Q&A with Halliday

In conversation with Karen Martini

By Anna Webster

28 Oct, 2022

Chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and television presenter Karen Martini’s latest book, COOK, is the jewel in the crown of her shining career. Here, she tells us more about it, plus the role wine plays in her life and restaurants.

Karen Martini

H. Tell us about your new book, COOK. Why is it the only book home cooks need in their kitchen?
KM. I set out to write a book that is all about how I cook, what I like to eat and how I understand food. COOK was born out of that. It wasn’t an easy task, and it took five years. Unpacking a cook’s mind is not simple. It was a little terrifying to begin with, but I hope these 900-odd pages are interesting, informative and, above all, inspiring.

This book houses my best-ever recipes...my true favourites from childhood and now, the very simple to the elaborate. It’s for all skill levels and occasions, it’s deeply personal, and both professional and homely. It celebrates the strong fascination I have with many different cuisines.

COOK is about the love of cooking and the art of eating. It’s a book that will help and inspire those who are tentative about cooking, while adding texture, colour and flavour for those who are more experienced. Hopefully it sits comfortably on many, many kitchen benches in the years to come. ‘Cook’ well...and life is good.

H. How important is wine for you when it comes to dining, both at home and out?
KM. It’s part of the way we eat, share experiences and discover things. At home it may be trying something new or an opportunity to bring something out of the cellar that demands a bit of attention. Often, we are entertaining at home so it can become a way to try new vintages with friends or something off the radar.

Out, it’s part and parcel of a dining experience and another opportunity to chat about what direction to take. It’s also important for the economics of a restaurant, so when you take a seat, order something.

H. What makes a good restaurant wine list?
KM. Well-priced with interest, discovery and sometimes comfort for a customer. I think it should have something of a personal narrative reflecting the interests of those involved and looking towards the menu.

H. What’s one of your most memorable wine and food experiences?
KM. Smuggled white truffle risotto and Mount Mary pinot noir, or a crisp Italian white and langoustine pasta on the beach.

H. What’s your all-time favourite food and wine match?
KM. Too many to choose from but...vitello tonnato and Pieropan soave, or Chianti Classico and bistecca di Fiorentina.

H. What would you serve to drink and eat at your ultimate meal?
KM. Winter oysters and Raveneau Chablis.

H. Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to wine or food?
KM. I’ve been known to smash through good dark chocolate. While guilt is not okay, it sometimes comes with the territory when it’s late and the wine is good and “for sure we should have another glass”.

H. What wines or styles are you loving right now?
KM. I’ve been all about gamay for the past few years. It was a slow burn over time with very good Beaujolais but that seems to have intensified. I also love nebbiolo from the Valtellina.

H. What are your favourite wine regions?
KM. Burgundy in France and Piedmont in Italy. 

H. Which wine region is still on your bucket list to visit one day?
KM. Piedmont again in winter.

H. Do you collect wine?
KM. We do, but not obsessively – and the pandemic did a good job of editing our collection. Being around wine lists in the restaurant opens a lot of opportunity for discovery. 

H. How would you describe your collection?
KM. Lots of Burgundy plus key Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello producers.

H. What’s the oldest wine you’ve tried?
KM. Sauternes from the 1950s.

H. What’s been your best-ever bargain wine?
KM. Relabelled Petaluma cabernet.

H. Are there any wine styles you don’t like?
KM. I’ve tried, but off-dry German riesling...

H. Are there any wines you never used to like, but now love?
KM. Fino/Manzanilla.

H. What’s your favourite piece of wine advice?
KM. Drink as well as you can afford. Don’t overthink it.

This article appears in issue #66 of Halliday magazine. Become a member to receive the print publication as well as digital access.