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photo credit Eric Marseglia

photo credit Eric Marseglia

We are so honored to interview Joy Pierson, co-founder and nutritionist Candle Cafe, Candle Cafe West, and Candle 79. Co-author Candle Cafe Cookbook, Candle 79 Cookbook and her latest, Vegan Holiday Cooking from Candle Cafe. When the book arrived in the mail, I flipped out. Such gorgeous pictures and creative, mouth-watering takes on old holiday favorites–a must-have for the holidays!

Every time I go to Candle 79 it feels like a special occasion, but I’ve also been there for Thanksgiving dinner, which felt so warm and wonderful and tasted divine. How do you make holiday meals stand out at your restaurants and how did you incorporate those special elements into this book?

Our chefs and management teams work for months to make something new and special for these unique and special days. Vegan holiday cooking is all about indulgence and we stress that a bit more in our offerings. Of course when you are eating plant-based foods you can have all the indulgence without all the guilt, which is why people love eating this way, and especially on these special days. That mind-set is how we choose to approach this book.

 Vegan Holiday Cooking CVR

So many holidays are all about affirming life, love, peace and freedom, yet the food served at so many holiday tables has nothing to do with any of these things. How does it feel to know your recipes actually do affirm them and that these dishes will become staples in creating new compassionate holiday traditions for years to come?

That is why we wrote the book, so we could satisfy tradition and bring families together in the kitchen and in the dining room. It’s our hope that these recipes will be the norm and the traditions of the future. Affirming and protecting life, love, peace and freedom should be a part of everyone’s holiday and there’s no better place for that to start then on the plate. 

I see that your co-authors are chefs Angel Ramos and Jorge Pineda. Would you tell me a little bit about how they became top chefs at the forefront of the vegan fine dining movement? 

Chefs Angel Ramos and Jorge Pineda work diligently and are constantly creating and learning. They never settle and they continue to explore what’s new and what is possible. Their cuisine takes veganism to a new level and they wow both me and our customers on a daily basis. I am in constant awe of what they can accomplish and how far they have come. 

Did Chef Angel’s Mexican heritage inspire/inform any of the Cinco de Mayo recipes in the book?

Angel, like Jorge and I, grew up around food and has been greatly influenced by his family and his heritage. Angel’s father in Mexico always wanted to be a chef but never got to make that a reality. Angel has been able to take that dream and run with it to heights that I’m sure no one could have ever imagined. The influence of his family is in all of his cooking and that certainly holds true for the Cinco de Mayo chapter.

How beautiful. The food-family connection is so strong, especially around holidays. I’m not even Jewish, yet the Passover recipes are most intriguing to me of all the sets of holiday recipes. I mean, Sweet Potato Latkes with Almond Crème Fraiche, Chickpea Crepes with Berries and Vanilla Lavender Cream, Flourless Chocolate Cake with Macaroon Crust? Wow. How did family Passover experiences inspire you with these dishes?

Our family’s holidays were all about the food and about coming together at the table and in the kitchen and I’ve never wanted to lose that. This is a Jewish holiday chapter with dishes that can be made on any holiday or any day for that matter. I’ve always loved these dishes and I wanted to enjoy them as a vegan. I love celebrating with food made with compassion and love.

The photo of Joy’s Grandma’s Seitan Brisket with Roasted Carrots, Shallots, and Turnips looks like it was filled with so much care and love. What would your grandmother Minerva think if she knew her recipe made its way into this gorgeous book?

My grandmother, Minerva, would be so proud to see her recipe in this gorgeous book, but unfortunately she never got to try the veganized seitan version. This recipe is so hearty and filled with heart it warms the whole family with her memory.

I love that you didn’t just do Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover and Easter holidays in this book but also some fun ones such as Superbowl Sunday, Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day just to name a few. Do you do anything special for those occasions at your restaurants or for catering special events?

Vegans like to party! We like to celebrate and will use any excuse. That’s why we cater for any and all special events. In our view, anything worth celebrating is made better and more festive with a delicious, plant-based menu and eco-friendly cocktails of course!

