Star palate - A tribute to cancer victims become a best-selling celebrity cookbook

By Dan Aznoff

When is a cookbook more than just a collection of recipes? When some of the brightest stars in show business and icons from the world of sports and business contribute family secrets for a wonderful cause.

``Star Palate: Celebrity Cookbook for a Cure'' includes 79 favorite recipes, full-color photos and personal notes from the likes of Robin Williams, Katie Couric, Jay Leno, Quincy Jones, Celine Dion, Emeril Lagasse, Bill Gates, Phil Mickelson, Tim McGraw, Dr. Phil and Andre Agassi. The collection was published to benefit the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

The recipes, the artwork and even the printing were donated to assure that every penny of the proceeds would be given to charity. The project was underwritten by the Seattle-based biotech company Cell Therapeutics.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Revella Benussen and Marsha Rivkin. Two women who lost their fight against ovarian cancer, but have inspired a dedicated fight to find a cure for the deadly disease. Mercer Island resident Dr. Saul Rivkin and his five daughters founded the research center that bares his wife's name in cooperation with the Swedish Medical Center in 1994.

``The book is nice enough to be a coffee table book, but most cooks will never let it out of the kitchen,'' said Gloria Benussen, who began volunteering for the non-profit center four years ago after her mother-in-law of only six months died from ovarian cancer. She later joined the board of directors and helped develop the celebrity cookbook from an idea to the final press run.

``This book was a tribute to the love that my mother inspired in every life she came in contact with,'' said Eric Benussen, who joined his wife on the steering committee to lend his business and marketing expertise to the project. ``Gloria only knew my mother for a short time. Her work on this book tells you how special their relationship really was.''

Eric grew up in the Seward Park community in Seattle. He and Gloria now live in Bellevue with their son Ethan.

The two-year mission that culminated in the 180-page celebrity cook book was inspired by Tami Agassi, the sister of tennis superstar Andre Agassi. She also co-wrote the book with Northwest chef Kathy Casey.

Tami Agassi was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30, just six months before her mother was also found to have the cancer. Five years later they are both living cancer-free and Tami has dedicated her resources to helping others fight the disease as executive director of the Rivkin Center.

More than 80,000 copies of ``Star Palate: Celebrity Cookbook for a Cure'' were pre-sold before the book was published in October. A nationwide promotional tour has taken Agassi and Casey across the country, including a stop in New York this fall for appearances on the Today Show and Good Morning America.

Ann Curry of the NBC Today Show was the first contributor to the book when she submitted her recipe for Pasta Puttanesca. Curry jumped at the chance to join the cause as a tribute to her sister, Jean Hodson, a cancer survivor.

``We did not miss a chance to plug the book every chance we had,'' explained Gloria Benussen with a sly smile. ``Everybody -- and I mean everybody -- has come forward to help our cause. The book was promoted shamelessly whenever Andre Agassi was on center court during the U.S. Open.''

Many of the recipes come directly from the celebrities' own recipe box, including a family formula from Britney Spears and her mother Lynn for Seafood Pasta that was submitted on a recipe card decorated with flowers.

A photo of the celebrity accompanies each recipe. According to Benussen, Andre Agassi was so unhappy with the photo of his trademark Rosemary Roast Turkey with red wine cranberry relish that the bird did not make it on the page with Agassi, Stefie Graf and their two children. A cheesecake shot of Anna Kournikova shares the double-page spread with the retired tennis player's recipe for Ukarinian Borscht.

Comedian Robin Williams posed for his picture with his personal chef John Mathias. Williams' wife decided it was better to submit his chef's Classic Pot Roast than the only thing the actor cooks for himself: cold cereal and coffee.

Joan Rivers did submit her recipe for white bread toast. The comedian added that her recipe calls for raisin toast on special occasions. Jay Leno, pictured with one of his many collector cars, shared his Uncle Louie's recipe for Chicken Wings Marinara.

Country singer Tim McGraw, who lost his father to cancer last year, contributed his personal instructions for Chicken and Dumplings. A mouth-watering photo of an Heirloom Tomato Sandwich from Tony Danza highlights the comfort food section of the book.

Actress Amy Grant flashes her trademark smile on the page opposite her grandmother's secret recipe for Banana Nut Bread. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg shares his formula for Baked Beans, while Microsoft's Bill Gates opens his family's window to his ``Gami's Clam Chowder.''

Gates is pictured on the page with his grandmother's recipe along with his sister, Libby Gates Armintrout. A picture of the Gates family around the Christmas tree in 1972 appears with the foreward to the book written by Gates Armintrout, a tribute to another cancer victim, mother Mary Gates.

Despite her girlish figure, Benussen claims to have tried virtually every recipe in the book. She said many of the planning meetings featured one or more entry from the Star Palate.

Benussen claims that her favorite entry from the book is the Penne Al Funghi submitted by actor Pierce Brosnan. But she refused to elaborate if it was the pasta or the photo of 007 that keeps her coming back to the same page.

``Star Palate: Celebrity Cookbook for a Cure'' is available at most bookstores and President Jeff Bezos of has promised to donate a portion of profit from the $29.95 sales price in memory of his grandmother who had breast cancer.

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