Vegan chef and author Chloe Coscarelli shares her cooking secrets

As the last attendee stepped into the room, only crumbs were left on the small table once stacked with vegan mini- cupcakes. Those who got there early had the chance to choose between red velvet, vanilla and chocolate. Topped with a generous layer of frosting and decorated with sprinkles, the flavorful treats left everyone wanting more. Winner of Food Network’s 2010 “Cupcake Wars,” vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli has become an influential part of the culinary world.

But how does she get her desserts perfectly moist without using any eggs or dairy?

“The answer is vinegar,” Coscarelli said, of a trick she learned at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York. “I use it in every single one of my cupcake recipes. You add just a little bit of vinegar to the cupcake batter, and it reacts to the baking soda and makes them really moist, and you get these fake eggs.”

Currently touring to promote her new cookbook, “Chloe’s Kitchen: 125 Easy, Delicious Recipes for Making the Food You Love the Vegan Way,” Coscarelli held a free question-and-answer session and book signing at the 3rd Street Promenade Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica last Tuesday.

“All events are free to the public,” said Shane Pangburn, community relations manager at the Santa Monica Barnes & Noble. “Occasionally we require book purchase at the signing, but it’s a local author, and we didn’t want to turn people away that are friends and family.”

The seats in the room filled quickly, causing the Barnes & Noble staff to add more chairs.

“It’s a big crowd,” Pangburn said. “This is about as much as we can handle. I have the number to 140.”

A whole section in the audience was filled with Coscarelli’s old classmates and friends from Santa Monica High School and UC Berkeley.

“We came to support,” said Julia Lembrikova, who has known the chef since junior high school. “There are, like, 15 of us. I remember she cooked in Berkeley for one of the other girl’s birthday. A vegan cake—it was amazing.”

The author described the process of writing her book as “grilling.”

“It took me about two years to write, but there was a lot of cooking involved,” Coscarelli said. “It’s a lot of trial and error. Every single one of the recipes, I tested 20, 30, 40, 50 times.”

The event kicked off with a game of questions about vegan cooking, led by the author. Three volunteers competed for a gift certificate to Scarlett Cupcakes, the Pacific Palisades bakery that provided the cupcakes for the evening.

After a seven-minute question-and- answer session, the book signing began. Coscarelli greeted her fans with a smile, and took her time to pose for the camera and attempt to speak with each person.

“This was definitely a big crowd,” Coscarelli said afterward. “People knew that I was from here. It was teachers, family [and] people from my community.”

Also, in attendance at the event were New York Times bestselling authors Lisa Bloom, who wrote “Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed- Down World,” and Rory Freedman, who co-wrote “Skinny Bitch.”

“I love both of their books,” Coscarelli said. “They are good role models for me as authors, and they have both given me a lot of help and guidance.”

“Her book is great,” said Bloom. “I actually did the blurb on the back. I have about 50 vegan cookbooks, but this is one of my tops because it’s easy [and] accessible to everyone.”

Marlinda Karo, who has been a vegan for ten years, attended the event to get her book signed. Brightly colored post- it notes stuck out from the pages of her book.

“I’ve tried all the recipes that have post- its on them,” Karo said. “Most of the ones I’ve tried are quick and easy.”

Another fan in attendance was Delphine Yougurtjian, a florist born and raised in Los Angeles.

“I watched Chloe win ‘Cupcake Wars,’” said Yougurtjian. “I find her very inspiring.”

For those considering going vegan, Coscarelli recommends to go easy.

“You know every single meal that you eat vegan is better for your body, better for the planet, and so if you can just take it meal by meal and make choices as you go, that’s a really good way to ease into it,” Coscarelli said. “I wouldn’t think of it like this all-or-nothing scary thing.”