You might not have heard of Stacy Cohen, but she’s rich — very rich. And she’s not afraid to let you know it.
Cohen, a Bay Area resident and the wife of Israeli biotech billionaire (and observant Jew) Mouli Cohen, is a former actress (she had appearances on “Baywatch”) and current philanthropist, writer and founder of Stacy Cohen Lifestyle Inc., an organization whose vague mission is to create happy, successful lives for others.
Just from looking at the cover of her first book, you know Cohen lives la dolce vita. In designer shades, diamonds and a hat that wouldn’t look out of place at the Royal Ascot, Cohen delicately sniffs a rose above the book’s title, which says it all: “The Kosher Billionaire’s Secret Recipe.”
“The Kosher Billionaire” is a combination cookbook, photo essay and travelogue that’s loosely themed around helping people discover their inner “kosher billionaire” and use Cohen’s philosophies on travel, food, charity and fashion to enhance their lives.
Cohen loves to travel, and she also keeps kosher. That’s the setup for what the socialite calls a “revolutionary new program, pairing delicious kosher food with great health and a sexy, jet-setting lifestyle.”
It’s a bold assertion, and not one the book is really able to live up to. While Cohen maintains that her “diet” of rich, delicious food from all over the world will keep you thin, I’m skeptical. (It probably helps to have the money for a personal trainer and a home gym.)
But no matter. The point (as even Cohen points out) isn’t to copy her lifestyle, but to allow it to inspire and entertain.
Cohen isn’t one of those wealthy folk who try to pretend they’re not — she joyfully announces in the book’s early pages that she has a private jet, a “hunky kosher billionaire” husband and an endlessly jet-setting life.
Sprinkled — or, should I say, liberally strewn — among the pages are more than 100 photos of Cohen in her palatial Belvedere home, in every conceivable position and clothing style.
There’s Stacy lounging in a white silk robe, Stacy in aviator shades and a leather jacket, Stacy dancing in a paisley shift. There are shots of Stacy underwater, Stacy in a sari, Stacy as a flamenco dancer. And in a rather odd juxtaposition, there are several Jewish-themed photos, including one of Stacy holding a menorah in a candlelit dining room, and several of Stacy next to or holding Torahs.
Cohen isn’t exactly what you’d expect for a kosher-keeping Jewess. With her pale skin and long, shiny blonde hair, she looks more Breck Girl than Yentl. (As it turns out, she is a Jew-by-choice, having converted after marrying her husband.)
But her commitment to Judaism seems sincere. Cohen shares Bible stories and quotes, explains the concepts of mitzvah and tzedakah, and talks happily and lovingly about the joys of kashrut and how keeping Jewish law can enhance one’s life and travels.
However, the Jewish element is about the only thing in this book that’s serious — at least, I hope.
Let’s take a sample sentence: “If you want to live a full, robust life and make your wildest dreams come true, the best way to be inspired is by exploring the lush and ancient Mediterranean by sea, preferably aboard a private yacht.”
Yeah, I’ll get right on that.
Or how about this, an explanation of how Cohen keeps kosher in her home: “I serve dairy meals on my Fabergé plates that have a beautiful, peaceful motif around the rim, and meat-based meals on Christofle plates featuring a whimsical center design ringed by different rim colors. This way, separating meat and dairy can be as easy to remember as it is beautiful!”
On one level, “The Kosher Billionaire” is an eye-rolling study of the excesses of the idle rich. Much of the book is a look at how Cohen manages to keep kosher while visiting some of the world’s most fabulous places — Spain, Greece, India — on private planes and yachts (it’s a tough life, really); she meets princes and presidents, and gets the royal treatment everywhere — even the Monaco casinos, which regularly entertain some of the world’s richest people, fawn over her presence.
But on another level, “The Kosher Billionaire” is a funny, inspiring coffee table book that transports you to Cohen’s life, and the places she travels, if only for a little while. Her writing, whether it’s about visiting the whitewashed chapels of Santorini or eating tapas at a beach bar in Spain, is over the top, but effective: When I closed my eyes, I really could feel the Mediterranean air of Greece against my skin and hear the buzz of Spanish nightlife in my ears.
I’ll admit to being bit by the green-eyed monster when leafing through the book; it’s not that I don’t know there are people who live like Stacy Cohen, but I usually don’t get a free pass to see exactly how well they live.
There might be some downside to being this wealthy, but “The Kosher Billionaire” certainly doesn’t show it. From the Cohens’ beautifully lit mansion to Stacy’s audacious wardrobe (in one photo, Cohen stands at the door of a walk-in closet while more pairs of shoes than I’ve owned in my whole life spill down a short set of stairs), the kosher billionaire’s life seems, well, utterly fantastic.
But even though I’m not a billionaire, I found the travel descriptions tantalizing and the photos of Cohen (though I outwardly mocked the conceit of having half the pages in one’s book devoted to artsy photos of oneself) fashionably inspirational.
To their credit, Cohen’s recipes, which draw on her world travels, are relatively down to earth. By the time I got to the recipe section in the last third of the book, I expected obscure, unpronounceable ingredients and instructions only a professional chef could follow. But recipes like Parmesan crème brûlée, Greek pizza and baked turbot fillet with fava beans and artichoke puree all seem like things that even a non-billionaire chef could hack.
It’s questionable how “kosher” this kosher billionaire really is — while every other page seems to extol the virtues (and the ease) of kosher travel, one has to wonder whether Cohen’s kosher would be enough for most observant Jews. At times it seems as if Cohen substitutes “kosher” for “not necessarily unkosher” — a truly kashrut-observant person would probably not be OK with eating in the caves beneath the Hôtel de Paris.
But, again, no matter. “The Kosher Billionaire’s Secret Recipe” is all in good fun. I won’t necessarily keep this one on the coffee table — but I will leaf through it on a warm summer night when I want to be transported to some of the world’s most exotic locales with a woman who’s got the means to see them all.
“The Kosher Billionaire’s Secret Recipe” by Stacy Cohen (224 pages, Atria Books/Beyond Words, $35)