Alicia Silverstone and Laura and Woody Harrelson wrote forewords. You regularly have celebrities into your restaurants. Has anyone with a big name ever celebrated a holiday with you?

We’ve had lots of celebrities spend their holiday with us or celebrate a special event, but our favorite was the birthday of a non-celebrity. Paul McCartney was at an adjacent table and heard it was a girl’s 30th birthday and he decided to serenade her table with Happy Birthday. It was a moment everyone there will never forget, especially this sweet girl who blushed and blushed and could barely contain her excitement. Can you blame her?

That is phenomenal. I shall henceforth spend ALL my birthdays at Candle in case Paul happens to show up that day.

You said this book was a labor of love. What were some of the challenges you have encountered in its creation? What have been the rewards?

I no longer remember the challenges, just the pleasure of working with so many great people and tasting such amazing food. Now the best part, we get to enjoy the reward of knowing that our food will be served at so many homes to help families celebrate and come together with for cruelty free, compassionate holidays with no compromises. Just, great food that is better tasting, better for you and better for the planet.

Truly life-changing. Thank you, Joy, for your time and for sharing these two holiday recipes and photos from the book with our readers.


Warm roasted tofu, ruby red cranberries, and oranges pop with the delicious flavors of the season in this beautiful dish. We make this holiday favorite for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and have shared the recipe with many friends over the years.

serves 8 to 10

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

1 cup water

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

2 oranges, juiced

2 tablespoons agave nectar, plus more if needed

1 cup white wine

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon arrowroot powder dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

Finely grated zest of two oranges

2 (14-ounce) blocks extra-firm tofu

1 sprig fresh rosemary


Heat the oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer the shallots to a saucepan; add the water, cranberries, orange juice, agave, wine, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat, add the arrowroot, and simmer until the cranberries burst and the sauce has slightly thickened, about 7 minutes. If the sauce seems too tart, add a bit more agave. Remove from the heat, stir in the zest, and let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil a large baking dish.

Cut the tofu into ¾-inch-thick slices and put them in the prepared baking dish. Pour the cranberry-orange mixture over the tofu. Turn to coat each side. Top with the rosemary and bake for about 25 minutes, until the sauce starts to caramelize. Serve immediately.


Be sure to save room for this fantastic cheesecake, a creative dessert that uses classic Thanksgiving ingredients—pumpkin, apple cider, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The pie and frosting can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.

serves 8 to 10

4 cups vegan cream cheese

2 cups agave nectar or maple syrup

2 cups plain unsweetened soy milk

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 ½ cups (12 ounces) silken tofu

1 cup arrowroot powder

1 tablespoon agar powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

apple cider reduction

4 cups apple cider

1 cup unrefined sugar

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ recipe Vanilla–Cream Cheese Frosting (page 73), (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Wrap aluminum foil around the bottom and halfway up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan to prevent any leaking.

Combine the cream cheese, agave, soy milk, pumpkin, tofu, arrowroot, agar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl and stir together. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth and ingredients are fully integrated. This may have to be done in batches. Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan.

Put the cheesecake in a large baking pan and fill the pan halfway with hot water. Bake for about 2 hours, until lightly browned. Remove, let cool, cover, and refrigerate. The cheesecake can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.

To make the cider reduction, combine the cider, sugar, and nutmeg in a pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced by half and is syrupy, 1 to 1½ hours. The reduction can be made and refrigerated up to 2 hours ahead of time. Bring to room temperature before serving.

To serve, remove the foil from the pan. Run a knife around the outer edge of the cheesecake and release the springform pan clamp. Put the cake on a plate or cake stand. Pipe or spread the top of the cheesecake with the frosting. Drizzle the reduction over the cheesecake. Cut into wedges and serve.


vanilla–cream cheese frosting

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 cup Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread, softened

½ cup baby Thai coconut meat or creamed coconut

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup vegan cream cheese


To make the frosting, mix together the confectioners’ sugar and buttery spread in a large bowl. Set aside.

Combine the coconut meat and vanilla extract in a blender and blend for 2 minutes. Transfer to a stand mixer or to a bowl and use a hand mixer. Add the confectioners’ sugar mixture and cream cheese and mix thoroughly until a smooth frosting is formed.