I’m excited to bring you the first interview in our new monthly Vegan Influencers Interview Series! There are so many amazing vegans taking the world by storm in the best, most delicious, compassionate, kind and inclusive way possible. Compassion is at the heart of veganism and everyone you will hear from in these interviews exemplifies that to the nth degree.
As the very first in our Vegan Influencers Interview Series, I bring you our interview with world renowned vegan pastry chef, Fran Costigan. Fran is a long-time (25 years) vegan, an extraordinary chef, teacher, cookbook author, innovative recipe creator, successful vegan entrepreneur and an all-round extraordinary person.
As a woman on a mission with a jam-packed schedule, I was beyond grateful and totally stoked when she said “yes” to this interview! And now, without further adieu, here’s our interview with Fran Costigan.
Vegan Influencers Interview Series: Fran Costigan
BCV:How long have you been vegan and what’s your vegan story?
Fran Costigan: I’ve been vegan for over 25 years. I do not have a veganniversary since I can’t remember the exact day but I remember the circumstance.
My story: After completing the professional chef program at New York Restaurant School, I was hired as a pastry chef at an upscale New York City gourmet take out food shop and charged with making all the daily baked goods and desserts. My desserts were popular and my work was interesting, but I never felt well. I had no choice but to stop working in order to try to deal with the mid-afternoon exhaustion, moods swings, stomach aches, and general malaise. During my time out, I read Annemarie Colbin’s landmark book, Food and Healing and had my first “aha, it’s the food” moment. I became a whole foods vegan overnight and felt great virtually immediately. Really!
For a time, thereafter, I became a member of what I now refer to as the dreaded food police and shunned all sweets. Then, not long after my epiphany, I remembered that sweet treats are celebratory and an important part of a balanced life. I investigated the vegan desserts on the market, and they were mediocre to awful. I could see why my mainstream pastry chef colleagues thought that vegan and the pastry arts were antithetical, so I hit the stores for ingredients and sequestered myself in my kitchen to start testing recipes.
While I was intensely testing, I enrolled in the Natural Gourmet Institute Chef’s Training Program, and worked as a pastry chef in a macrobiotic restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. Soon I was a pastry chef at the iconic vegan restaurant, Angelica Kitchen and teaching at the Natural Gourmet Institute. When I perfected my first chocolate cake, The Chocolate Cake to Live For, which was named by my tasters, I knew I had cracked the code! Now, we are talking about 25 plus years ago, and before vegan had become as mainstream as it is today.
Where I was an oddity, at that time, I find myself ever more frequently asked for interviews and vegan recipes by professional pastry magazines and organizations. And, some of my favorite pastry chefs have shared with me that they are or their child is allergic to eggs or dairy and in trying my recipes, they have found the flavors to be more intense. The absence of extra fat and anything artificial creates better flavors. There is no doubt that becoming a vegan has been very good for my career.
BCV: What was most challenging for you in the early days of being vegan?
Fran Costigan: The ingredients available were limited as were resources to buy them. Now, I do like and use today’s soymilk but I remember it tasting awful back in the day. Almond milk, nope, organic sweeteners, vegan cheeses, no such thing, and so on.
BCV: What inspired you to become a vegan pastry chef?
Fran Costigan: Before the Chocolate Cake to Live For win, my son, then a young teen, said, Mom, you can’t put a candle in a sweet potato and tell me that is my birthday cake! I knew he had a point. I went into the marketplace and looked for good vegan desserts. There were none, unless you liked dry or gummy, beige cakes and hard cookies. The few cookbooks with vegan recipes had it all wrong. You don’t need to be a pastry student to know that dry and liquid sweeteners will yield different results.
The last straw for me was being handed a brown cake, being told it was chocolate, only to find it was carob at first bite. I knew I could do better and I set my mind to it. I knew that people wanted and expected celebration desserts—vegans (and today, people with dietary considerations that have them eating vegan), have birthdays, weddings, bake sales and celebrate holidays. Desserts make people happy and I wanted to participate.
BCV: What drives you when you wake up everyday? What inspires you to keep doing what you do?
Fran Costigan: Everyday is different and I love the wide variety of work that I get to do. From online teaching at Rouxbe’s 90 Day Essential Vegan Desserts Course, which I developed with Rouxbe Cooking School, to demos and hands-on classes at spas, or corporations like Google, cruise ships, at a VegFest or a meat-centric festival looking at plant-forward cuisine, I am there and eager to participate. I feel that the work I do is healthy, for all of us, the animals, the planet and I want to do all that I can do to forward vegan as a cuisine, as a lifestyle. When people ask, isn’t it hard, I say, no, not at all, and can explain why. Ditto when I am asked about – you know, protein.
BCV: I know you’re working on exciting projects, as always. As the Director of Vegan Baking and Pastry at the renowned world’s leading online cooking school, Rouxbe, you teach students around the globe how to create delicious, decadent, and innovative vegan desserts. Can you tell us more about this initiative?
