, and picked up grilled veggie box and hummus at Charles de Gaulle Airport, and London’s many ethnic restaurants kept me satisfied. I’m just back from Atlanta, GA, where I taught a packed class at a non-veg cooking school (the Cooks Warehouse in Decatur), and did a demo at the Atlanta VegFest. My family was in Atlanta, too, for a party and we all ate together: tofu scramble at Highland Cafe and very good collard wrap at Souper Jenny. There is almost always good vegan food to be found. And if not, ask for it. You may need to do some ‘teaching’- “No fish isn’t actually vegan” - but I find most of the time, I’ve been fed, while doing some gentle outreach.

MR:  If you could tell your students one main message about creating vegan desserts, what would it be?

FC:  Make absolutely delicious and beautiful desserts that happen to be vegan and make them without compromise. Use quality, real food ingredients; seasonal, ethical and organic, and measure carefully. Let the desserts speak for themselves first, before announcing that they’re vegan. Then do so proudly.

MR:  Vegan baked goods have gone through some growing pains from the early days. What do you think were the mistakes 15 years ago, and what do you think are the strengths today? How about in your own baking?

FC:  Cookbooks and cooks were using not considering the different flavor profiles or properties of sweeteners, and in some cases, not even differentiating between liquid and dry sweeteners. It is no wonder cakes were dry or gummy. Whole wheat flour, which makes tough cakes, was often used instead of the lower-gluten whole wheat pastry flour.

I was served a so-called chocolate cake early on. It was brown, but there was no hint of chocolate in this cake, and that’s because it was a carob cake. Now, there is nothing wrong with carob, but it is not chocolate. Today we have a vast choice in sweeteners and flours and premium ingredients, including high percentage chocolates and good cocoa powders are readily available. (Chocolate was always a bean!) I don’t use anything fake. I tool the foundational technique I learned from the omni pastry kitchen to the vegan pastry kitchen and applied it to developing excellent, reliable desserts that can be made by and enjoyed by everyone. Bake happy using quality ingredients. (I’m saying this a lot but it is important. Ask my Vegan Baking Boot Camp Intensive® **

MR:  Are there any trends in vegan cuisine that are intriguing to you?

FC:  It is hearing vegan named as a cuisine - like Italian or French or Indian, etc. - that intrigues me the most. I welcome themed dinners like the very special ones Lagusta Umami does in the summer. I’ve also seen more vegan menus that do not list any tofu or tempeh options, and the astonishing vegan cheese plates made with nondairy cheese, which are cultured just like dairy cheese.

MR:  If you were going to create a meal for anyone (living or dead), who would they be and what would you cook?

FC:  I’d make a meal for my mother-in-law, Wini, who encouraged my love of cooking and cheered me on when I decided to go to restaurant school.

I’d make her a creamy creamless squash soup with a drizzle of cashew cream. I’d never even seen a squash before Wini served it to me, but to this day I remember wishing I could have more for desserts. (I’d grown up eating canned peas and carrots.) My vegan cornbread would be on the menu, as would the Brooklyn Blackout Cake a la mode. These were foods that Wini served frequently. She was an early follower of Adelle Davis and believed that food and health were linked. I was recently given a dozen or so of her handwritten recipe cards and realized that she was using oils instead of butter or margarine, some of the time, and using some whole grain flours.

MR:  Time for the proverbial last meal question: what do you hope it will be?

FC:  Marla, I hope it'll be a very long time from now. I could not eat all this food, but I’d like to taste the following.

The Lobster Mushroom Cocktail at Crossroads in LA
The BBQ Tempeh plate served at Candle 79 or Candle Café West.
A raw kale salad and a very small slice of both The Chocolate Cake to Live For (the cake that cracked the code) and The Brooklyn Blackout Cake, which reminds me of happy days with my grandparents- I’d make the cakes if I could. But now with the publication of Vegan Chocolate, I could ask friends and family.
A glass of a good bold red wine––vegan versions are definitely available.

MR:  Thank you, Fran! We’re so lucky to have you and are sending you the best for you and all of your culinary adventures, current and future. Thanks for all you do.

© 2013, 2014, Vegan Street

About Us
Marla's RecipesThe Daily MemeHome Eco
Vegan Living
Reviews and Interviews
The Vegan Street Store
The Vegan Street GuidesVegan Feminist Agitator (Marla's Blog)John Beske Communications (Vegan Advertising & Design)The Adverntures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero (Marla's Novel)Chicago VeganMania (a festival we help create)Home
our Facebook page our YouTube channel
our Twitter page our Pinterest page our Instagram page