When I went to New York in May for Book Expo America, I was invited to a party to celebrate the launch of Eight Hundred Grapes, the latest novel by Laura Dave, which celebrates wine and food and weaves them into a story of marriage and family relationships. At that party, I got to meet Laura, who was incredibly friendly and welcoming and made me feel like we had known each other forever. I also learned that she is Jewish.
Laura’s novels have been published in fifteen countries, and three of them, including Eight Hundred Grapes, have been optioned as major motion pictures. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and some popular women’s magazines. She lives in Santa Monica with her husband. Online, you can find her on her website as well as Facebook and Twitter (where she recently shared an article about rooftop bars with great wine in DC). Check out my book blog for a review of Eight Hundred Grapes.
Jewish Food Experience: In Eight Hundred Grapes, chocolate is the secret ingredient in Georgia’s mother’s lasagna. How would you change up a traditional Jewish food recipe to have a unique twist?
Laura Dave: I don’t know if this exactly counts as a twist, but I’m a huge fan of potato latkes. And I like to serve them with surprising dipping sauces: jalapeño aioli, yogurt, lots of creamy and yummy choices to add flavor and depth.
JFE: What is a memorable Jewish food experience you’ve had, and what was your favorite thing about it?
LD: Pretty much any time my mother cooks for me—I cherish it.
JFE: What inspired you to write a novel about winemaking and life on a vineyard?
LD: I fell in love with biodynamic winemaking (a specialized organic winemaking style), and became intrigued by the devotion and trust it takes to produce wine in this way. It felt to me like, metaphorically (and literally), it utilized the skills required to keep a family together and strong. What a beautiful way, it seemed, to tell the story of a family whose members are pulling apart from each other even when they really want to stay together.
JFE: What is something interesting you learned from your research at the vineyards in Sonoma?
LD: The barreling and blending process was especially interesting. My husband equated it to watching a master chef make a stew. It was fascinating.
JFE: What is the biggest challenge for you when it comes to describing food to make it sound appealing to your readers?
LD: I love cooking and food, which makes writing about it a real treat. It helps that I actually make everything my characters eat in my novels to make sure the recipe is authentic. As an example, you can watch me make the lasagna in Eight Hundred Grapes here.
JFE: What role has food and wine played in your relationship with your family over time?
LD: I love taking great care of the people I love, and cooking for them (as well as enjoying meals with them) is a large part of that. It’s a way to celebrate together and enjoy being together. It’s something I treasure deeply.
JFE: What is a favorite book that you’ve read involving food and/or Judaism?
LD: I love Jonathan Tropper’s novels, several of which focus on Judaism.