It’s not exactly a shock to discover that New Zealand’s most successful fashion designer has great taste in food. Known for her upbeat, colourful collections, Karen Walker has amassed a cult following around the world for proving that elegance and individuality can go hand in hand. When someone is that well known for her distinctive sense of style, you expect it to be reflected in everything from the art that hangs on their walls to the food they consume.
What is more surprising, perhaps, is that she actually has time to cook. With the Karen Walker label available in more than 200 cities and one thousand stores, and encompassing accessories, jewellery, sunglasses, fragrance, homeware and bridalwear lines as well as clothing, you’d forgive her for poaching an egg when she comes home from work and calling it a day.
Instead, the almost lifelong vegetarian loves to try recipes from her favourite cooks (including Ottolenghi, who isn’t exactly known for quick, weeknight dinners), and to entertain in her Ponsonby home, which she shares with her husband and 13-year-old daughter. She shares some of her favourite recipes with us, as well as the one dish she’d choose if she could fly anywhere in the world for dinner.
dish: Who would your dream dinner guest be and what would you cook for them?
Karen: Well, I’d be in trouble if I didn’t say my family and friends, wouldn’t I? But, honestly, they are my dream dinner guests. What I’d cook, of course, depends on the season and, I hope, would be that tricky balance between homely and spectacular.
What are some go-to weeknight meals when you need something quick?
We take turns cooking in our house and have a couple of nights a week that are take-out/eating out/leftovers, so I really only cook two or three nights a week. If it needs to be quick, it’ll be either a salad or pasta. Maybe a soup in winter.
Describe an early food memory that has stayed with you.
My grandmother’s shortbread. She’d make it every week and so there was usually some in the cupboard. It was probably 90 per cent butter but, damn, it was good.
What cookbooks/chefs have been inspiring you lately?
My go-to for many, many years now has been Ottolenghi, since someone kindly gave me a copy of Plenty. It’s well-thumbed with lots of Post-it notes now and I think I’ve got every book he has done since. For baking, it’s usually Jordan Rondel. And I also love Coming Unstuck by Sarah Tuck! Best mashed potatoes ever!
What are some favourite flavours?
Garlic, butter, onion and salt, as well as truffles and honey from my own hive.
Favourite places to eat out in Auckland?
The French Café, Amano, Orphans Kitchen, Ponsonby Road Bistro and The Oyster Inn.
What are some of your tricks for entertaining at home?
Good Champagne to start and really great stinky cheese at the end to forgive any mishaps in between. Some favourite recipes include Donna Hay’s mixed mushroom and almond-milk risotto with crispy sage for the depth of flavour of the Cognac (the recipe calls for brandy but I prefer Cognac) and the magic of the truffle. Plus Ottolenghi’s roasted whole cauliflower with green tahini dressing (from Simple) for the wow factor when it hits the table.
For dessert, I love The Caker’s apple and rosemary crumble for pure mid-winter comfort.
What would your last supper be?
Buttery, garlicky pasta and a really lovely red wine.
Favourite tipple — alcoholic or non-alcoholic?
For non-alcoholic, I like fizzy water from my KitchenAid soda maker, Imperial Earl Grey tea from Storm & India, decaf latte or espresso, and lapsang souchong tea, though I’m yet to find my perfect blend.
For alcoholic drinks I love a G&T - my current favourite is Island Gin with East Imperial Tonic.
Is there anything you don't eat?
Animals. I haven’t eaten red meat for 37 years or white meat for 30 years. It was a moral choice, but since then there are, of course, the added environmental benefits to take into consideration.
Which city is your favourite foodie destination?
Rome. My best-ever meal there was at Piperno, which is famous for its grilled artichoke. It didn’t let us down. It was a perfect long lunch with three of my favourite men (hubby, bro’, bro’-in-law) during which we all gasped in astonishment at the simplicity and perfection of the grilled artichoke. They were followed by wild strawberries. The setting is a lovely wee courtyard in the Jewish Quarter and it was one of the happiest meals of my life.
Your ultimate treat food?
There’s always Whittaker’s Marlborough Sea Salt and Caramel Brittle chocolate in my fridge.
If you could teleport to any restaurant in the world for dinner tonight, what would it be and why?
The Ivy in London would be nice. Their asparagus with hollandaise is always heavenly, and it always just feels special there.
Karen Walker's Garlicky Autumn Pappardelle (v)
Recipe by Sarah Tuck
From issue #96
This recipe was created for Karen Walker by Sarah Tuck: "Reading Karen’s interview, I was delighted to see some of her food likes – garlicky, buttery, vegetarian pasta. My sons and I share the same favourite flavours. To that end, I've created a version of a dish that we often enjoy, which has several variations. Simply swap out the red onions and kūmara for pan-fried mushrooms and a pinch of truffle salt, or sliced zucchini with mint – the magic is in the reduced cream sauce that coats the pasta so that the result is silky, not overwhelming."
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 medium Beauregard kūmara, chopped into 4cm pieces
1 red onion, sliced into wedges
4 sprigs thyme
½-1 teaspoon chilli flakes
sea salt and ground pepper
400 grams fettucine or pappardelle
1 cup cream
finely grated zest 1 small lemon
5 garlic cloves, crushed
½ cup grated parmesan
Preheat the oven to 180°C fan bake.
Put the olive oil, kūmara, red onion and half of the thyme in a roasting dish. Sprinkle over half of the chilli flakes, season well with salt and pepper and toss gently to combine. Cook for 20-25 minutes until fragrant and roasty.
While the vegetables are cooking, put a big pot of salted water on the heat to boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta for a few minutes less than recommended on the packet, as it will continue to cook in the sauce.
Put the cream, lemon, garlic, remaining thyme and chilli flakes in a wide pot or deep frying pan, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 4-5 minutes until the cream starts to reduce. Add the pasta and about 2 tablespoons of pasta water to the sauce with two-thirds of the vegetables. Add the parmesan and fold together. Top with the remaining vegetables to serve.