Plated - No. 3
EMMA LEIGH MACDONALD
I’m so happy to share the third iteration of 'Plated,' our ongoing series where we ask creative people we admire to share what feeds them — both literally and artistically.
A true renaissance woman, Emma Leigh Macdonald has created culinary installations for PIN—UP HOME, cooked at Early June in Paris, contributed to the charmingly surrealist Gohar World, curated works for the New Museum, and much much more.
Over some just-sweet-enough snacks, she talked to us about the glue of a croquembouche, the shelling of fava beans, and the art of “nose-to-tail” eating.
WHAT HAVE YOU MADE FOR US TODAY?
For the launch of the PIN—UP HOME collection about a month ago, I made a “croquembouche” tower on one of the SLJ Squiggle trays. It felt like it was made for the tray, so we planned on doing that again this afternoon — this time with rhubarb-filled choux — but something just wasn’t working with the caramel, which is the glue that allows you to build the tower high.
So instead, I filled the choux on their own with pastry cream and the rhubarb compote, finished with a little dot of rhubarb on top. In the end, it felt like a nicer way to see that beautiful pink color (and maybe a more fitting afternoon snack, too).
HOW CAN WE MAKE THIS AT HOME?
For the rhubarb, I chopped the stalks and simmered them with one big dusting of sugar and enough lemon juice so that nothing was sticking in the pan, until it broke down to a nice, almost jammy consistency. The choux are an amazing technique to learn — Justine Goldberg, a cook I used to work alongside and still get to collaborate with sometimes, taught me recently and I am obsessed with them as the basis for the perfect desserts that don’t have to be too sweet.
WHAT DOES A NORMAL DAY LOOK LIKE IN YOUR WORLD?
My days vary a lot, but are generally either filled with research for Blue Hill at Stone Barns, or with research in the kitchen for my upcoming events — testing out recipes and dishes in our little hallway-kitchen at home.
Le Dépanneur magazine, Issue 03 / Emma and Rowan’s engagement party, UPSTAIRS at Public Records / “How to Preserve the Summer,” written, directed, and photographed by Emma for Gohar World / Sundaes at Early June, Paris, in June.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO?
The hardest question! I am primarily a chef. My background is in architecture, though, so I think a designer’s approach is the common thread across my work: whether I’m designing a menu, a dish, an event, or a proposal for some research or writing. I recently started working with Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and Dan Barber introduced me to the team as “a real renaissance woman.”
HAVE YOU TAKEN PART IN ANYTHING SPECIAL AS OF LATE?
Last summer I had the chance to cook at Early June — a wine bar in Paris that hosts guest chefs — with Jay Wolman for a month, and I would say it was a life-changing experience. It’s certainly informing how I work now, and how I would like to in the future.
HOW DID YOU REACH THIS ARTFUL INTERSECTION OF COOKING AND DESIGN?
I feel very lucky that cooking has always been a big part of my life; my parents included me in the kitchen from when I was very young. They were both at architecture school with Fergus Henderson, who coined the term “nose-to-tail” eating and opened the restaurant St. John in London (after he decided architecture school wasn’t for him), so I think having that background set me up to approach cooking in a way that focuses on how different components can work together on a plate and in a bite, rather than following a recipe.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE?
Getting married! My partner Rowan and I are planning our wedding, and we’ve also just started working on a series of events (and potentially more than that) together called Mon Petit Canard.
OF ALL THE THINGS IN YOUR HOME, WHAT BRINGS YOU THE MOST JOY?
We have a little stool designed by Minjae Kim that is very special to me. I included it in a show that I curated as part of NADA House on Governor’s Island in 2020, and when the exhibition closed Rowan surprised me by buying the piece. It’s such a little personality and somehow even our puppy understands that it’s the one thing at home she can’t chew. It’s not necessarily a kitchen object — but I have sat on it for longer cooking tasks before, like shelling fava beans.
Stools designed by Minjae Kim at NADA House 2020.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THIS TIME IN YOUR LIFE?
I find myself thinking ahead a lot at the moment. It feels like spring.