Fran Costigan: When I was approached by the co-founders of Rouxbe and asked to consider creating a 90 Day Essential Vegan Desserts Course, I was thrilled. To date my 5 day Vegan Baking Boot Camp at the Natural Gourmet Institute ran once or twice a year and with a cutoff of 14 students. There was always a wait list. Plus the cost of coming to NYC and the cost of the course was very high.
With an online course, I could reach hundreds, even thousands of people, around the world, who could access this course at their convenience as it is self-paced. I know my friend and colleague, Chad Sarno, was the creator and lead instructor of Rouxbe’s 6-month Professional Plant Based Course and the reviews were that it was excellent. Rouxbe Cooking School is the best online cooking platform out there. I am thrilled with the results we are getting and so are my grads. The next Essential Vegan Desserts Course, starts June 13th. [Enrollment now open!]
BCV: How do you manage to juggle teaching, events, writing books, etc.?
Fran Costigan: I’ve learned to be more organized, to prioritize and to ask for help!
BCV: What’s something about you that people may not know?
Fran Costigan: I am a very good savory cook! I’m recently back from a week at Rancho La Puerta where I was the Guest Visiting Chef. I developed and taught 2 different 7 course meals: Starter, Salad, Main, Grain, 2 Vegetables and of course dessert, all vegan of course and the guests were amazed. Of course, dessert was included and I heard that the Chocolate Cake to Live For was the topic of discussion on the early morning hikes following the classes.
BCV: What’s your favorite go-to food/meal when you need that burst of energy?
Fran Costigan: When I need a burst of energy, I eat or drink something that will provide that energy, but the what depends on the season. I am crazy for green juices, and all green smoothies, golden milk and a small piece of a dessert I’ve made, or a square of dark chocolate.
BCV: What’s your favorite dessert?
Fran Costigan: Are you kidding? That’s like asking which one is your favorite grandchild! Again, it depends on the season and my mood. I’m always up for The Ganache Glazed Chocolate Cake to Live for (RECIPE BELOW). I like crispy cookies. Sometimes a fruit dessert like the Biscuits and Balsamic Roasted Berries with Vanilla Cream or my new favorite, Baked Alaska, made possible with Aquafaba meringue.
BCV: As a veteran vegan, do you have any suggestions or advice for newbie vegans or those thinking about going vegan?
Fran Costigan: Change takes time. Find vegan versions of foods you like, and try new foods too.
Don’t be a candy bar vegan— eat healthy real foods, with lots of veggies, beans, grains, greens, fruit, and by the way, technically speaking, Cacao beans are a fruit!
BCV: As a vegan who’s traveled the globe, what are some of your favorite places or restaurants?
Fran Costigan: Out of NYC, Vedge and V Street, Crossroads Kitchen, Millenium, Café Flora, are just a few of the restaurants I enjoy visiting.
In NYC, I am a regular at Candle Cafe West and love Avant Garden, Dirt Candy, Superiority Burger. I’ve yet to get to Modern Love but will soon. In Italy, there were many excellent vegan restaurants (see my blogs).
Here’s the thing that people forget. You can eat very well in a non-vegan restaurant. I think it is best practices to call ahead but certainly let the server know. Don’t go ballistic if a mistake is made. Just point it out. Eat and be happy!
Thank You, Fran!!
And thank you too for checking out this interview. I hope you enjoyed it!
Fran Costigan is a remarkable chef, and equally, if not more so, remarkable person. With great empathy and compassion, she meets people where they are at. Veganism is an inclusive club – barriers to entry, none! All you need is the willingness to try and maybe some guidance along the way. Fran can help with that! Seeing the good in everything and everyone, she inspires me to do the same.
Keeping Up with Fran is a Real Treat too!
You can keep up with Fran on her awesome website Fran Costigan, and on social media. Check out her blog, Fran Costigan’s Blog. She posts regularly, sharing recipes, featuring other vegan rockstars (often sharing their recipes as well), doing giveaways, writing about her world travels – with beautiful photos, you’ll feel like you’re there! I visit her site often for a mental vacation. While you’re there you can sign up for her newsletter so you don’t miss a thing.
Fran has a rocking Facebook page, Fran Costigan Vegan Pastry Chef. You can find her on other social media platforms as well. On Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest her handle is @GoodCakesFran. If you want more information or to sign up for Fran’s 90-day online vegan desserts course head on over to Essential Vegan Desserts Course.
Recipe & Giveaway Time
If you have not tried Fran Costigan’s amazing desserts, well you are in for a treat! We are giving away Fran’s two cookbooks – her first cookbook Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally, and her latest cookbook Vegan Chocolate:Unaplogetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy Free Desserts to one lucky winner.
