Creative Conversations: Plum Guide meets Emiko Davies
We discuss the meaning of cooking, Emiko's love of Florence and the importance of comfort at home
We sit down with food writer, photographer and cookbook author Emiko Davies to talk travelling, the recent renovation of her new home in San Miniato and, of course, cooking...
What does cooking mean to you?
Cooking is my love language. It is a way I show I care. It’s a form of sharing, of communicating, of learning, of nourishing and also a way to relax too.
Describe your perfect dinner party meal and setting
Right now I’m craving a balmy evening meal outside, maybe under a leafy grape vine pergola with things casually coming out of an outdoor wood fired oven, the table filled with interesting wine and interesting conversations, bowls of ripe figs, candles and the kids running around the garden playing games.
Your life in Italy began in Florence. What do you love most about the city?
I first came here as a Fine Art student so what drew me to the city was the sheer layers of history. I found every corner so beautiful and inspiring — just the thought that I was walking the same streets as Dante or Michelangelo! I also love its size, that it’s small and walkable but is essentially an international city.
You’ve recently been renovating your new home in San Miniato. What have you enjoyed most about the project?
The idea of preserving something (the house was built in the year 1800) and setting it up for future generations was very exciting to me, but also finally having my own kitchen and being able to design it to my needs was particularly satisfying!
Now that the world is beginning to open back up, where will you be going on holiday next?
Funnily enough, Tuscany! We still aren’t prepared to go abroad — if I could, the top of my list would be to visit my family in Australia who I haven’t seen now for two years but I think it will still be quite some time before they open their borders and I am eagerly awaiting that. We lived for a while in Monte Argentario in southern Tuscany which is what inspired my second book Acquacotta, and that’s when I first discovered Giglio Island, which can only be reached by boat from Monte Argentario. It’s a gem and it’s a place where my husband and I have left our hearts and we continue to go back there year after year. We missed it last year, so we are really looking forward to this year’s holiday there!
Tell us the story behind a favourite item in your home
The kitchen table is my favourite item. It is a heavy marble table that I found buried under a mountain of books and dust in my mother-in-law’s attic. I knew there was a dining table in there but I had never seen it until I ventured in there one day and started excavating to get it out! Once it was out, I realised it had a beautiful marble table and wooden legs, a classic Tuscan table, sturdy and reliable. I loved it instantly. My mother-in-law then told me that it had belonged to her grandfather Angiolino and that he had had the table made from a piece of marble from his old alimentari (a food shop in town) that was destroyed in World War Two. He had a carpenter make the legs and turn it into a table, and this was the table my mother-in-law grew up around until my husband Marco was a baby. It had been sitting in the attic ever since then — and now I want to give it a new life, in our new home where I hope it will become an heirloom for my girls too.
What makes a house a home, to you?
I think it’s important to feel comfortable. A home is a very intimate thing and it’s the place you want to relax in and feel safe in. I’ve realised we don’t need lots of “things” in our home to feel that way, but that making it feel comfortable can include putting up our favourite pictures, having the girls’ favourite books and toys around them. The moment those things came into the empty rooms it started to feel like home.
Where is your home away from home?
I’ve lived in so many places around the world that I think I have many. I grew up bouncing between China and Australia and Japan — we lived for eight years in China when I was a child and as a teenager, I lived in the US and Italy now for 16 years, so I have spent more than half my life outside of Australia. My mother’s family are all in Japan, which is where we spent our holidays every single year until I was in my mid-twenties. In many ways the town in Japan where my grandparents lived, just outside of Tokyo is the one place that remained the same as I was growing up — the few times I have gone back since they passed away I found the rush of nostalgia very, very strong!
Who or what do you consider to be an arbiter of style?
I’ve always loved Audrey Hepburn’s style ever since I was a teenager. Funnily enough, I recently read that she never thought of herself as someone who was stylish. But she had a timeless elegance and yet was down to earth and approachable.
For the Plum Guide ‘Perfect Stay’ home test, we collaborate with experts from different fields — from psychologists and hospitality experts to architects and interior designers — to identify the ingredients a holiday home needs in order to deliver a perfect stay. If you were designing a test or set of criteria for the perfect holiday home, what ingredient(s) would you specify as essential for the perfect stay?
Something that I often find lacking in holiday homes is really good kitchen equipment, like nice plates, good wine glasses and knives — good knives! I feel like it’s often an afterthought. Even some of the most beautiful places I’ve stayed in often miss the mark in the kitchen and I wonder if it’s because it’s not meant to be cooked in, but when I am on holiday one of the things I love doing is visiting the local food shops and markets and wineries — and I can’t resist not buying food to bring home and cook!