In this episode, we talk to the groundbreaking lifestyle blogger and model about the globetrotting life that exposed her to the world’s great wines, her favorite restaurants in New York City, and how wine keeps her beautiful inside and out.
Read the full transcript of “A Sip Session with Supermodel Veronica Webb”:
Susan Kostrzewa: Susan Kostrzewa, executive director of Wine Enthusiast magazine. In this episode we’ll talk to lifestyle blogger and supermodel Veronica Webb about how modeling exposed her to the world’s great wines, her favorite restaurants in New York City, and how wine keeps her beautiful and healthy. So the first thing that I have to bring up is the fact that you’re from Detroit, and I’m from Traverse City.
Veronica Webb: You are? I was just in Detroit yesterday.
SK: So I would love to hear a little bit about when you were growing up in Detroit. Did you grow up cooking in your family? Was food and wine or food part of your upbringing?
VW: When we grew up, my mother had grown up on a farm and so had my father, so we grew up very close to nature. My aunt had a huge urban garden. So she had two vacant lots on Cadillac Avenue and she farmed everything from roses to collard greens to potatoes to raspberries to blackberries to cherries to peaches, I mean, you name it. She had a green thumb, she could grow anything. I have a black thumb, I cannot grow anything. But it was my job to pick weed and harvest.
SK: So you did grow up with sort of a food culture and a locavore food culture in your family.
VW: A very Southern locavore food culture. You know, I grew up eating anything baptized in deep fat because my parents on both sides actually migrated from the South. So Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, like that. So I grew up eating soul food. My grandmother did make wine. She made dandelion wine.
SK: Really, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of that. What is that?
VW: You take dandelions and you put them in a jar and I guess you put some sugar in it and you close it up and it becomes wine after a while.
SK: I’ve heard of Italian families doing wine in their basement, I’ve never heard of dandelion wine. Is it good?
VW: I mean I was a kid, so it was nasty.
VW: You know, when you’re a kid, wine is nasty.
SK: So I’d love to talk about your interest in wine, your love of wine, and how your travels, modeling, and doing the work that you do, how it led to and exposed you to being interested in wine.
VW: Well for me, fine wine and fashion go hand in hand. And it wasn’t until I came into the fashion industry that I was introduced, really introduced to things like good wine and champagne. And I remember one of the first times that I was in Paris and I was working for Azzedine Alaïa, who feeds his entire staff every single day in the kitchen that’s underneath the boutique and the factory. It’s all sort of, it’s vertically integrated, so it’s all in one place. And many times he does all the cooking himself, believe it or not, for 30 or 40 people.
SK: That’s incredible.
VW: Yeah he really enjoys it. And well in France, wine goes with everything, so that was my beginning of being exposed to fine wine. And then I used to do these epic fittings at Chanel with Karl Lagerfeld that would last three days because Chanel’s nothing if not accessories. And they would serve champagne there. And it was just normal that you would have smoked salmon and champagne, and it was all stuff that I had never tasted before.
SK: So was it something where you would talk about what you were eating and drinking or you just learned on your own? Were you going back to, say, Karl and saying this is amazing, what is this?
VW: Well I was very quiet ’cause I was in an unfamiliar world, unfamiliar environment. I’m from the East side of Detroit. My parents were … my mother was a nurse, my father was an electrician. My dad worked at Chrysler. So even though we were cultured in a lot of ways especially that had to do with literature and history and art ’cause I was always very interested in art and spent a lot of time in the Detroit Institute of Arts, the culinary side of things was not really something that I was that familiar with. So I was always in a position where I was watching and learning. And one of the things that André Leon Talley told me to do, who was the creative director of Vogue for a very long time, he said watch the most senior person in the room and you’ll figure it out. So one of … a classic story is we went to Monte Carlo to do a fashion show for Chanel.
And then afterwards we had dinner at Karl Lagerfeld’s apartment in the Roccabella. And we sat down and Princess Caroline is here and all these … the most … and the wealthiest women in Europe, in Asia, and the Middle East, and-
SK: No pressure at all.
VW: No. And I’m 19 and I had no idea. I’m still pretty much on a fast food budget and there’s like 5 and 6 forks by my plate. I had no idea what to do. So I followed Princess Caroline to the bathroom when she got up and I said hi and she said hi ’cause she knew me from all the different shows that she had seen me in and she’s very gracious and very nice. And I said what do I do about the … I don’t know, I don’t … could you tell me what to do with the forks?
SK: I love it, that’s great.
VW: And she said just start from the outside.
