On Wednesday night the longtime animal-rights activist, philanthropist, businesswoman, and Quest favorite Cornelia Guest was the toast of the town at a party given in her honor by John Demsey at his uptown townhouse.
Guest was fêted by an A-List crowd (including everyone from Carolina Herrera and Iris Apfel to Leonard Lauder and Stefano Tonchi) for the launch of her newly released book, “Cornelia Guest’s Simple Pleasures: Healthy Seasonal Cooking & Easy Entertaining.” Published by Weinstein Books, Simple Pleasures reveals Guest’s secrets of understated elegance, effortless entertaining, and the comforts of simple, delicious food that is free from animal products.
Organized by season, each section begins with a sample menu and contains recipes for beverages, starters, soups, salads, pasta, side dishes, main courses, and desserts that take advantage of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables.
On the occasion of her book’s release, Quest’s Megan Malloy sat down with Ms. Guest to talk about the author’s childhood, where she first learned to cook, and some of her secrets for easy entertaining this summer or any time of the year.
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QM: Who first taught you how to cook?
CG: Our chef, Roger. When I was little I had a governess whom I called Maze, and all the guys at the barn would cook.
QM: What aspects of healthy, wholesome eating did you have to explore and cultivate on your own?
CG: Not using meat, chicken, or fish. I grew up in a house where we ate everything and I had to figure out ways to not use any animal products.
QM: How has your love of animals characterized the way you eat and entertain?
CG: I don’t hurt them. They are represented throughout my house in paintings, statues, books, stuffed animals, and in real life.
CG: It’s not that hard, and everything in Simple Pleasures can be used in addition to. If you are having a hard time letting go of a particular meat, make one of the salads, desserts, etc. in the book, and see that you can have a yummy, satisfying meal without it. Or if you can’t give it up, you can still use the recipes and just add meat.
QM: You grew up in a household filled with incredible people, from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Andy Warhol. What secrets of entertaining did your parents impart to you?
CG: Keep it simple. Make sure there is a lot of food, plenty of drinks, and when something goes wrong, don’t ever let anyone know about it.
CG: They get nervous and take everything too seriously and try to be perfect. Just have fun! You don’t want it be pretentious. And don’t wait for latecomers to eat.
QM: What are some of the more unexpected decorations you’ve used to liven up the dinner table?
CG: I use everything…pinecones, vegetables, anything I can get my hands on (flowers, etc.), but nothing goes to waste. If I use fruit or veggies as a centerpiece, it will be used. I don’t believe in wasting anything.
CG: Our Christmas Eve black-tie dinner.
QM: What is your favorite meal to whip up after a relaxing day on the beach?
CG: Grilled corn salad with avocado and tomato tarte tatin.
Cornelia Guest portrait by Bruce Weber.