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Celebrity Cookbook Supports Cancer Research


Americans are learning to eat like celebrities as they help fund cancer research. Their guide is titled Star Palate: Celebrity Cookbook for a Cure , a collection of 75 recipes contributed by names better known from newspaper headlines and movie credits than kitchens and restaurants.

One of the forces behind the cookbook also has a familiar name: Agassi. Tami Agassi, sister of tennis champion Andre Agassi, is a breast cancer survivor and now heads a foundation supporting ovarian cancer research. Those are two of the deadliest cancers affecting women. When Ms. Agassi asked celebrities in the arts, entertainment, sports, fashion and business to send her their favorite recipes for the book, she knew she was again fighting the odds. "It was definitely a difficult task," she says. "These celebrities receive, on a daily basis, tons of requests from people. So it was very challenging. It took a lot of calling around, asking and begging. Fortunately, most people have a good heart and want to do whatever they can to help. So we are so pleased with the amount of celebrities that came forward and said they would participate."

Among those who said yes were fashion designers like Donna Karan and Michael Kors, public figures such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, and movie stars like Pierce Brosnan. Tami Agassi notes that her brother -- and his wife, tennis champion Steffi Graf - also provided recipes. "Andre is equally competitive in the kitchen as he is on the [tennis] court," she adds.

Ms. Agassi continues down the list. "Robin Williams didn't hesitate to say yes. His wife personally called the office to say that they would be happy to participate. Same thing with Quincy Jones. Billy Joel faxed in his recipe. Celine Dion sent in several recipes that she learned from her mother-in-law. Britney Spears and her mother Lynne were very helpful. Lynne's sister has ovarian cancer and she is very committed to do all that she can to help research."

The Spears family recipe is one of the best in the cookbook, according to Star Palate co-author and prominent chef Kathy Casey. "Britney Spears and her mother sent in a recipe handwritten for a great pasta recipe," says Ms. Casey. "It's a delicious seafood pasta recipe. It's really one of my favorites in the book with crawfish and shrimp and old Bay seasoning. It's super yummy."

Some of her other favorites include a brownie recipe from comedian Ray Romano, country music star Tim McGraw's rosemary mashed potatoes, Andre Agassi's roast turkey, a clam chowder recipe from Bill Gates, Billy Joel's "Uptown" marinated steak, and TV chef Martin Yan's wontons in hot-and-sour chili sauce. Chef Casey tried all of the recipes personally before including them in the book. "There's a lot of interpretation that can happen with recipes, especially family recipes," she explains. "So we tested every single one of the recipes, which I think adds appeal to this book, that the recipes all work very well. So where we needed to, we just kind of adjusted them and tweaked them."

Because cooking is her hobby, co-author Tami Agassi says she enjoyed working on this project with Chef Casey. But finding a cure for breast and ovarian cancer was her primary motive. "Several years ago when I was going through treatment I came up with the idea," she says. "But I never pursued that because I got busy doing other things. As soon as I finished treatment I accepted a position as an executive director at the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research. Like all nonprofits, we are faced with the burden of raising funds for our work. Together with a board member, we threw out a bunch of ideas and said, 'Why not? Let's do this.'"

Ms. Agassi jokes that publishing Star Palate was almost as thrilling as surviving cancer. That experience, she says, changed her life forever. "When hard times hit, it's an opportunity to grow and learn," she notes. "When I went through treatment I learned very quickly how your life can change in a moment. I was 30 years old. I didn't know what was ahead of me. I didn't know if the cancer was throughout my body. So I had to face my mortality. I learned very quickly what is important in life, not the crazy things you waste your time with, but instead it was the relationships I'd developed in my life. Going into treatment taught me how to let others care for me, which was something hard for me to learn because I've always been independent."

Raising funds for cancer research through a celebrity cookbook proved to be a clever idea, since people are always curious about what celebrities do and what they eat. As sales increase for Star Palate, so do Tami Agassi's hopes of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund the cause behind the book.

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