Interview with Mollie Katzen

by Kate Heyhoe

mollie katzen

I asked Mollie Katzen about how she gets her ideas for recipes. "It's part inspiration, part logic and part practicality," she said. "It could take an hour to explain, but ideas can come simply walking through the market. Or they may come to me completely spontaneously, while I'm cooking, as if a muse was channeling her creativity to me. But in the end, no matter where they come from, the recipes have to work. I stay away from way out ideas and tend to be more conservative and logical." Yet, it's precisely because her recipes do work, using simple techniques and ingredients, that Mollie has become so popular. Here's a bit more of Mollie's inspiring thoughts:


Mollie Katzen On Vegetarianism

Kate: "You chose vegetarianism as a teenager, I believe. Many kids choose vegetarian diets during adolescence. Do you have any tips for parents of vegetarian kids in carnivorous households? Any ways they can cook to feed the whole family without making two completely different meals?"

Mollie: "I never actually 'chose' vegetarianism, I just cut way back on meat until I realized I hadn't eaten any for 6 months and felt great! At the same time I was fascinated by vegetarian cooking, so I came to it that way.

"Many kids do choose to be vegetarians, often out of concern for the environment and for animals. But this doesn't necessarily mean they eat well or that they even eat vegetables! I advise parents of vegetarians to be sure their kids have enough protein (eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, tofu burgers, beans, etc.) and eat a minimum amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. I suggest making whole grains and salads for dinner and then giving the veg kid either a tofu burger or garden burger, some scrambled eggs or a simple omelet, or some meatless chili or refried beans. Make these latter two in larger quantities, then freeze them in one-serving portions for quick defrosting and reheating.

"Other good solutions: pasta dishes, pizzas with vegetables and cheese on top, bean soups, and 'make your own burritos' where the family members can add meat or not. It's not that much extra work to have vegetarian options. It just takes planning."


Mollie On Vegetables

vegetable heaven

Kate: "As do many Americans, I live in a small community where fresh vegetables of quality are hard to come by, especially in winter. Do you have any tips for people who enjoy fresh vegetables, but have a hard time finding them—any ways they can work around these limitations in the average supermarket?"

Mollie: "I am getting mail from people all over the country who are telling me that their produce merchants (or the person in charge of produce at their local supermarket) are very responsive to their requests for better quality, larger selections, and more organic fruits and vegetables. So I think a key thing to do is to get to know the produce buyer in your local store, and get some friends to go with you. Tell the merchant how important this is to you, and how much more you would buy if only it were available. They like to get this feedback. I think they will do their best to respond."

Kate: "Have you ever met a vegetable you didn't like? Seriously, are there any vegetables that you find hard to swallow? On a brighter note, what are Mollie's top favorite picks?"

Mollie: "I am not crazy about eggplant. I also never eat okra. Other than that, I mostly love vegetables, but it depends greatly on their freshness and how they are prepared. My personal faves are beets, dark leafy greens (especially mustard), fingerling potatoes, vine-ripened tomatoes, sugar snap peas."

Kate: "I used to work in TV and film production and I have to say the Vegetable Heaven PBS series is well done. What were the biggest challenges in making it? Any behind-the-scenes war stories or amusing anecdotes to share?"

Mollie: "For me, personally, the biggest challenge was the number of hats I wore. I was executive producer (meaning chief business manager), 'talent', writer, and co-set-designer. I also played the music. I love all these jobs, but it was very important for me to do them all well and still be rested and relaxed enough to give a fresh performance. It is tricky to pull off the recipe in a certain number of minutes and to give all the necessary information (and I like to really teach on the show!), and to look up at the camera and smile and be personable. I am definitely learning how to do this, although it was a bit overwhelming at first. I love my crew—they are real pros. That's why the show has such a finished look to it. Because of my strongly visual orientation, the 'Look' of the show is a major point.

"My favorite anecdote was how, after the second or third show, the main camera man, the one trained on me, began to come out from behind his camera after each recipe was finished, scratching his head and saying "I can make that! I'm going to go home right after work and make that!" Then he'd disappear behind his camera, shoot the next recipe, then come out again, and say it again. In other words, the recipes were really inspiring him, and he was just there to do a job."


On Cooking

Kate: "When I think of you, I think of color. Your artwork, books and the meals you prepare are loaded with color. When you create recipes, does color become a factor in the ingredients you select?"

Mollie: "Color is critically important to me. It is one of the principal things that attracted me to fruits and vegetables in the first place. The visuals of cooking are definitely a factor in all my work."

Kate: "Like many great cooks, you are self-taught, not a graduate of the CIA or other formal training, and as such I think there's an empathy you share with home cooks. Can you sum up your cooking philosophy, or strategy?"

Mollie: "I cook what I love or what makes sense. I pay attention to what is happening with the food. There is a certain inspiration to cooking, which is hard to pin down, but there is also a great deal of logic. One learns that logic from sheer experience, if one has been attentive."


Mollie—On Mollie, Family and Future

Kate: "What is comfort food for you?"

Mollie: "Oatmeal with raisins."

Kate: "What's a typical day like in the life of Mollie Katzen and family?"

Mollie: "We get up early. I make my kids breakfast and help them with their lunch boxes. (Sam's 13 and Eve's 7.) We search for hair brushes, tap shoes, overdue library books, and somehow they are out of the house at about 8 a.m on their way to school or, during the summer, day camp. Then I work at home all day, often not leaving the house at all other than to exercise by hiking through my rural neighborhood.

"I divide my time among: business plans and phone calls, recipe testing, reading and studying, answering e-mail from my website, writing, and working on illustrations. My art studio and writing space are upstairs from my kitchen. I love working at home. I rarely dress in anything fancier than a t-shirt and sweats. My kids often have dance and gymnastics classes in the evening (they are both serious dancers), so they often eat dinner on the run (frequently some variation of homemade pizza that I whip up for them. There is always pizza dough in my refrigerator!) and my husband and I eat late, usually a simple vegetable stir-fry.

"We love to go for evening walks in the park down the road. The most important leisure activity for me is just plain being outside in beautiful Northern California, where I am lucky enough to live. I even love it in the rain. And I adore my work."

Kate: "You've now been to heaven. Where are you planning to go next? What's next on the horizon?"

Mollie: "Another television series, about the evolution of vegetarian cooking from the publication of Moosewood Cookbook through the millennium. A sequel to Pretend Soup ("Honest Pretzels") for kids 8 and up. A big breakfast book to be published in 2000 by Hyperion.

"I am now a member of the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Roundtable and will be sitting in on their meetings and translating their findings into culinary vernacular. And most exciting of all, I am starting a line of Mollie Katzen food products, in partnership with Napa Valley Kitchens, a wonderful company here in Northern California. Our first roll-out will be in 1999. Stay tuned."


Vegetable Heaven
by Mollie Katzen
1998, Hardcover, US $27.50
Illustration art by Mollie Katzen
Recipes & art reprinted by permission
Information provided by the publisher


Vegetable Heaven



Copyright © 1998—the electronic Gourmet Guide, Inc. All rights reserved.

This Archived Page created between 1994 and 2001. Modified August 2007