© Baltz & Company
Francois Payard at Hans Christian Andersen Complex.


© Baltz & Company

Last night, legendary New York City pastry chef François Payard headed from his lavish Upper East Side Payard Patisserie & Bistro to the Hans Christian Andersen Complex, an elementary school in Harlem, to give a vegan cooking demo to kids and their families. The event was sponsored by the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food. Yes, the French chef seems like an unlikely proponent of animal-free food, but his marketing director (and now girlfriend), Fernanda Capobianco, is a devoted vegetarian, and since they've started working together, he's been cutting back on meat in his diet and experimenting with vegan dishes.

For the easiest pizza ever, he showed everyone how to spread tomato sauce (store-bought is fine, he said) on whole-wheat pita and topped it with ribbons of basil and crumbled tofu to mimic the cheese. Then he made a quick chocolate mousse with soy milk, whipped silken tofu and melted chocolate while batting away excited little fingers. Even I, as a dairy lover, thought the mousse was delicious and even more intensely chocolaty than a milk-based version. Through next month, François will donate $1 from every Soy Chocolate Mousse sold at New York City's Payard to the Coalition.