Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Debut Author Leslie Karst on Inspiration for a Culinary Mystery: Foodies vs. Old-Schoolers
LUCY BURDETTE: Up today, a woman after my own heart--food, food, food! Plus she's got a debut novel that I loved and I hope you will too. Welcome Leslie!
LESLIE KARST: I think about food a lot. In part, because I seem to be incessantly hungry—the result, no doubt, of having to greatly curb my caloric intake now that I’ve reached what the French so delicately call une certaine age. But also because I’m pretty much obsessed with food, even when not hungry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve begun discussing and planning a future meal before I’ve even finished the one still on the table. (Doesn’t everyone do this?)
Okay, so what’s for dinner tomorrow night?
Because, truly, let’s face it: Eating is the most important—and, I would argue, the most satisfying—human activity there is. So I contemplate, and write about, the subject quite a bit. This is why Sally Solari, the protagonist of my debut mystery, Dying for a Taste, is involved with two restaurants and, like her creator, has food on her mind pretty much all the time.
the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, location of Solari’s restaurant in the book
As with Sally, I too was also once an attorney who’d spend my days staring out the window fantasizing about food and cooking when I should have been busy churning out those billable hours.
Is it lunch time yet?
But unlike my sleuth, I never changed careers to work in a restaurant. There were two reasons for this. First, unlike the Solaris, my family didn’t own restaurants, so there was no pressure on me to return to the family fold. But I wouldn’t have wanted to make that switch in any case. I’d spent a couple years waiting tables in my youth, and also worked the hot-lines of several restaurants during my stint as a culinary arts student. And from that limited experience, I learned just how exhausting and stressful a career in the food business can be.
line-cooks at Boulevard, in San Francisco (they’re only smiling because it’s the end of the shift)
Yet I did long for a change from the law, and writing was something I knew I enjoyed. Sure, drafting legal memos, motions, and appeals all day long could be mind-numbingly dull and tedious. But writing fiction—especially a story about food—now, that would be fun.
I’d been a fan of mysteries since age sixteen, the day my mom handed me an Agatha Christie she’d just finished. (The book was Nemesis; I remember because I had to ask her the meaning of the word.) After that day, I started gobbling up others of the “Golden Age,” such as Dorothy L. Sayers and Josephine Tey, later moving on to more modern authors like Sue Grafton and Sarah Caudwell. So why not, I thought, combine my love of the culinary arts with crime fiction and write a food-themed mystery?
Sure, I can do that!
Around this same time, I was serving as treasurer for the Santa Cruz chapter of Slow Food, an organization dedicated to linking the pleasures of the table with sustainable and humane food practices. (And my oh my, do they host fun and delicious events!) Santa Cruz—once home to Italian fishermen, ranchers, and retirees—had been undergoing profound changes ever since a campus of the University of California had opened there in the late 1960s, and by the turn of the new century the town was teeming with hipsters and hippies and urban professionals. Along with these newcomers, the food movement had descended full-force upon the surprised old-timers.
not your old-school spaghetti joint
As I witnessed (and participated in) the advent of this “foodie” revolution and its effects on our sleepy beach town, it hit me that the juxtaposition of these two cultures would make for a terrific backdrop to a mystery story: What would happen if a local Santa Cruz gal suddenly found herself caught between the world of her family’s traditional, old-fashioned Italian restaurant, and that of the newly-arrived, politically-correct food activists?
This was the inspiration for Dying for a Taste.
linguine with clam sauce (recipe included in my book!)
Readers: I’d love to hear if the “food revolution” has descended upon your town and, if so, how folks have reacted. Have the old-timers embraced the movement? Do the foodies appreciate the traditional, old-school cuisines of the region? Are there conflicts between the two groups?
(Leave a comment with your email to be entered in the drawing for a copy of Dying for a Taste!)
BIO: Leslie Karst is the author of the culinary mystery, Dying for a Taste, the first of the Sally Solari Mystery series (Crooked Lane Books). A former research and appellate attorney, Leslie now spends her days cooking, gardening, reading, cycling, singing alto in the local community chorus, and of course writing. She and her wife, Robin, and their Jack Russell mix, Ziggy, split their time between Santa Cruz, California and Hilo, Hawai‘i. Visit her at Leslie Karst Author for more.
SYNOPSIS: After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her dad run his old-style Italian eatery in Santa Cruz, California, but soon finds that managing the front of the house is far from her dream job of running her own kitchen.
Then her Aunt Letta is found stabbed to death at Gauguin, Letta’s swank Polynesian-French restaurant, and Sally is the only one who can keep the place afloat. When the Gauguin sous chef is accused of the crime, however, Sally must delve into the unfamiliar world of organic food, sustainable farming, and animal rights activists—not to mention a few family secrets—to help clear his name and catch the true culprit before her timer runs out.