Let’s face it: Instagramming your meal is borderline basic these days, which is why we were instantly drawn to Emily Parkinson’s food drawings. For years, the designer and illustrator has been sketching and painting food she enjoyed, but she recently garnered some acclaim when Will Guidara (co-owner of the hospitality group behind Eleven Madison Park and the Nomad) tweeted her hand-drawn record of a great meal she’d had at one of his restaurants.

https://twitter.com/wguidara/status/562257787758321664

Guidara met Parkinson when she served him at Marta, where she works. “I was trying not to gush, but at the end of the meal, I told him that I still think about the dinner, and that I sketched it. He was touched,” she said in an interview with Grub Street.

Parkinson not only serves delicious grub but also cooks it for her supper club, Wildling Kitchen. Her Instagram feed is filled with images of her two main interests: art and food. We asked Parkinson what’s behind her habit of combining the two, and how illustrations—instead of a camera lens—can create a different kind of relationship with food.


House-made charcuterie at Nightingale 9 in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

How and why did you start drawing food?
I have a supper club, Wildling Kitchen, where I host themed dinners with a friend at my apartment and in some outdoor pop-up locations through EatWith. I think my food illustration started with that. I’m a very visual person, so I started illustrating the menus we came up with, and that proved to be a great way to engage our guests in a more interactive way with our food. I realized that illustrating others’ food was even more fun than my own, and a similarly great way to engage further with the food I was eating. My mom is an artist, so I grew up in a very crafty household. I studied fashion design in college and love to explore and experiment with any and all mediums. Working with my hands is definitely what drives me, so food and art are perfect!

Does sketching during a meal ever detract from your enjoyment of the food?
It can. Sketching food is something I do for fun and as a tool to help me remember the dishes and experience better—just like sketching in a museum or taking photos on a vacation. But the “now” experience always comes first, so if I find that sketching a certain dish during a specific dining experience is detracting from my or my guests’ enjoyment of the meal, I just don’t.


Do waiters ever give you weird glances? Have you ever been asked to stop?
Weird glances, probably a few, but no one has ever asked me to stop. I keep my table-side sketching to a pretty discreet level, so if anything, they will ask about it and not care or think its fun!

A menu from a Wildling Kitchen supper club event.

A menu from a Wildling Kitchen supper club event last fall.

Can drawings of food be as evocative to look at as photos?
I don’t know! My illustrations are obviously less detailed and precise than a photo, but maybe I’m capturing what was essential about the dish or experience when I enjoyed it. As a personal tool they are more evocative than a photograph because I had to study the food more completely to draw it than if I had just snapped and snarfed. I don’t know if that level of intimacy would translate for someone else though.

Do you look at food differently when you’re either eating it vs. serving it vs. drawing it?
I focus on different aspects of food while eating/serving/sketching, but it’s definitely a holistic approach and a fluid one. For instance, when describing food to my guests, I try to paint a sensory picture for them so that they can make informed decisions about what to order, and that description comes from my own personal visual and gustatory exploration of a dish.

A watercolor of Parkinson's favorite white pizzas as Marta, where she works as a server.

A watercolor of Parkinson’s favorite white pizzas at Marta, where she works as a server.

To what extent do you re-experience a meal by drawing it later?
In a very multi-sensory way! I interact with food in so many different capacities—eating, serving, designing, and cooking—that when I paint a dish that I’ve sketched while eating it I am able to remember the color, texture, plating, as well as relive the magnificent flavors.


What’s on your food-drawing bucketlist?
So many things! I’d like to do a series of NYC classics with Katz’s pastrami high on my list! I think a ramen or burger or bagel series would be fun. A friend and I went on a donut biking tour of Brooklyn last year. I wish I had sketched that…maybe we’ll have to do it again. Alinea is forever and always the restaurant I crave to experience though!

A Wildling Kitchen supper club menu from last summer.

A Wildling Kitchen supper club menu from last summer.