SK: So I have to mention where we are, which is The Leopard at des Artistes, it’s in the Upper West Side of New York. And you were talking earlier about growing up with an interest in culture and art, and I think one of the reasons I love that you chose the Leopard is it’s housed in a really historic in New York and we’re surrounded by murals from the 1920’s and 1930’s. And this is also attached to the hotel where Rudolph Valentino and Norman Rockwell, they all used to live in this building. So I think it’s … when Veronica suggested we come here, I was really excited. So that’s one of the great things about New York though, if you think about it. There’s history everywhere.
VW: We discovered it on New Year’s Eve and they serve a fabulous New Year’s Eve dinner. And because it’s right by the park, you can step outside and see the fireworks. And it’s also named after a movie, I think is Visconti is the director, called The Leopard, that’s about the Italian revolution.
SK: If you have a friend coming in from out of town who maybe doesn’t know New York that well or you know is one of the types of people we just mentioned, which is a person who loves wine and food, where are some of your hit lists or neighborhoods that you love to take them to?
VW: Well I love all of New York. One of the places that I love is Donna and Gabby Karan’s restaurant that’s called Tutto il Giorno because the food is spectacular and the wine list is very deep. And that’s in Tribeca. And there’s so much happening down there now in the Financial District. If you wanna take someone down on Wall Street and show them Fraunces Tavern where the American Revolution was planned and where George Washington slept and a lot of the Founding Fathers slept, then there’s all kinds of new stuff going on in the Oculus center. So that’s a great place to go down there.
SK: I love that you chose sort of deep downtown because I think there are go-to areas, obviously Soho and the West Village and all these places that we love that everyone tends to go to. But I like the idea of the Financial District and like you said, all the history down there in some of those great restaurants as well. And more happening down there, I think too, and Tribeca as well, so.
VW: And then in Soho, if you like Turkish wines, and they make great rosé in Turkey, there’s a place called the Antique Garage. It’s so charming, isn’t it, and interesting, and old New York and the antithesis of any type of chain restaurant or something that would turn into a reality show. And it’s always full and it’s always full of locals. The other place that I like in the West Village is Sant Ambroeus. It’s a great place for everything and it’s one of the most kid-friendly restaurants in the city, believe it or not. Very warm and very Italian in that way and every year my girls go with their godmother and her son and they have a birthday party for the three kids. So it’s just the five of us. And we drink great wines and they take the kids in the kitchen and eat a fabulous plate of spaghetti. And then for Uptown of course there’s The Leopard and then there’s a Spanish restaurant that I like, which is called Andanada. And they have a spectacular Spanish wine cellar.
It’s tucked away, it’s very small. It’s beautifully decorated, great staff. And tapas, out of this world. Paella, out of this world.
SK: Do you travel in pursuit of wine and food? Are you … are the two of you or your family when you’re doing travel, do you ever go to places because it has a great food or wine scene?
VW: All we ever think about is eating. While we’re buying food, we’re thinking about what we’re gonna buy next. While we’re cooking food, we’re thinking about what we’re gonna cook next. While we’re eating, we’re thinking about what we’re gonna cook next. While we’re looking at recipes, we’re talking about other recipes. So food happens all the time. And we plan our whole day around food to the point where it’s very hard to be around us if you’re not a foodie. So yes, we do travel to … for wine, we do stay at certain places because their wine list is so great like the Ritz in Madrid. It has one of the bars, I think, in the world. And one of the best wine lists in the world. And one of the best lobbies in the world. And you just sit there and you can have tapas until like 3:00 in the morning because it’s Spain. Why would anyone ever go to sleep at night? And drink fabulous wine after fabulous Champagne.
SK: What do you like to cook at home? Do you have any go-to dishes? Do you or your husband have go-to dishes that you like to make either during the week or for a special occasion, anything like that?
VW: So he likes to make Sunday sauce and that’s his Italian side. And then I make pernil and black beans and rice for him for his Spanish side as well. I make a great meatloaf. So I have kids, so I make great meatloaf and fried chicken. What else? I’m really good at making salmon, macaroni, all kinds of macaroni and cheese. And then I love all this food delivery services because they bring so much variety into your life and they remove the negative part of or I would say the more difficult part of cooking meals for six people every night, which is going to the grocery store and getting it home. And then there’s a couple wine stores. There’s the one on 57th street, Cork and Barrel, which is fantastic. And then there’s another one on the West side, which is called Wine 67, I think. That’s another great store.
SK: So do you … when you go into a wine store, do you usually know what you’re there to get or are you pretty adventurous in just choosing something new and trying something new? How adventurous are you in your wine purchases and tasting at home?
