Anyone who knows feisty Santa Cruz attorney-turned-author Leslie Karst knows she’s one persistent woman. A while back, Karst set her sights on creating a culinary splash by cooking a meal for the formidable Supreme Court hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Aided by an inside connection through her father and a judge, Karst has colorfully recreated the caper in her new book, Justice is Served.
Good Times caught up with Karst for a look behind the scenes.
Your book describes your research for your RBG dinner in mouth-watering terms. How did you choose the “perfect” dishes for the occasion?
LESLIE KARST: There were two primary issues to consider in creating a menu for such a momentous dinner party. First, the dishes needed to be tasty and attractive to the eye—a meal sufficiently elegant to be worthy of my esteemed guests and varied enough that one’s palate stayed fresh through five different courses. And I, of course, wanted to ensure that everything I served consisted of ingredients the Ginsburgs liked and could eat.
But in addition, I needed the menu to be made up of dishes that could be prepared largely in advance, then finished off à la minute, for I certainly didn’t want to have to spend the entire evening in the kitchen!
After so many years of writing mystery stories with a protagonist—Sally Solari—who is not you, did you find it easier to slip into a first-person memoir-style? Or not?
Yes and no. Memoirs are similar to novels in that they tell a story, have a narrative arc, and tend to contain the same elements as their fiction cousins: dialogue, discrete scenes, dramatic highs and lows, and a payoff at the end. But writing Justice is Served felt far different from writing my Sally Solari mysteries. As you say, this story was about me; I had to be honest about myself in a way not required of fiction. No easy feat. It’s scary to put your thoughts, feelings and emotions out there for all the world to read and analyze.
Short vignettes of background on RBG are peppered throughout your memoir. I found this a refreshing way to break up the story. Was this your idea?
It was, indeed. As soon as I started writing down the story of the dinner and all that led up to it, I realized that since the memoir concerned not simply me but also the celebrated and iconic Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this was her story as well, which needed to be woven throughout as part of the structure of the book. Hence, I came up with what I term the “interludes” that occur in each chapter: snapshots of RBG’s life and life’s work, each of which relates to what was going on at the moment in my own life.
After eating fresh, organic, and minimally sauced items that fill our menus here in Santa Cruz, do you ever crave the more decadent fare of Paris?
Every day! For I am a true cream hound and do believe I could regularly feast on creamy mushroom soup, triple cream brie cheese, steak Béarnaise, and crème brûlée. (Okay, so I might occasionally need a green salad in there to balance out the meal.)
How did you and your partner Robin keep from gaining weight during your recipe testing weeks and months?
During our Paris sojourn, walking some ten miles a day as we searched for that perfect recipe for The Dinner, it was easy to keep off the weight. But then, once we returned to Santa Cruz, I think both of us may very well have added an inch to our waistline during those months of recipe testing. But it was well worth the sacrifice!
Choosing the menu was only one of the anxiety-producing necessities this dinner created. Which caused the most panic or difficulty? Choosing wines? Table settings? Clothing?
What made me the most nervous in the weeks leading up to the big event was the thought that the esteemed justice might engage me in law talk. I was, after all, an attorney at the time, so it seemed a likely prospect. But how on earth would I be able to discuss the law with the Notorious RBG without becoming utterly tongue-tied? The very idea gave me the shudders.
In the end, given the loss of many of the subjects of this book—your parents, RBG herself, and her beloved husband, Marty—is the result a bittersweet success for you?
It is, indeed. But at the same time, the memoir provides me with a wonderful snapshot of a time when all four were still fully vibrant and engaged. All I have to do is dip into the book and read a few pages to bring them all marvelously back to life. And this may be the very best part of having written the book.
Leslie Karst’s Book Release happens on Thursday, May 18, 6-8pm at Madson Wines, 328 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz. Free. madsonwines.com