When is a cookbook more than just a collection of recipes? When some of the brightest stars in show business and icons from the world of sports and business contribute family secrets for a wonderful cause.
Star Palate: Celebrity Cookbook for a Cure includes 79 favorite recipes, full-color photos and personal notes from the likes of Robin Williams, Katie Couric, Jay Leno, Quincy Jones, Celine Dion, Emeril Lagasse, Bill Gates, Tim McGraw, Dr. Phil and Andre Agassi. The collection was published to benefit the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
The recipes, the artwork and even the printing were donated, to assure that every penny of the proceeds would be given to charity. The project was underwritten by the Seattle-based biotech company Cell Therapeutics.
The book is dedicated to the memory of Revella Bensussen and Marsha Rivkin, two women who lost their fight against ovarian cancer, but have inspired others to find a cure for the deadly disease. Dr. Saul Rivkin of Mercer Island and his five daughters founded the research center that bears his late wife’s name in 1994 in cooperation with Swedish Medical Center.
“The book is nice enough to be a coffee table book, but most cooks will never let it out of the kitchen,” said Gloria Bensussen, who began volunteering for the non-profit center four years ago after her mother-in-law of only six months died from ovarian cancer. She later joined the board of directors and helped develop the cookbook from the idea stage to its final press run.
“This book was a tribute to the love that my mother inspired in every life she came in contact with,” said Eric Bensussen, who joined his wife on the steering committee to lend his business and marketing expertise to the project. “Gloria only knew my mother for a short time. Her work on this book tells you how special their relationship really was.”
Eric grew up in the Seward Park community in Seattle. He and Gloria now live in Bellevue with their son Ethan and are members of Temple B’nai Torah.
The two-year mission that culminated in the 180-page celebrity cook book was inspired by Tami Agassi, the sister of tennis superstar Andre Agassi, who co-wrote the book with Northwest chef Kathy Casey.
Tami Agassi was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30, six months before her mother’s doctor detected a lump in her mother’s breast as well. Five years later they are both living cancer-free and Tami has dedicated her resources to helping others fight the disease as executive director of the Rivkin Center.
More than 80,000 copies of Star Palate: Celebrity Cookbook for a Cure were pre-sold before the book was published in October. A nationwide promotional tour has taken Agassi, Casey and their supporting staff across the country, including a stop in New York this fall for appearances on the “Today” show and “Good Morning America.”
Emmy-award winning journalist Ann Curry of “Today” was the first contributor to the book, when she submitted her recipe for pasta puttanesca. Curry jumped at the chance to join the cause as a tribute to her sister, Jean Hodson, a cancer survivor.
“We did not miss a chance to plug the book every chance we had,” explained Gloria Bensussen with a sly smile. “Everybody—and I mean everybody—has come forward to help our cause. The book was promoted shamelessly whenever Andre Agassi was on center court during the U.S. Open.”
Many of the recipes come directly from the celebrities’ own recipe box, including a family formula from Britney Spears and her mother Lynn for seafood pasta that was submitted on a recipe card decorated with flowers.
A photo of the celebrity accompanies each recipe. According to Bensussen, Andre Agassi was so unhappy with the photo of his trademark rosemary roast turkey with red wine cranberry relish, the bird did not make it on the page with Agassi, his wife Stefanie Graf and their two children. A cheesecake shot of Anna Kournikova shares the double-page spread with the retired tennis player’s recipe for Ukrainian borscht.
Comedian Robin Williams posed for his picture with his personal chef, John Mathias. Williams’ wife decided it was better to submit his chef’s classic pot roast than the only thing the actor cooks for himself: cold cereal and coffee.
Joan Rivers did submit her recipe for white bread toast. The comedian added that her family recipe calls for raisin toast on special occasions. Jay Leno, pictured in one of his many collector cars, shared his Uncle Louie’s recipe for chicken wings marinara.
Country singer Tim McGraw, who lost his father to cancer last year, contributed his personal instructions for chicken and dumplings. A mouthwatering photo of an heirloom tomato sandwich from Tony Danza highlights the comfort food section of the book.
Amy Grant flashes her trademark smile on the page opposite her grandmother’s secret recipe for banana nut bread. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg shares his formula for baked beans, while Microsoft’s Bill Gates opens his family’s window to his Gami’s clam chowder.
Gates is pictured on the page with his grandmother’s recipe with his sister, Libby Gates Armintrout. A picture of the Gates family around the Christmas tree in 1972 runs adjacent to the book’s foreword, written by Armintrout in a stirring tribute to another cancer victim: their mother, Mary Gates.
Despite her girlish figure, Bensussen claims to have tried virtually every recipe in the book. She said many of the planning meetings featured one or more entry from the Star Palate.
She claims that her favorite entry from the book is the penne al funghi, submitted by actor Pierce Brosnan. She refused to elaborate, however, if it was the pasta or the photo of 007 that keeps her coming back to the same page.
Star Palate: Celebrity Cookbook for a Cure is available at most major bookstores as well as through Amazon.com. According to Bensussen, Amazon.com President Jeff Bezos promised to return a portion of the profit from the $29.95 selling price in memory to his own grandmother who had breast cancer. The book will also be available at Temple B’nai Torah’s 36th anniversary weekend, from Jan. 21-23.