Organic Chef, Author, Food Photographer
Empowering wellness through organic recipes, climate awareness and spiritual insights
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“Cooking is such a gift for the soul. It really can be that and when we pair it with a greater understanding that our food choices matter, we recognize that we are not only nourishing ourselves but nourishing the planet. We need that so much right now.” – Chef Emery
TrunkSpace: When and why did you start cooking and what people have been the biggest influence in your life with regards to your culinary journey?
Chef Emery: Cooking has always been a huge part of my life from the time I was a young child. My parents catered out of our home and my father moonlighted during his career at one point as a professional chef and a head saucier. I grew up with an eight-burner stove with double ovens and a father that regularly served dishes such as turtle soup, cow’s tongue, vichyssoise soup, liver pates and tripe over spaghetti just to name a few. He taught me how to tell when fish was fresh and why the marbling of a steak mattered. He taught me my knife skills at age eight. How to mince garlic, fry potatoes in a pan, make gravy from scratch and cook the perfect whole chicken. We grew fresh herbs and mini French strawberries in the garden, and as a child, my favorite thing to do was go out and pick them on a hot summer day, eating as many as I could. To this day, I can still smell the aromas of garlic, fresh herbs and hear the sizzle of the pan as my father fried the potatoes to perfection. Hand cranked homemade strawberry ice cream on a warm summer day. To this day, I think that is the best ice cream I’ve ever had, or at least that is how I will always remember it. I found my deep love and intuition for cooking here and it has been a love affair ever sense.
Fast forward years later, I bought a boutique inn called The Harborage Inn with my husband in Coastal Midcoast, Maine while working evenings apprenticing under a well-known professional chef in our region who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. I had planned to go to cooking school but he recommended I come apprentice under him in a real restaurant because he felt I would learn a lot more. He was doing farm to table years before it was even a thing. To say I learned so much from him, would be an understatement. You could literally feel the excitement and passion he had for food. He grew his own edible flowers, fresh herbs and sourced much of his food locally as well as cured his own fish. I learned that cooking was truly an art form during this time with him. It was also my first deeper exposure to understanding how food can be a direct extension of nature. The simple act of garnishing a plate with an edible flower of fresh herbs elevated a dish. Guests were always charmed by both the aesthetics and the delicious food. This experience really helped me grow into the chef I’ve become today.
TrunkSpace: What style of cuisine do you enjoy creating the most and why? And what would you consider your signature dish?
Chef Emery: My love for cooking runs deep and there are so many different types of cuisine that I love that it’s honestly hard to pick just one. I love Indian food, Thai food, French, Japanese, Mexican, and what I call SoCal food, just to name a few. I gravitate towards cuisines that I absolutely love and then try to give them a healthy twist.
As an organic chef, I’m deeply inspired by the beautiful, local, organic and seasonal food in my region. I love going to my local farmer’s markets or to my local coop to inspire my daily meal planning. I’ve always found this process relaxing and elevating. I also have to be organized too because I run a very busy, high-paced inn seasonally as well as being a mother of two beautiful kiddos which keeps me on my toes. As a chef, I need meals to be delicious but also fairly quick and easy. Demystifying cooking is really important to me. I think a lot of people give up on cooking these days because they find it overwhelming or think it takes too much time. I’ve always tried to encourage and teach people that when you work with real food that’s sourced well, it doesn’t need a lot of complication to be absolutely delicious and this can be done in a timely manner.
If I had to say what my signature dish was, it would be the first meal I cooked by myself at age 10. My father taught me how to make it and to this day it has remained my favorite dish as well as my children’s. Chicken piccata with white wine, capers and lemon. It’s really not a fancy dish and very easy to make. There is something that is just so special about the crispy fried chicken drenched in this lemony, salty caper sauce. It’s absolutely divine if you ask me.
TrunkSpace: It’s been said that food is the gateway into a culture, that it identifies a history, family and a region. What do you feel your food says about your culture and history?
Chef Emery: I absolutely love this question because for me my work as a chef has a bigger message that I think is very important right now. I’m really trying to use my platform to highlight the importance of our food choices and how it affects the bigger picture. Climate change is very real and I believe potentially one of the greatest threats for all of us if we don’t start taking action. I think people might be surprised how much they actually can do merely through their food purchasing power. Local, organic food is sustainable for a number of reasons. Farmers who are practicing this type of farming are required to farm in a way that enriches the soil rather than depleting it and the soil plays a large role in the health of our ecosystem. The food also has traveled less so it lowers our carbon footprint along with being more nutrient dense which is better for our health. I believe that when we connect and eat real food that is fresh, it is one of the easiest ways we can connect with nature. Real food is nature and touching, tasting, smelling and connecting with it can slow down our lives in a powerful way. When I’ve had a busy day and I get in the kitchen, bare foot and hear the sizzle of the pan, the smells, there is something transformative and meditative about it. Everything just eases. The magic really happens too when I share this with others. When I’ve made a meal and then I get together and sit down with the most important people in my life and connect, something important happens. In a current on the go culture, I believe we need this so much right now.
