Hilo author details night she cooked for Ruth Bader Ginsburg in memoir ‘Justice is Served’
March 25, 2023, 4:00 AM HST
Small-town lawyer Leslie Karst had never cooked scallops before, but a special dinner guest called for a special meal.
Karst meticulously planned a five-course dinner. The first course: one scallop, seared in butter, was presented on a square black plate smothered in ginger-lime cream sauce, garnished with a tiny purple orchid blossom.
“Scrumptious,” said the special dinner guest: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
It was January 2006. Ginsburg and her husband Martin were among the six guests at the home of Karst’s parents in Santa Monica, Calif.
“Preparing dinner for someone as prestigious as a Supreme Court justice wouldn’t be the same as having a few of my good friends over for a fancy meal. No. This momentous event called for a sophistication and grandeur on a scale I’d never even considered attempting.”Justice is Served: A Tale of Scallops, the Law, & Cooking for RBG
Karst, now an author based in Hilo on the Big Island, writes about how the nine months of preparation for that one intimate meal changed the trajectory of her life in her sixth book, a memoir: “Justice is Served: A Tale of Scallops, the Law, & Cooking for RBG.”
The memoir breaks pace from Karst’s murder mystery genre — the food-themed Sally Solari Mysteries — with titles: “The Fragrance of Death,” “Murder from Scratch,” “Dying for a Taste,” “Death al Fresco” and “A Measure of Murder.”
In the memoir, each chapter features an interlude that provides a window into the life of Ginsburg, who spent much of her career advocating for gender equality and women’s rights. She served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1993 until her death in 2020.
At the invitation of Karst’s father, law professor Kenneth Karst, Ginsburg had agreed to speak at the University of California in Los Angeles. Leslie Karst had half-jokingly offered to cook dinner for the famed justice if she ever came to town.
Karst, who was working as a research and appellate attorney at the time, said when she agreed to cook for Ginsburg in 2005 that she was no chef. She cooked as a hobby “to add a bit of spice to the daily grind of pumping out billable hours.”
“I wanted it to be the most important dinner party of my life,” Karst said during a recent interview. “I wanted it to be nice and fancy. I also didn’t want to spend the entire time in the kitchen because I wanted to spend time with Justice Ginsburg.”
The dinner would be the second time she met Ginsburg. Their first encounter was a few years earlier in the justice’s chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court. At that time, Karst recalled Ginsburg not being very talkative.
“She doesn’t like small talk,” Karst said. “She wants to talk about the law. It was very scary and awkward.”
Recalling that first meeting, it made Karst nervous about how the dinner party conversation might unfold. When the Ginsburgs arrived at her parent’s house, Karst said it was surreal.
“She came into the house I grew up in,” she said. “Just having them standing there at my parent’s house was weird.”
Karst said Ginsburg came into the house and everybody hugged each other. “It was great.” Through the course of the evening with Ginsburg, she learned the 5-foot-1 justice loved wine and had a “wicked sense of humor.”
“I did a quick calculation and figured she’d had some six glasses of wine (counting the Champagne) during the evening, but she was still, dare I say it, sober as a judge.“Justice is Served: A Tale of Scallops, the Law, & Cooking for RBG
On their drive home to Santa Cruz the following day, Karst and her partner, Robin, reflected on the events of the night. She said: “We were reliving everything that happened and I thought I should write it down.”
Karst said she wrote everything she could remember and stowed the manuscript away. After Ginsburg’s death in 2020, she decided to wipe the proverbial dust off the manuscript that had been stored away for years.
“I was reading all these articles and stories about the justice, and I realized I needed to put more of her story into my memoir, to show my readers just how and why RBG was so very crucial to the evolution of women’s rights in this country,” Karst said. “Hence, the ‘interlude’ sections in each chapter of the book, which are snapshots of her life and life’s work, each of which relate back to what was going on at that moment in my own life.”
Karst, who had been vacationing with her parents in Hawai’i, eventually bought a home in Hilo with her parents, and now splits her time between the Big Island and Santa Cruz.
“Justice is Served” will be published on April 4 by She Writes Press. The book can be pre-ordered by clicking here.
Karst also will be doing two readings from her book on the Big Island:
- April 4 at 6 p.m. at Kona Stories, 78-6831 Ali‘i Drive, in Keauhou Shopping Center
- April 8 at 3 p.m. at Basically Books, 334 Kīlauea Ave. in Hilo
Karst’s dream is that readers of her memoir will find themselves uplifted, amused and more knowledgeable than before about Ginsburg and her life’s work.
Karst also hopes readers will be pleased that she’s finally come to a place of peace in her own life.
As she thinks about Ginsburg, Karst said what made her special was how she achieved legal victories by embracing collegiality and compromise.
Karst said: “Yes, the justice did come across as quiet and withdrawn, but there was also a kindness about her — a deep concern for others’ thoughts and feelings—that shone clearly through.”