Karen Page

new york, new york. | wife. bestselling author. flavor-obsessed blogger (KarenAndAndrew.com). new vegetarian.

Karen Page kicks off the j-jane holiday series by sharing advice on selecting the right wine and how to be a graceful holiday host. Karen is a two-time winner of the James Beard Award and author of Becoming a Chef, Culinary Artistry, Dining Out, Chef’s Night Out, The New American Chef, What to Drink with What You Eat, The Flavor Bible, The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine, and The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. This amazing woman knows everything there is to know about delectable dining and fine wine. She also understands the value of having a mentor and I am thrilled to share her wisdom with you. Do enjoy!


In 1979, you were admitted to Northwestern University at the young age 16. Did you fully recognize your own talents at this time or did you feel that this was a common occurring accomplishment?

I’d been double-promoted (in the middle of 4th grade, I was moved up to 5th grade), after scoring in the 99%ile on a standardized test. So I’ve long known that I had a talent for testing well, which I also did on my college entrance exams, becoming the first person in my family to go to college. However, intelligence is not the same as wisdom, and I’ve long been much more interested in wisdom, which might be defined as “intelligence + compassion.”

You earned a BA in Economics. How did you discover your passion for wine and food? And was your path into the culinary world intentional?

When my chef-husband Andrew Dornenburg and I were researching our first book Becoming a Chef (winner of the 1996 James Beard Book Award for Best Writing on Food), one of the chefs we interviewed said something that has long stuck with us. Norman Van Aken told us, “This is not a profession that you choose; it chooses you.” In many ways, I do believe that the field of gastronomy chose us.

What has been your greatest obstacle in life and how do/did you navigate it?

The greatest obstacle in life is learning to master your own mind. While you may not feel you chose the life circumstances you may find yourself in at any given moment, you absolutely have the power of choice over how you will choose to respond to those circumstances: That is, will you choose to give up in despair? Or will you choose to try, try again? The latter is the only way to navigate any obstacle. Take the first step in the direction of what you want, no matter how small. Then take another. And another.

You had the good fortune to meet the legendary Julia Child. If you had to use one word to describe her, what would it be?

Fearless. She could drop a chicken during a live cooking demo on TV and not miss a beat in moving forward. She was not intimidated by the Internet, and happily agreed to let us interview her for her first-ever online chat in the mid-1990s, which was such a big deal that it was widely reported from the Los Angeles Times to USA Today. She just kept going. I have enormous admiration for her spirit, and am honored that the copy of our first book Becoming a Chef we’d sent to her (and which she’d sent us a hand-written thank-you note, saying she kept it by the side of her bed) is now a part of the Julia Child’s Kitchen exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.
 

You co-authored one of the most popular books in the world on wine pairing titled What to Drink With What you Eat. What wines best complement the traditional holiday table?

We’re new vegetarians (as of May 2012, when we started it as part of our research for our new book The Vegetarian Flavor Bible), so these days our wine choices for the holidays are wines that are the most versatile with as many dishes likely to be on the table as possible – whether vegan, vegetarian, or ones containing meat. We frequently recommend a dry (not sweet) or off-dry (slightly sweet) Riesling as the single most food-friendly white wine around, and Pinot Noir as the single most food-friendly red wine around. If you’re only serving one wine, a Rose is a wonderful option, as it can play the role of either a white or red wine as needed. And when in doubt, serve bubbles (e.g., Champagne or a domestic sparkling wine) – which turn any meal into a celebration, especially this time of year.   There’s almost always a bottle of Moscato d’Asti (Vietti makes our favorite one) in our refrigerator for pairing with desserts or with brunch, as it’s the single most dessert-friendly wine around.

Can you recommend a few good holiday wines for those of us on a budget?

