Fran Costigan is the undisputed grande dame of vegan baking. With her book Vegan Chocolate, released in 2013, she became the go-to source for how to make decadent and delicious chocolate desserts with only good ingredients (there’s no margarine in there). Once an instructor at the Natural Gourmet Institute, she’s now director of vegan baking and pastry at Rouxbe Cooking School and is launching a vegan baking intensive there in fall 2016.
It’ll be a very busy time for the classically trained pastry chef, who is also leading a 9-day tour of Sicily through Vegano Italiano Tours. Before she gets to all of that, though, we were able to talk to the lifelong New Yorker about where she goes out to eat in the city. Think of it as a Meatless Monday dining guide.
“In my neighborhood, Candle Café West is my regular place. For a special occasion or if I have people coming into town, I will tend to go to Candle 79, but I like the café anytime.
“I love Hangwai anytime, but especially when I’m looking to quiet things down. You know if you’ve been that you get that take off your shoes vibe and that Zen experience. The food is so beautifully presented and the atmosphere is peaceful. I recently took some high school friends that I reconnected with who are not vegan to Hangawi and they went crazy. They loved it.”
“Now for the special, special occasion—meaning it’s quite pricey but still worth it—it’s Kajitsu. It’s Shojin cuisine, so the place isn’t swanky-looking, but it’s quiet and beautiful and it’s actually Michelin starred. There are seatings because they’re long meals; I think you select a five-dish tasting menu or seven. But what’s very interesting is that the first of every month, the menu changes. It’s absolutely seasonal, and it’s elegant and it’s quiet and it’s just gorgeous. What can be done with these vegetables always astonishes me as a chef, and here there are some vegetables that we don’t always see, but I love the way it starts with the server coming around with a great big basket of what they’re going to be using that particular month.”
“I can’t get enough of Dirt Candy.”
“Right after it opened, I was probably there four times in a row. You learn, ‘Okay, I really like this place. I’m just going to make a reservation in advance.’ Both at Dirt Candy and Avant Garden, I like sitting at the counter. I like watching the chefs do what they do; I find it really fascinating. Whether you go with a group or another person or as a solo diner, when you’re sitting at that counter, it’s really fun.”