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Food + Cooking

Alicia Silverstone: Kind, Not Clueless

Published in Gourmet Live 03.16.11
The actress and Kind Diet author dishes to Victoria Recaño
Alicia Silverstone

Alicia Silverstone has made the jump from the big screen to the kitchen. The actress who delighted as Batgirl, won a Golden Globe nomination for TV’s “Miss Match,” ruled as Cher in the iconic 1995 Clueless, and has three new movies in the works, now has a second career as a New York Times best-selling cookbook author. The Kind Diet, a guide to eating and living vegan, has just been released in paperback. From anecdotes about her personal journey to a plant-based diet, to family recipes for animal- and dairy-free meals, the author and mom-to-be serves up lifestyle lessons alongside her Radicchio Pizza with Truffle Oil, Pecan-Crusted Seitan and Lemon-Poppy Seed Poundcake. Silverstone sat down with Gourmet Live to talk about her cooking-crazy friends, her penchant for peanut butter cups and how the whole world’s going a little veggie.

Gourmet Live: What is the concept of The Kind Diet?

Alicia Silverstone: I wanted people to have an opportunity to really be kind to themselves—once and for all, have everything they ever dreamed of, like the strongest immune system, the most beautiful skin, increased energy so they are just so vital, and reduced risk of illnessfrom the really scary ones like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis to allergies and asthma. The great news is that in that process you are also being kind to the planet and also kind to other creatures and also kind to children and people of the world who have no food. So it really just sums up what is possible through our food choices. That’s what I was trying to do.

GL: What is your blueprint for a good way to eat on a daily basis?

AS: It’s really about picking foods that are nourishing your organs and filling your system with pure life energy and not taxing it or exhausting it and making it all work harder. In the book, I divide it into sort of nasty foods versus kind foods, and we go through what those nasty foods are. And as long as you avoid those nasty foods as much as you can and add as many kind foods as much as you can, you really are on a good track. The main goal of this book is to inspire and excite people. There’s no pressure or judgment if you can’t do it or you don’t do it perfectly. Even if at the end of the book, you made a few small choices or changes in your diet, that could change your life.

GL: What are your favorite recipes in the book?

AS: You know I am never going to say no to my artichoke, mushroom and leek crostini with pesto, or my pumpkin bread, or my traditional English breakfast. Or this morning I had my quick oatmeal, which is done with dates, apples and cinnamon. Or peach crumble or the chocolate peanut butter cups. My God... they are so good.

GL: How did you select the recipes?

AS: I’ve been collecting them over the last 10 years. There are things in there I’ve been making from the time I made these changes in my life. For example, my mother’s granola—that was something I grew up on. When I was a little girl I remember waking up to that smell, and it was so incredible. She would make a huge batch of it once a week, and it was so good. I just made it a little healthier. So it still tastes as delicious, but I use better quality ingredients. My mom always loved cheesecake so I tried to make a really healthy cheesecake and just converted a regular one into a healthier one. And then some recipes are ones my husband and I have made up over the years. And some are ones I’ve been taught.

GL: Who taught you how to cook?

AS: I learned from needing to eat, and playing with different recipe books. But I also had a lot of friends that cook—my dear friends Woody and Laura, my friend Renee—they were always cooking so I would just cook with them. Juliano was a raw foods chef, and I would play around with him sometimes. I had a lot of friends that were very into cooking!

GL: What is your favorite dish to cook?

AS: All my favorites thus far are in my book, then I’m working on my new favorites for another book. But right now I do have some go-to meals for parties. Usually I make my Moroccan couscous with saffron with my lentil sweet potato stew and a cheesecake or a crumble. Or I might make my waffle sausage and cheese panini. They are so good.

GL: Has your pregnancy posed any challenges with your diet? Any odd cravings?

AS: No, not at all.

GL: Any plans to create a baby diet book like this?

AS: For sure.

GL: What are you planning for your baby’s diet?

AS: Well, I don’t want to talk about that stuff yet because it feels a little too personal yet to reveal. I would love to gush to you about it, but it feels like I should wait. It feels like bad luck.

GL: I understand, so what is the best meal you have ever had?

AS: That’s not even fair! I often wonder though. I should start keeping track of the menus of my favorite meals because I’ve had some incredible meals over the years. Probably it’s The French Laundry, a really, really fancy-pants restaurant. They do these incredible vegan menus. I’m making crazy noises throughout the entire meal, and I look around and feel bad for everybody cause they’re not having what I’m having.

GL: Was it difficult to cut out meat and dairy? How were you able to do it?

AS: It’s not hard when you have really strong motivation, not hard at all. I really want people to realize it’s not about making drastic changes. Ideally, what would happen in my fantasy plan is people would read the book and really become inspired. Do they want to feel better than they’ve ever felt? Do they want to look better than they’ve ever looked? Maybe they have some illnesses they are trying to tackle and they’re excited and inspired to really change that.

GL: What was your inspiration to write the book?

AS: There are so many different things. It had been years of me helping friends. I had friends who didn’t poo. They pooed, like, every 10 days. There are a lot of people out there who are closet not-pooers. They just aren’t doing it. They would tell me this, and I would go into shock. I’m like: what? And I would help them. Or there were people who had cancer, and I would try and help them by directing them to different counselors and trying to get them to eat differently. There were many different things, and I was seeing such positive results around me, seeing people changing constantly. I would give them all this paper work. And then once I got savvy with the Internet, I was giving them all these documents on email. Then people just kept saying: “This is a book!” I said I know but I couldn’t even imagine at the time taking the time to do it because it just sounded so epic.