If French Champagne is beyond your budget, look for sparkling wines from other parts of the world where you’re not paying for the word “Champagne” on the label (which by law should only appear on sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and/or Pinot Meunier grapes). You can find sparkling wines from other parts of France made using the same traditional method (e.g., Crémant d’Alsace, Crément de Bourgogne, Crémant de Loire, etc.) that are a fraction of the price. And certainly you can find wonderful sparkling wines made in other parts of the world. We have fond memories of attending our friends’ Michael & Debbie’s wedding in Santa Fe, where they served the excellent local New Mexican sparkling wine Gruet, which you can find all across the U.S.

Would you share one of your favorite family holiday recipes with j. jane readers and tell us why it is your favorite? For example, is it a family tradition?

At this very moment, my husband Andrew has a big pot of split pea soup on the stove. Split pea soup is a big holiday favorite in Andrew’s family from the days they’d make it with the leftover ham bone from the holiday ham, but these days we give the soup its deliciously smoky flavor with a dash of smoked paprika.

Andrew starts by sautéing mire poix (carrots, celery, onion) plus fresh fennel and garlic in olive oil in the bottom of the pot until they’re soft and caramelized.   He then adds vegetable stock, a whole bay leaf, and split peas, and cooks until tender (60-90 minutes, depending on the peas). Before serving, he’ll season the soup with salt, smoked paprika, a generous crack of pepper, and a dash of sherry vinegar.   It’s incredibly simple, but definitely one of our favorite dishes all winter long!

So you ran the Montreal International Marathon on your honeymoon, (Seriously? You are remarkable!) Did you choose the location specifically for the marathon? Just curious about the connection.

We couldn’t afford to go to Paris for our honeymoon, so we followed in the footsteps of friends of ours and went to French-speaking Quebec City and Montreal instead. When we learned that the Montreal International Marathon was taking place that week, it seemed pre-destined: I’d already run the New York City Marathon in 1984, and Andrew had always wanted to run one. We ate our way through our honeymoon guilt-free because we knew we had a 26.2-mile race on the last day!

You have had a truly amazing  journey thus far. What are you the most thankful for in life?

I am thankful that I am still here to enjoy my life. I have lost too many friends far too early — from the boy next door who’d given me my first kiss, to a woman friend who’d made it to the C-suite of some of the largest banks in America – so I don’t take a single day of my life for granted. I give thanks every single day for my husband Andrew, for our home, for our family and incredible friends, and for our food community. And I am especially grateful to the extraordinary women leaders who mentored me along the way, including Susan Davis (whom I assisted with the founding research for The Committee of 200, and who wrote one of my letters of recommendation for graduate school) and Susan Bulkeley Butler (to whom I was introduced by Susan Davis, and has been an invaluable coach, mentor, and friend).

What is your best advice on how to be a graceful host &/or guest over the holidays?

This holiday season, keep your eyes and ears open for friends who might be in special need of friendship – including friends going through break-ups or other losses – and expand your plans to include them whenever possible. Whether you’re technically a host or a guest, don’t be passive – always think of yourself in an active host’s role: Introduce other guests to one another if you can, and otherwise initiate conversations with other guests to make them feel at home. Encourage shy guests to participate in table conversation by showing interest in them and asking them questions. Or throw out a question to the entire table, “We’re long overdue for a vacation and are trying to figure out where to go in 2015 … If you could get on a plane and go anywhere in 2015, where would you go?” Notice that even as a professional food writer, I believe that gracefulness is all about making the people around your table feel warmly welcomed. The food and drink you serve is always secondary to that!


j. jane side notes:

“Mastering our minds” may be the greatest gift to self. Thank you for those beautiful words, Karen. Bravo!

Might I recommend that you connect with the lovely Ms. Page via Twitter and Facebook? Currently, she and her husband have over 10.3 K followers on Twitter. No doubt they are sharing fun and relevant content.

And one more note,  just in case you do not know …

The James Beard Foundation Awards are annual awards presented by the James Beard Foundation for excellence in cuisine, culinary writing, and culinary education in the United States. (In other words, it’s kind of a big deal.)  It is an honor and outstanding achievement to be recognized at this level. To learn more about the prestigious James Beard Awards, click: Karen Rocks