In her 2004 book, People We Know, Horses They Love, Manitou Springs author and public relations guru Wendy Wilkinson talked with "Bob" Redford, Richard Gere and California First Lady Maria Shriver, among other notables, about their relationships with their four-hoofed friends.
Her newest, Morgan Freeman and Friends: Caribbean Cooking for a Cause, sees our intrepid reporter sharing recipes and tales of favorite island foods with "Morgan," Ben Affleck, Michael Douglas, Alicia Keys and a host of other celebrity types.
It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.
Wilkinson, who indeed spends most of her time in Manitou Springs, embodies the spirit of entrepreneurial project journalism: identifying an appealing topic, assigning it celebrity spokespersons, putting together a beautifully produced package, and promoting it exhaustively. But she takes her projects several steps farther than the stereotypical celebrity mouthpiece, insisting that her subjects reveal "some kind of love affair" that the reader can share, and ensuring that their proceeds benefit an important cause.
People We Know, Horses They Love has so far raised $60,000 for the Connecticut-based Pegasus Project, which aims to build an indoor riding arena for disabled riders. Morgan Freeman and Friends, a colorful cookbook boasting 100 recipes and a Caribbean tour of sorts, hopes to be "a visual catalyst" for extensive fundraising efforts on behalf of the Granada Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization created to help the people of Granada recover from Hurricane Ivan. The Category 4 storm flattened the island in September 2004, devastating its agriculture, killing many and leaving countless numbers homeless.
"Morgan Freeman, who had been featured in the horse book and is an avid sailor in the Caribbean, called me about a month after [People We Know] came out," says Wilkinson. "He said, "Have you ever written a cookbook?'"
Wilkinson hadn't, but she liked the idea of combining stories of regular island visitors with recipes. And, having a personal connection to the islands herself she and her husband had recently purchased a home in the Bahamas she knew the project was worthwhile.
With co-author Donna Lee, Freeman's sister-in-law, she began gathering stories from celebrities she knew had Caribbean connections and who were friends of Freeman. The result is a coffee table-quality cookbook filled with lush photography and a variety of recipes for island food, ranging from home fare to haute cuisine, set alongside personal testimonies to the beauty and allure of the islands and their people.
Kevin Bacon, for example, talks about his family's favorite retreat on the rocky isle of Anguilla and his favorite local dish, "fresh red snapper that the local fishermen have caught that day."
Or consider country crooner Kenny Chesney's simple and approachable recipe for Key lime pie, learned from his friend Jerome, who owns a restaurant on St. John.
Wilkinson's personal favorite recipe is the snapper roasted in banana leaves with mango-black bean relish, from Conny Anderson, executive chef of the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, Calif. All the ingredients, including the banana leaves, can be found at a local Whole Foods Market.
Freeman's proceeds from the book will go the Granada Relief Fund, and Wilkinson and Lee donated substantial proceeds from their publishing advance to the cause. In addition to recipes and celebrity stories, the book includes a section on Hurricane Ivan's impact on Granada and a resource guide on uniquely Caribbean ingredients.
Morgan Freeman and Friends: Caribbean Cooking for a Cause
By Wendy Wilkinson and Donna Lee
Rodale Books, $35/hardcover
For more on the Granada Relief Fund, visit grfund.org.