Chef, Ruvo chomp into cookie calorie controversy


Larry Ruvo’s reaction to the Red Velvet Cafe controversy was short and bittersweet.

The wine distributing executive and philanthropist has been caught in the middle of the cookie firestorm involving chef Aneesha Tolani’s vegan and vegetarian restaurants.

“I believe her,” Ruvo said Thursday from La Jolla, Calif., “but if she’s wrong, I will feel very duped and disappointed. She will either be there Thursday or gone.”

Beloved by a celebrity crowd that includes Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, Tolani’s outrageously delicious sweets may pack more caloric punch than advertised.

Food sleuth Todd Wilbur, the Las Vegas-based host of the TV show “Top Secret Recipes,” put Review-Journal columnist Jane Ann Morrison on the case. Morrison is well known in journalism circles as one tough cookie.

Wilbur informed Morrison that three Red Velvet Cafe chocolate chip cookies he sent to Pacific Coast Analytical Services averaged out to about 157 calories each. That’s six times the calorie claim.

Morrison stayed on the story and caught up to Tolani, who declined to share the original analysis that claimed the cookies contained only 27 calories each.

Ruvo keenly is interested because he brought Tolani to the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health as a tenant more than a year ago. He features her food for special occasions and special guests and sends Red Velvet goodies to Ali for his birthday.

“I talked to her,” Ruvo said, “and she said, ‘I know these are my ingredients and this is what my lab has told me.’ ”

Ruvo has directed Sig Rogich, a longtime local crisis manager in politics and beyond, to have the cookies independently tested.

Tolani, who founded Red Velvet Cafe, issued a statement through Rogich’s firm on Thursday, saying she is working with the food lab that gave her the calorie count of her recipes in order to validate those numbers.

“My customers and their health are my personal passion and the reason I started this business,” Tolani was quoted in the release.

Tolani’s statement continued, “My focus has always been on providing quality, healthy products. That mission and our commitment to that has not changed. I deeply regret if anyone feels they were given inaccurate information in any way, and I am working to restore and maintain the trust and confidence of our customers, and to ensure that accuracy of information from the recipe analysis which we previously had conducted.”

Tyson, one of the world’s most famous vegans, remains a big fan of Tolani’s eateries.

“Mike loves their cookies and we never assumed they were low calorie,” Tyson’s wife, Kiki, said in an email. “So no, he doesn’t feel like he was misled.”

THE SCENE AND HEARD

Elton John says he nearly died from an abscessed appendix last week. The pain became so bad he finally walked off stage during a concert in Germany and sought medical attention. He has canceled the remainder of his European tour and won’t return to the stage until September. He had a mid-September engagement at Caesars Palace.

SIGHTINGS

Curvy Stratosphere headliner Claire Sinclair, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Las Vegas 51s game on Thursday at Cashman Field. ... Hollywood funnyman Paul Reiser, dining at Rao’s (Caesars Palace) on Wednesday.

THE PUNCH LINE

“The new Lone Ranger movie is not doing well. I understand he’s now seeking asylum in Venezuela.” — Jay Leno

Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or email him at norm@reviewjournal.com. Find more at normclarke.com. Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke. “Norm Clarke’s Vegas,” airs Thursdays on the “Morning Blend” on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.