Vegan Cookbook Giveaway
This giveaway is open to anyone in the U.S. The winner will have 48 hours to respond to the notification email to claim their prize or a new winner will be drawn. The information you enter is collected by Rafflecopter and viewed by me in order to facilitate this giveaway.
Enter to win here!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
No matter the outcome of the giveaway, you are all winners! We’re sharing one of Fran’s recipes here!
We’re here for YOU & welcome your Questions & Comments!
If you have any questions, or comments, as always, we’d love to hear from you! Email me or drop a line below. When you try the recipes, please let us know what you, your family and/or friends thought.
Stay tuned for next month (you can sign up for blog post updates above), when we will interview another extraordinary vegan influencer. Until then, keep calm and vegan on!!
And now, as promised, published with permission from Fran Costigan from her cookbook, Vegan Chocolate:Unaplogetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy Free Desserts, here’s one of her favorites (and mine too!), the Chocolate Torte to Live For. Oh and by the way, some of my other favorites include Fran’s Vegan Twinkies recipe and her Vegan Chocolate Pudding.
Bittersweet Ganache Glazed Chocolate Torte to Live For Recipe
Makes One (9-Inch / 23-Cm) Torte, 8 to 10 Servings
1/2 cup / 70 grams organic whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup / 64 grams organic all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon / 31 grams Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup / 50 grams organic granulated sugar, finely ground in a blender
1 teaspoon / 5 grams aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon / 5 grams baking soda
1/2 teaspoon / 2.5 grams fine sea salt
1/4 cup / 60 ml mild tasting extra-virgin olive oil or organic neutral vegetable oil
1/2 cup / 120 ml pure maple syrup, Grade B or dark amber
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons / 210 ml any nondairy milk
1 1/2 teaspoons / 7.5 ml pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon chocolate extract (optional)
1 teaspoon / 5 ml apple cider vinegar
1 recipe Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Glaze (recipe follows)
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F / 180°C. Oil the sides and bottom of the cake pan and line the bottom with a parchment circle or paper cut to fit. Do not oil the paper.
Place a wire mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Add the pastry flour, all-purpose flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the strainer and stir with a whisk to sift the ingredients into the bowl. (If any small bits remain in the strainer, add them to the mixture in the bowl.) Whisk to aerate the mixture.
Whisk the oil, maple syrup, nondairy milk, vanilla, chocolate extract (if using), and vinegar in a separate medium bowl until completely combined. Immediately pour into the dry mixture and whisk until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into pan. Rotate the pan to level the batter and tap it lightly on the counter to get rid of some of the air bubbles.
Bake the cake on the center rack for 28 to 32 minutes, or until the top of the cake is set, the sides have started to pull away from the pan, and a wooden toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs.
Place the pan on a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Run a thin spatula around the sides of the cake to release the sides of the cake from the pan. Invert the layer onto the rack, remove the pan, and carefully peel off the parchment paper. Invert again, top side up on the rack, to cool completely. When the cake is completely cool, slide a cardboard circle or a flat plate underneath. Cover the cake tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold before glazing.
Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Glaze
Makes 2 cups/ 480ml
8 ounces / 227 grams dark chocolate (70 to 72%), finely chopped
1 1⁄4 cups / 300 ml organic almond milk, soymilk or coconut milk beverage (more as needed to adjust consistency)
2 tablespoons / 18 grams organic granulated sugar
Pinch fine sea salt
1 1⁄4 teaspoons / 6.25 ml pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons / 10 ml mild tasting extra-virgin olive oil
Add the chocolate to a heatproof bowl and set aside while you heat the milk.
Pour the milk into a small saucepan. Add the sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat, whisking a few times to a low boil.
Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat. Pour the hot milk over the chopped chocolate all at once. Rotate the bowl so the chocolate is completely submerged. Cover the bowl with a plate and let stand undisturbed for 4 minutes.
Add the vanilla and olive oil (if using) and whisk from the center out only until smooth and glossy.
Keep the bowl of ganache at room temperature while you test the final consistency. Dip a teaspoon into the ganache, set the coated spoon on a small plate, and refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes. After chilling, the ganache on the spoon should be smooth and firm, but should still taste creamy. It is unlikely, but if the glaze is too firm, add a tablespoon of room temperature milk, and repeat the test. Add a second tablespoon if needed.
Pass the ganache through a strainer into a bowl. Whisking slowly will speed the process.
Allow the ganache to thicken at room temperature for 15 to 25 minutes, or until it will coat a spoon thickly with minimal dripping, but remain pourable. Stir a few times from the outside into the center before glazing.
Keeping: The glaze can be refrigerated in a tightly closed container for up to five days and frozen for up to one month. The glaze hardens when it is cold and will need to be reheated. To reheat, spoon the glaze into a heatproof bowl that fits over a saucepan of barely simmering water. When about two-thirds of the glaze is melted, stir gently until it is smooth. Adjust the consistency as needed by stirring warm nondairy milk into the glaze a little at a time.