'I would never mislead my customers,' chef says of cookie debacle

A cookie’s credibility has consequences.

The Red Velvet Cafe’s claim that its chocolate chip cookie was a mere 27 calories has been disproved. It’s at least 100 calories, and another test puts it at 157 calories. So it’s either four or six times more than advertised by Chef Aneesha Tolani.

The Keep Memory Alive Cafe at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is now closed. The sign outside Tuesday said: “Temporarily closed will reopen soon.” But Tolani won’t be operating it.

“It was a mutual decision between myself and Mr. (Larry) Ruvo,” Tolani said Tuesday.

Ruvo is the kind of guy who takes seriously the credibility of the brain center named in honor of his father. After my July 8 column ran, he asked crisis control expert Sig Rogich to have the cookies independently tested.

They had already been independently tested by Todd Wilbur, the Las Vegas food expert and author whose website is www.TopSecretRecipes.com.

Wilbur paid $300 to have Tolani’s cookies tested with a food chemical breakdown by the Pacific Coast Analytical Services. In March 2010, the lab test showed a 33-gram cookie was 157 calories.

His wife, Pamela Ellis, called Tolani and told her that the test showed her cookies were 157 calories, six times what Tolani claimed.

“I honestly don’t remember anybody saying anything,” Tolani said.

The basis of Tolani’s business is offering healthful vegan and vegetarian food with bakery treats all under 200 calories.

Moms with diabetic and obese kids thought they were doing the right thing by buying those treats. People on diets trusted that these 27-calorie cookies would not put on the pounds. Others knew in their hearts these were no 27-calorie cookies, but they were delicious.

Tolani said she obtained that initial 27-calorie count by putting her cookie recipe into a computer program called Personal Chef Office.

Ellis told me that when she called Tolani, the chef said she would have them analyzed again and hung up. Nothing happened for more than a year, until my column.

Tolani decided in May to have her food retested because she was considering expanding into California. She used the RL Food Testing Laboratory recipe data computer analysis.

That calculation said her cookies were 45.5 calories for a 31-gram cookie, with another five to seven calories depending on cookie size since the cookies are hand made. So the cookie would be about 50 to 52 calories, nearly double her 27-calorie claim.

After my column ran, Rogich spent nearly $1,000 on a rush lab analysis by Microbac Laboratories Inc. The conclusion: 100 calories for a 31-gram cookie.

As a comparison, one Oreo is 53 calories. One Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie is 210 calories.

Business has dropped off at her two remaining cafes on West Sahara and the Fashion Show Mall. Will Tolani go out of business?

“I don’t know,” she said, starting to cry. She said she relied on Personal Chef. “I would never mislead my customers.”

Tolani said she hasn’t changed her recipe, but people have told me the cookies don’t taste the same.

Because my expertise with cookies is entirely in my mouth, I asked Wilbur to examine the two lab test results. He concluded from the tests, it’s obvious she has changed the recipe by removing fat.

His report showed 22 grams of fat per 100 grams. The Microbac lab showed 9.45 grams of fat per 100 grams.

Rogich is representing both Tolani and the brain center, trying to mitigate the damage.

He defended Tolani as a hard worker who was “naive and not trying to be duplicitous and deceitful.”

Chomp on that a while.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275.