TrunkSpace: Every cook and/or chef has a really bad service, and it haunts them, but they grow and learn from it. Do you have a worst service memory that keeps you up at night? And how did it change you as a chef?
Chef Emery: At my business the Harborage Inn, we seasonally serve an average of 22-26 people daily for breakfast from May to October. We source as much as we can locally and organically and pride ourselves on what we have grown the business into. This will actually be my 20th season this year which is actually hard for me to grasp as time flies. When we first bought the business, my husband and I were in our early 20’s and still had so much to learn. Initially it was just a continental breakfast which has since grown into a full gourmet breakfast. I remember early on in our process, we were just trying to learn so much. There were a few moments where in hindsight I realize we were a work in progress. Guests would give us a feedback and even though sometimes it wasn’t easy to hear, I always tried to really listen and then adjust. I think that is crucial in business. You can’t take things personally. If you really want to grow, adapt and be better, you have to hear the constructive criticism and then make the appropriate changes necessary.
TrunkSpace: On the flipside of that, do you have a particular memory of your best service or a moment in your career that really stood out and has stuck with you?
Chef Emery: There are really two things I feel incredibly proud of. Having had our business as long as we have, I have learned so much over the years. There was a point in my career where I just recognized I really needed to make a transition if I was going to continue. We were serving high quality food but I felt this strong urge to push and purchase more local and organic foods for our morning breakfast. This was one of the best transitions we ever made and guests now choose us specifically for it. We are even recognized now as a green certified hotel. It makes me feel really proud that I know I’m making an effort to support as many local businesses and farmers as I can, and that my business is an example of trying to push for more sustainability. My most valuable moments as a chef though are when I work and volunteer for FARMS Kitchen. FARMS stands for Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools. I come in to volunteer as a chef to teach a cooking class from beginning to end to children in the public school system. The program works with local food from our local farmer’s and we prepare, cook and then sit for a family style meal together. Children are taught basic knife skills, cooking and education about the local foods they are eating and why it’s important. There is focus on composting and why eating real food is so important for our bodies and the earth’s soil. We then sit down and enjoy the meal that we have all prepared together as a community. There is something so special about walking children through the process of cooking all the way to the finished product. We talk about the touch, taste and feel of the food, what they loved about the process and then sit down as a community to enjoy it. As a chef, this is honestly one of my favorite things to do and being a part of this program brings me great joy.
TrunkSpace: With the advancement of technology in the past years, food has also advanced in many ways. Has it changed the way you cook at all?
Chef Emery: I actually do not use a lot of the gadgets as I’m a pretty straight forward cook. I love my cast iron skillet and sauté pans but I have to say the InstaPot really blew my mind. I do not use it a lot but the fact that it can cook a whole chicken with homemade stock in basically 30 minutes is pretty exciting. I like to make a chicken Pho with the Instapot which is really delicious. You can also pressure cook dried beans in under 30 minutes. It is a pretty fascinating gadget without all the fear of the original pressure cooker. You don’t have to worry about it blowing up all over your kitchen or at least I don’t think so!
TrunkSpace: As an organic chef, can you tell us a bit about why it’s important to choose organic and sustainable foods and how that affects not only flavor but health?
Chef Emery: When we eat real food that is in season and local, there is such a difference in the taste. The food has traveled less which is better for the environment as well as being more nutrient dense for our health. The other thing that I really love is that when food is sourced well, it doesn’t need a lot of complication to be absolutely delicious. It’s this beautiful gift from nature. A strawberry in season in June almost speaks to you through your taste buds. At least that is how it feels for me anyway. My hope is that we can continue to keep bringing the price of local and organic foods down so they are more affordable for everyone. Local coops generally offer such foods at lower price points and there are also a lot of local farms that you can purchase a CSA with. Our purchasing power has weight and the more we demand it, the more the cost will be driven down. We deserve real food that is chemically free and affordable for all of us.
TrunkSpace: If an investor offered you a blank check to start your own restaurant, what would that look like for you? Would it be a brick and mortar, food truck or pop-up?
Chef Emery: I think if someone gave me a blank check, I would want to set up a community kitchen where we could grow a lot of our own food. A working farm that fed people as well. It would be a place that provided meals for those that needed it. We would serve and prepare meals that families could take home or eat on site, bagged lunches as well as teach cooking classes to both adults and children. A place where people could learn more about real food, cooking and provide a valuable service to the community. This would be a dream come true.
TrunkSpace: Do you have a set path in mind for your career and where it’s going? Where do you see yourself 10 years down the road?
Chef Emery: Alice Waters is such a role model to me. I honestly just want a platform to be of service and spread knowledge about the power that cooking and real local organic food can have on our health, our soul, our families, our community and the planet. I want to write, teach people to cook, use my recipes to better their lives as well as support and work with brands and companies that are trying to do the same thing. It takes a village and I want to be a part of the village trying to push for a better world. We owe that to ourselves as well as our families and children.