VW: I find the most eccentric looking salesperson in the wine store and then I start talking to them. And then when they recommend a wine, I ask them have they been to the vineyard. And then when they tell me that they’ve been to the vineyard or they know that person and they talk to that person all the time from that vineyard. And then they start talking about the people who they know in all the different vineyards, then you know that that’s your salesperson. The only time that I really don’t like is sweet wine. I don’t have a sweet tooth.
SK: So even some of the great Sauternes, it’s not your thing.
VW: Like a sip but then it gets overwhelming.
SK: Do you … just speaking on that, do you have certain styles of wine or countries, origin of wine that you’re really into?
VW: I love Malbecs, I love Riojas, ’cause they’re drier and they’re spicier.
SK: We interviewed Veronica for the fashion and wine package that’s just come out and one of my favorite quotes that we use as a pull quote is you talking about french fries and red wine in your casket.
SK: And how it’s a favorite pairing of yours. So do you have other combinations of wine and food that you really like?
VW: Let’s see, well, I really like spaghetti and meatballs with a Barolo. I like salmon with rosé, Whispering Angel is a good one. I like steak and red wine with a Malbec. A Billecart-Salmon with smoked salmon and with eggs and caviar. A Billecart-Salmon with a big salad, that’s always good.
SK: Everybody asks you this, I’m sure but I feel like I have to ask how you keep living and enjoying your lifestyle, at the same time you have to obviously be very fit for work.
VW: Well I have one day a week, that’s my pig out day. And that’s how I pig out and get away with it. I talk about that on my blog, webbonthefly.com. I try different things. Right now I’m doing a ketogenic diet, which is no carbs and you’re allowed red wine and you’re allowed vodka.
SK: All right well that sounds okay.
VW: On the day I’ll eat. And then you can have white wine or whatever on the weekend. And I try to just do something everyday and my day starts everyday by stretching, whether I stretch in bed before I get out of bed or if I stretch in the shower. And then if worst comes to worst, if I cannot do anything because I don’t have the time or if I’m dealing with an injury or something like that, I [inaudible 00:14:57] plank for as long as I can. And like wine and yoga are sort of the same thing except one comes in a glass.
SK: It’s a good way of … it’s liquid yoga. Yeah so they both help you relax, it’s very true. I would love to know a little bit more about how you started your career. Also was that what you had imagined yourself to be doing? Was there another profession when you were younger that you thought you’d do? How did that all unfold?
VW: Well when I was a kid, I thought maybe I’d be a shoe designer or a doctor, one or the other. And then when I got to be in my teenage years, I wanted to model and my mother said no, which is the best thing that ever happened to me because one, I think that the later you start as a model, the better off for you just because your sense of self is much more developed and it’s not impacted by other people’s opinions of how you look or how much you weigh or how tall you are or if you’re gonna fit in or if you’re right with the group or not. And then also the other thing too is when you go into business, everyone you meet tells you no. And so until you can figure out how to make it happen on your own without assistance whatever it is that you’re trying to do, you’re gonna hear no. And no matter what stage of your career you’re at, what stage of business you’re in, no matter what you do, you’re gonna hear no.
Even the President of the United States hears no. So learning how to deal with no is a great lesson and I’m glad that I got it from my mother.
SK: So did her telling you that you shouldn’t do it make you want to do it a little bit more? Did you really listen? And obviously you waited to some extent then?
VW: Well my mother’s questions were so if you want to do this, how are you gonna start? So and that’s the way everything begins. I think that’s the best advice that you can give anyone. Ask yourself, how do you start? So I figured out I gotta get to New York somehow. So I got a scholarship to Parsons. And then once I got to Parsons, then I realized that I had better stay in school because without school, there’s no way I could really afford to pay for living in New York. And then I got a job and I was going to school and very distracted by living in New York especially coming from Detroit, you’re just not used to the amount of stuff that there is to do here. And then when I was working one day, a hairdresser and a makeup artist who both came in and one of [inaudible 00:17:37] sons both came in and they all suggested that I should start modeling and going to an agency. So I was really scared but I didn’t let that hold me back.
And I went in and every time I … and I got signed up with an agency right away, which is very unusual. It was kismet, the stars aligned for me. And I’m always thankful for that ’cause that doesn’t happen all the time for everyone. And every time I came in, people were going … I could hear the agents on the phone sending girls to Paris. And more than anything in the world, all my life I had wanted to go to Paris. So this was my chance. So I went with $100 and a one way plane ticket and a suitcase that’s no bigger than a copy of Wine Enthusiast with three shirts, three pairs of pants, three pairs of underwear, and a pair of shoes in it and a toothbrush and left. And I ended up staying there for two years before I actually made enough money to be able to come back home.