GL: What is the most underrated ingredient?

AS: Umeboshi Plum vinegar. When I turn chefs onto umeboshi plum vinegar, they go into shock. It is so delicious. It is really, really an amazing ingredient. I always say it makes everything better. That and toasted seeds. Fresh herbs are so lovely.

GL: What is your guilty food pleasure? Chocolate peanut butter cups?

AS: Yeah... But I don’t even feel that guilty if I eat those. Though if I ate them everyday, I would feel very guilty!

GL: Are there any foods you always feel guilty for eating?

AS: If I ever have anything that isn’t vegan, I feel guilty. But, we live in an imperfect world. If my recipes were being made everywhere I went, I’d eat like a princess all the time and so would everybody else. But you know sometimes if you haven’t eaten and somebody made a lasagna or something... I’m making this up. I have no idea. In my 14 years, it doesn’t happen often.

GL: What are the top five ingredients that you always have on your shopping list?

AS: Well, I go to the farmers market every Sunday. I always feel like I have to have in the refrigerator: greens—collards or kale or cabbage. I always need lemons around. Lemons just make me really happy. I love to use umeboshi plum vinegar mixed with flax seed oil. I love to have sunflower seeds so I can toast them. You need good shoyu, Earth balanced butter and vegenaise.

GL: If you were planning the perfect dinner party what would it be?

AS: If it’s not my couscous or lentil sweet potato stew... We’ve had fun cupcake parties at our house, where everybody makes a vegan cupcake, and everybody shares and tastes different flavors. It’s super fun with champagne. I’d have an afternoon party with lovely new people that I’m really excited about who are warm and funny and passionate and truthful and interesting, and we could all share delicious food and maybe some yummy wine. And radicchio pizza with truffle oil!

GL: Is it ever a challenge to eat vegan on the road? What do you order from room service?

AS: Some hotels are so hip, they totally have soy milk or groovy ingredients or they’re making tofu scrambles. But if you’re someplace where the hotel isn’t so hip, you can’t go wrong with some really good sourdough toast, some avocado slices and maybe some tomato slices, but the avocado spread on the toast with some salt and pepper can be really yummy. You can’t go wrong with some oatmeal. We always just order some oatmeal in a dire situation, and that seems to do just fine. I can’t say that oatmeal makes me feel like I’m having the greatest meal in the world, but it certainly tastes good and feels good.

GL: What is your prediction for the next big food trend?

AS: I think we’re in it. I think it’s going to stay. When Bill Clinton said he was following a plant-based diet—and in the process he lost 25 or 35 pounds and he looked amazing at Chelsea’s wedding—I think when those kinds of big people in our culture are waking up to the potential of their health and seeing what’s possible. And Mario Batali is doing meatless Mondays, constantly encouraging people to eat more veggies, because I think he has got so many vegan friends. And there are tons of chefs who are doing it. And you start to realize it’s coming around, and it’s just getting more and more popular. The good news is the secret is out. This is how you do it. There are no more debates about it. Everybody knows this is the way.

GL: How has this diet affected your life?

AS: Everything about my life changing and me getting off an asthma inhaler and off of allergy shots and not needing a doctor anymore and not needing antibiotics for anything and having really clear glowing skin, which I didn’t use to have& Having really white eyes, having really strong nails that you cannot bend, these are all things I didn’t have before. I had acne. I was a little chunkier. My nails were really fragile and brittle, breaking all the time. My eyes were not as clear. You know, all those things are completely different now, and all because of my diet. I’m getting younger instead of older. I feel more vibrant. I feel more whole, and I know that is because of my diet. If you go to my website, thekindlife.com you have people writing in everyday about how they got off their thyroid medication or their diabetes medication since doing this plan. I don’t mean they just threw it away. They went to the doctor and they had their blood tests and they went for their check-ups and the doctor’s like: You’re getting much better. What’s going on?

GL: So which are your favorite places for vegan food?

AS: In New York, go to Candle 79 and order the Seitan Picata and this peanut butter chocolate crazy mousse thing at the end. It is so good. And then in LA, you should go to Real Food Daily. Get the nachos, but get them plain. Don’t get them with the taco meat. And get it with regular cheese, not jalapeno cheese to start, and then you can always graduate to the other crazy ingredients. And the Reuben sandwich, too, with sliced tomatoes. And there’s also a restaurant in Venice called Shima that is so amazing—it’s a regular Japanese restaurant so they have fish and stuff like that, but they have this homemade organic tofu that tastes like pudding. All their desserts are so beautifully made, and they don’t use sugar. They use only brown rice. And there is also a restaurant called Elf. It’s so sexy in there. And for breakfast, I would go to M Cafe for the vegan Benedict. And I would go to Real Food Daily on Sunday for the full French toast and omelet experience. It is unbelievable.

GL: Finally, you have a new Eco-friendly cosmetic bag and brush collection coming out?

AS: They are just so pretty, soft and yummy on your skin. They are all made with really groovy ingredients. The brushes are made with bamboo and recycled metal, and the bags are made with hemp and vegetable dyes instead of the regular icky stuff. We don’t even use paper. It is all stone paper, which we are reusing from construction sites, and the plastic is all recycled plastic. So it is pretty wonderful. And, all that aside, it doesn’t matter. They are just beautiful.