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Interview with Karen Page, co-author of ‘What to Drink With What You Eat’
CHEF JAMES: Your background seems to complement your husband Andrew Dornenburg's perfectly for collaborating on the various books and other projects you have worked on together. What advise would you give to others who are embarking on their first collaboration?
KAREN PAGE: Andrew and I are unusually compatible, and have loved collaborating professionally over the past 10+ years on all of our books, not to mention being married for 15+ years and a couple for 20+ years. We each have great respect for the others' strengths and contributions to our work together. So we never thought we would receive anything but equal credit for our respective contributions to our work. That hasn't turned out to be the case.
To be candid, I would advise any women who are 50 percent or more contributors in a collaboration to put their names first on their books. I was the one who had suggested that we list our names in alphabetical order on our first book BECOMING A CHEF's cover, even though I am their primary author.
However, what Andrew and I have unfortunately learned over the past 11 years (and 7 books) is that not infrequently, the first-named author is seen as the primary author -- and receives a disproportionate share of media coverage, event invitations, etc. This appears to be especially true when the second-named author is a woman.
There are already far too many women who haven't received their due over the course of history because of their gender, so Andrew and I agree that it's especially important that women who deserve credit for their work to take steps to ensure that they receive it.
CHEF JAMES: What sparked your interest in cooking and culinary matters? Did you cook growing up?
KAREN PAGE: As the daughter of a Polish mother and a Greek father, I grew up around a lot of interesting foods that were unusual in Detroit and its suburbs: from duck blood soup, oxtails, and pig's feet to anchovies, feta cheese, and sardines. I didn't want to be seen as any less brave than my older brother Kevin (who was fearless when it came to scary things, from food to movies to roller coasters), so I was willing to try it all to prove that I was just as tough as he was. And I found that I liked an awful lot of it.
I've never been much of a cook, but I've always been an appreciative eater. My late grandmother and my great aunt Mary were both fabulous cooks in their day, and I watched (and often helped) them make everything from cheesecake to homemade Polish sausage and pierogi with great fascination. But I wasn't drawn to spend long hours in the kitchen. My interest in gastronomy is on more of a sensual and conceptual level.
CHEF JAMES: Who have been the biggest inspirations throughout your career?
KAREN PAGE: I doubt that America's leading chefs have any idea how much they influenced the direction of my life and career. I owe a debt of gratitude to great chefs and thinkers like Daniel Boulud, Mark Miller, Patrick O'Connell, the late Barbara Tropp, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and countless others.
As Norman Van Aken says of the chef's profession, "This is not a profession that you choose. It chooses you." The same can be said of my decision to write books about gastronomy after earning my MBA from Harvard, where I was once singled out as one of the five most outstanding of the roughly 200 women in my class. Today, I suspect I drag down the average earnings of my class -- which includes billionaire Jim Balsillie of BlackBerry fame, who sat directly in front of me for two years at Harvard -- quite significantly. On the other hand, I doubt that many of my classmates have as much delicious fun as I do.
CHEF JAMES: How did you and Andrew decide to write your first book together, 'Becoming A Chef'?
KAREN PAGE: Andrew was a career changer, and decided to become a chef in his late 20s. He'd asked chef (and CIA graduate) Chris Schlesinger of the East Coast Grill in Boston about cooking schools, but Chris told Andrew he'd teach him "everything he needed to know." Indeed, Chris took Andrew under his wing as an apprentice chef, giving him a copy of Escoffier and a membership in the American Institute of Wine and Food.
Yet there was a lot about the profession and how one worked one's way up that Andrew didn't know, so I suggested he read a book on the subject. When he told me that none existed, I was shocked. A little library research turned up the fact that the chef's profession was projected to be one of the top 10 careers for the coming decade and beyond, based on demand. When I saw first-hand this new generation of American chefs emerging, I told Andrew he should write a book on becoming a chef to fill the obvious need. When Andrew protested that he wasn't a writer (which isn't true; a dyslexic, Andrew's a wonderful writer, just a lousy speller!), I offered to help. The rest is history.