SK: Really pretty courageous at that age. That’s a young age to be doing that.
VW: Right? But once the cork is out of the bottle …
SK: That’s a good way of looking at it. So actually if you lived in Paris, do you spend a lot of time there now? Do you go back? And what do you think of the wine culture there?
VW: Well the wine culture there is everything. And I don’t go back as much as I used to because the kids are bigger now. They’re all teenagers so it’s very difficult to pull them out of school and away from their friends and stuff like that. But I was recently there. I went … I was front row at the Victoria’s Secret show and I got to meet one of … I got to see all the big loves of my life like Azzedine Alaïa and Karl Lagerfeld and all the people who started me in business, Rei Kawakubo from Comme des Garçons and also meet the new guard and hang out with Olivier Rousteing who is the designer of Balmain and that was cool. And then drink a little bottle of Cheval Blanc after work.
SK: Yeah I was just gonna say, there had to be some wine involved in that.
VW: There always has to be wine involved.
SK: Now do you find when you do go to shows of that type, is there typically wine being served at the parties and some of the events that go on around Fashion Week?
VW: Fashion is usually champagne and white wine because if something spills …
SK: It’s practical.
VW: And LVMH owns a lot of the company, so the Moët is flowing. The other night I went to the opening of the new Dior boutique in Saks and you cannot believe the amount of Moët that was going around the room.
SK: Well that’s good. So you were talking a little bit about early years of modeling and I thought it would be interesting for you give perspective on how maybe you think it’s changed since you first started, for young women now going into the industry.
VW: Well I think no matter what you’re doing, as a young woman you really have to keep your head on your shoulders because even though the world is full of good people, the world is also full of some surprises that if you could avoid them, you’d … I think that’s what you’d prefer. And I think one of the biggest changes is social media. And it allows people who are much more diverse to enter into the fashion industry and it also puts more power in the model’s hands.
SK: So they have more information going in, I think, than they might’ve had before.
VW: Well they have more information but they also have their own platform to promote and express themselves.
SK: Can you talk a little bit? That’s a good segway to your blog. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re posting on it and what the inspiration was for it?
VW: Well webbonthefly.com I started because one, I love to write. I’ve written for so many magazines, everything from the London Sunday Times to a regular column in the Paper magazine to being the editor at large of Interview to Vogue, Elle, Essence, New York Times, you name it. And I’m fascinated by fashion and travel and food and designers and people and just feel like all the time I’m bubbling over with all this information and I’m a beauty nerd. And also, women over 40 and women over 50 like myself, when you start to look in magazines, we’re not addressed and we disappear. And there’s so many things that I want to share and talk about because chic, that’s not a young girl’s game, that’s a woman’s game. And it comes after years of experience not only with fashion but with life and work and-
VW: Yes and I think that being over 50 is not forgotten. Being over 50 is fierce and getting fiercer.
SK: So one of the things that we have done in the fashion package is we’ve paired wine and designers. So I don’t want to put you too much on the spot, but I want to see where your mind goes. So you’ve mentioned a few designers that you love. You mentioned Chanel as one, so that would be my first one. If you had to compare the designs of Chanel to a wine that you like, what would it be and why?
VW: Okay yes so I would say Grüner Veltliner is her.
SK: Why would you say that Chanel is Grüner Veltliner?
VW: Well it’s snappy and easy.
SK: I kind of like the idea of the tailoring of it, which Grüner Veltliner is very I don’t want to say it’s lean but it’s got a very structured kind of feel too. It’s very linear and I think you could compare that probably to some of the designs. So let’s do one more, another designer that you really love.
VW: Azzedine Alaïa.
SK: Okay so think about a wine-
VW: Well I always think of him as Cheval Blanc and part of the reason is is we were doing work on the boutique over an extended period of time. And every day everyone drinks wine in France, right? And so they had a case of wine that was in the courtyard and they told the workers go ahead. Just drink what you want with your lunch everyday and they were happy. A few weeks goes by, big dinner party comes. They’re looking for the case of Cheval Blanc, the construction workers had drank it.
SK: Oh. You know what though, they probably really had a good time with that. It’s kind of not good for the people who paid for that wine obviously but probably one of the best nights those guys have ever had.
VW: Oh no, this went on for like weeks.
SK: Oh [inaudible 00:24:34]
VW: ‘Cause it was an entire case. So that was the case they were serving themselves from everyday. Over a period of weeks. But that’s a wine that they drink there very, very often.
SK: So I think that we’re all set. I want to thank you so much, Veronica, for meeting with me, talking about wine, a little bit of your travels, and I would love to cheers you. Cheers.
VW: Cheers, thank you.
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