My favourite table

Summer Phoenix at the Candle Café

Interview by Chloe Diski
Sunday March 10, 2002
The Observer

'It's amazing how you grow up thinking you're a completely independent person and then realise how like your parents you're turning out to be. For instance, last Sunday when my nephew wanted a dessert with corn syrup I was, like, 'No! we've always had raisins and almonds for our dessert - corn syrup's not good for you!' Luckily he brought me back to earth, reminding me 'it's 2002 baby, just roll with it'. He made me feel very old, though I'm only 24.

I've been vegan all my life for ethical reasons, and I'm saddened that more people aren't educated in this way of life that my parents taught me. I don't think anybody eats stuff like burgers and dairy products out of maliciousness but as a result of ignorance and lack of awareness. As a child I was sheltered. I was tutored at home most of my life but I clearly remember going to school for third and fourth grade, when our family [there were five siblings, including the actor River Phoenix] would show up with a soya ice-cream container that my mom had washed and put our lunch of blue corn chips and tofu salad into and everybody would be, like, 'what are those!' I didn't realise that everybody else was eating baloney sandwiches. But this was back in the Eighties when people weren't as used to vegan food. Now there are far more places that serve it and it is more integrated and accepted.

I chose the Candle Cafe on Third Avenue because it is the best vegan restaurant in New York. It's so good I even dream of it. It's a total haven because it is very rare for me to be able to walk into a restaurant and order anything I want off the menu - I always travel with a flask of soya milk so that I can add it to my coffee if I end up somewhere that only serves the dairy option. There is a candle on every table and the atmosphere is very chilled and unpretentious. What is special about it is that they serve such a great variety of food and you can always get your daily green vegetable, grain and beans and they have the best non-dairy desserts. They also have a juice bar with great juices of fresh ginger and apple and flu-fighter and it's just so good. I think that it's really unfortunate that the thought of the vegan diet is automatically associated with raw and disgusting food. I just love my scrambled tofu breakfast and there is such a variety of delicious vegan meat substitutes.

While I was making my last film Dinner Rush I just totally forgot that I would be working in a restaurant with meat. I didn't even think about it. I called my mom and I was, like, 'oooh Mom, I can't believe it I'm handling flesh'. It made me feel sad, just so sad, as it went against what I believe in. My mom reminded me that at lunch I ate vegan food and made me realise that it wasn't bad - that people were interested in what I was eating and that you can turn people on to it. Some people make fun of you but what's beautiful is that most people are interested. I think that's so important. I don't like to preach - I really do believe in every man for himself - but if somebody asks me about it then I'll let 'em have it.'

Candle Cafe Vegetarian. 1307 Third Ave, New York between 74th and 75th Streets. Tel: 001-212-472-0970. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-10:30pm and Sun 11:30am-9pm.

Dinner Rush opens 29 March in the UK