Interview with Kate Leahy, Wine Style
A portrait of Kate Leahy by John Lee;
Kate Leahy has collaborated with numerous chefs to bring their cookbooks to life like A16: Food and Wine, La Buvette, and Burma Superstar. Her newest book Wine Style marks her first solo endeavor where she explores the elevated basics of modern food and wine pairing as she sees it. It’s both an instructional guide and a compelling display of how a San Francisco chef eats at home. Much of the recipe development was done during lockdown and there is a beautiful sense of being present in the moment at home reflected in her book. We are honored to have our wines featured in the book, captured throughout by photographer Erin Scott. To learn more about Kate and her books visit her website.
a photo from the book featuring Broc Cellars Nero d'Avola and our Vine Starr Zinfandel, credit Erin Scott.
We interviewed Kate about her life, work, and favorite Broc wine of the moment.
What is your personal history with food?
I went to UC Davis for history and studio art. I really wanted to write about food. It was right before Kitchen Confidential came out. I was so intrigued by the world of restaurants and cooking. In high school, I worked as a hostess and I was always fascinated by the hustle and bustle of it all. I knew that if I wanted to write about food I needed to learn how to cook food.
When I graduated I got a job at a local bakery making $10 an hour. It was during the dot com boom of the 2000s and there was a stark contrast between what I sought out to do and what other young graduates were pursuing. But, I just wanted to learn about food. That bakery job led to a better job at a better bakery. I vacillated between going to cooking school or focusing on learning from line cooks. In the end I went to cooking school at the Napa Valley Community College. I took class during the day and then worked in restaurants in St. Helena at night. I loved the energy, camaraderie and constant learning. That’s how I ended up at A16, cooking and learning about a whole new world of food and wine. A16 and Delfina were some of the only San Francisco restaurants at that time that were focused on regional Italian food.
How did you go from cooking to actually writing books?
I loved cooking but there was a point where I realized I didn’t want to continue to move up in that world -- I didn’t want to become a chef de cuisine or own a restaurant. That’s when I thought maybe I should revisit being a food writer.
The book is filled with scrumptious photos by Erin Scott, this one is featuring Kate's favorite Broc wine Amore Bianco.
You wrote quite a few books focused on California restaurants and then came your collaboration with Camille Fourmont of La Buvette in Paris. What brought you to write about the quintessential “Cave à Manger” in France?
I had never met Camille or visited La Buvette before I started working on the book. It’s an important place in the natural wine community and one of the most charming spots to visit. At the time, Emily Timberlake, who was an editor at Ten Speed Press, was interested in doing a book on La Buvette and asked me if I was interested, too. I had a phone conversation with Camille and I don’t speak French but we connected and I agreed to go there and work with her on writing her story. At La Buvette, I was a fly on the wall. She’s a one person shop, a one woman show. The way she runs things is very interesting -- she does everything from pour the wine, to cook, to serve the food. We created stories about La Buvette, spent time together and shared with each other. While it is technically a cookbook, it’s also a story of a place and time. It’s a book someone who visited can read and remember their experience at La Buvette. Camille’s most famous recipe is a really nice can of giant white beans with lemon zest, olive oil and Maldon salt. That’s it. When you do everything yourself it has to be simple.
Pair the recipe for Oil-Packed Tuna Salad with Potatoes, Olives, and Lemon with our Amore Bianco.
This is your first solo book, how is that different from collaborating with another writer?
When I collaborate and I come up with ideas that don’t quite fit the project, I have to save them for another day. The other side of that is when it’s your own book you realize -- what if I don’t have enough ideas? With someone else's book, there is inspiration and collaboration. It made me appreciate what I get out of collaboration. With your own book it’s all you.
What prompted the idea for Wine Style?
The idea came to me because 10-15 years ago, there were a lot of food and wine books, but many of them focused on classic French wine and food pairings. That may be why they went out of fashion. People started to go in the direction of not talking about food pairings -- it was more drink what you like with food you like. I think there is room to meet people halfway. Give enough ideas so they can be inspired with good wine information that is rooted in fact. In Wine Style I want to embrace that middle ground of drinking what you like with the food you like but also providing direction to explore wines and pairings they maybe haven’t tried before.
The pandemic led some people working in restaurants to pursue careers like writing. Do you have advice for former restaurant workers who want to write professionally?
Start writing. It could be creative writing or journalism, but if you want to write, start writing today. It’s a muscle, and you have to write a lot of words to get the hang of it.. If you want more guidance, there are a lot of online courses that can point you in a good direction to get started. Remember that restaurant work can always be of value no matter what you do next.
Are there wine trends that you see now with staying power?
One of the wine trends I see is red wines made more like white wines. They’re lighter on the palate and immensely food friendly. Winemakers have an opportunity to take a more playful approach with blends, finding grapes from lesser-known areas that need to be blended out of necessity and finding opportunities there.
What grape is poised for a comeback?
Chardonnay. It really is good with food. If we have learned one thing about the resurgence of Chenin Blanc and how popular it is right now, it makes sense that Chardonnay will be back.
You don’t have to choose favorites, but what is your Broc wine of the moment that you are really enjoying?
Amore Bianco, that wine is really cool. Getting northern Californians drinking Tocai Friulano is great. It’s a great wine with food, great wine for this moment, summertime.
How often do you drink wine?
What’s next for you?
I am working with Shelley Lindgren of A16 on an Italian wine book that will be out in 2023. We are going region through region and highlighting each of the key grapes for each region. Also, everyone loves a sequel so there will likely be a follow-up to Wine Style. I might call it Wine Style “the Sequel”. Ha!