Emiko Davies: Food Stories of Tuscany and Melbourne

Tortelli-artusi-venus-bellybutton
Coco Chanel said before leaving the house, you should look in the mirror and take one thing off - I think the same thing applies for a good food photograph.

- Emiko Davies

Artusi-portrait-Emiko-DaviesFood meets photographer who travels and tells beautiful stories. That's writer and photographer Emiko Davies in a nutshell - and the results on her eponymous site, Emiko Davies, are stunning. A longtime resident of Tuscany, Emiko has documented amazing artisanal food all over Italy and the world. The worldly Japanese – Australian was raised in China, went to art school at RISD, and is married to a Tuscan sommelier credited for cooking many of the dishes featured on her site (can you get any luckier?). These days she calls Melbourne, Australia home and is exploring the food scene there.

We first met Emiko Davies via Amanda Hesser of Food 52 as part of the food channel in the SAY 100, and we've since enjoyed her photographs and stories all over the food web including on Food52, The Florentine, Under the Tuscan Gun and Honest Cooking. She checked in with us over the New Year for her Tuscan recipe favorites, great food finds in Melbourne, and the lowdown on what other food writers she follows.

What are some of your favorite dishes with stories to tell? There are really too many to mention! I find Italian dishes play such an important part in Italian culture that there are so many great stories behind them. Tortellini, for example, are so loved that not only is there a story that they were made to look like Venus' bellybutton but there's another that says this pasta was invented by the chef of a nobleman who adored these tortellini so much that even when he found the chef in bed with his wife, he couldn't bring himself to fire him for fear of never eating these tortellini again.

You currently live in Melbourne – what are the must-try food things (restaurants, local specialties etc) for a food-lover visiting Melbourne? I moved to Melbourne just over a month ago after living for 7 years in Florence, and I have to say I have yet to miss the food or coffee from Italy. Melbourne is food obsessed. One of my favourite Melbourne past times is having a coffee in one of the oh-so-bohemian cafes in my neighbourhood of Northcote such as Palomino, Penny Farthing or Gypsy Hideout. A trip to the Queen Victoria Markets is also a must for visiting foodies - go for the freshest shucked oysters, the fresh produce (I love the Asian herbs you can find here) or a Turkish gozleme. Another thing I love about Melbourne is the trend for cafes and restaurants to have their own kitchen gardens or even their own beehives on city rooftops (see rooftophoney.com.au for a list of the fantastic places that make and serve their own honey). 

What are some of your favorite recipes for someone new to Tuscan food? Tuscan food is simple, hearty and - what many don't realise - can be quite heavy on the meat side! A real Florentine will have a soft spot for oversized Chianina beef steaks, chicken liver pate and tripe, but classics such as panzanella (bread salad), gnudi (the "nude" insides of ravioli, dumplings made of ricotta and spinach) and bread soups like pappa al pomodoro and ribollita will make almost anybody happy. 

What are the all-time most popular posts on your site? The ones I've written about eating in different cities around Italy - Florence, Rome and Venice, for example, where I've given a round-up of some of my favourite local places to eat and markets to shop at - real places where you can go to experience the genuine food of that city. Another popular post was one on a 120-year old recipe for a gluten-free, Italian pumpkin pie by one of my favourite cookbook writers, Pellegrino Artusi. I have to say the desserts are usually pretty popular in general! 

What other Tuscan food blogs do you follow and admire? One of the Tuscan food blogs I read regularly is Juls' Kitchen. Juls (Giulia) writes her blog in both perfect Italian and English, which is a feat in itself if you ask me. Her writing is beautiful, from the heart and inspiring. We spent a lot of time cooking and eating together when I lived in Florence, so I am missing that now! Another new and interesting blog is The Curious Eater. Sofie Delauw is a Belgian living in Florence and is a fantastic photographer. Every time I see one of her posts, I think, why can't I photograph like that?

What are some of your favorite food photographs (ones you’ve taken)– and what makes a great food photo?A great food photo for me is something that doesn't look contrived, that looks naturally beautiful and delicious and hasn't had too much added to it or done to it for the shot. Nothing frustrates me more than seeing photographs of some wintery, hearty comfort dish garnished with something summery that isn't in the recipe like baby basil leaves! Coco Chanel said before leaving the house, you should look in the mirror and take one thing off - I think the same thing applies for a good food photograph.

Oysters-illustrated-emiko davies

You sell illustrated recipes on Etsy. Where did that start? I have always drawn and it led me to art school and a fine arts degree (in printmaking). So it was always there but only recently did I decide to start doing more illustrations and prints. Melbourne is a very arty city and is full of wonderful artists, studios and designers. I think it was partly this that inspired me to begin illustrating. I illustrate my favourite recipes, things I come across that make me smile or that I want to remember for myself - also things that I think would be pretty to draw and that will look good in watercolour, like yellow chanterelle mushrooms (from Monet's own collection of favourite recipes) as opposed to regular old button mushrooms.

What's your next big project or adventure? My next big project is really getting adjusted to living in Melbourne while I work on a book about Tuscan food and its traditions. I'm also eagerly awaiting the release of a book I helped photograph, A Family Farm in Tuscany: Recipes and Stories from Fattoria Poggio Alloro by Sarah Fioroni. It'll be out in the US in March 2012.

Follow Emiko on Twitter @emikodavies

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