Five minutes with… Elainea Emmott

The creative food photographer, chef and supper club founder talks kitchen inspiration, lockdown lessons and celebrating simple seasonal produce

Food and Drink 28 Oct 2020

Elainea Emmott

Elainea Emmott

Can you explain the concept of your work combining the medium of food and photography?  

I take pictures of the glorious ingredients I see and make something of them with my hands. The process of capturing simple things but cooked with precision and love is what I aim to do. I want to inspire others to grow, cook and enjoy food together. 

You have captured the Women’s March in London, Million Women Rise, UK Black Pride and Black Lives Matter among others. As a passionate activist, what message/s do you hope to convey through your food photography stories?

To keep looking for the stories no-one else sees and to take pictures with compassion. We all need to eat but eat differently, and in different ways.

Can you tell us more about the new supper club series Our Seat, Our Table that you are hosting at home with your son?

Our Seat, Our Table is about being passionate about cooking inventively and intuitively, cooking food from my heritage plated up beautifully, inspiring with every mouthful shared.

Creative food photographer Elainea Emmott
Creative food photographer Elainea Emmott

How have lockdown and the recent restrictions influenced your work?

It has made me hone my skills and concentrate on what I do best: cooking from the heart and inspiring my community with what I grow and cook. I have so many daily conversations and teach tutorials and workshops online as people want to connect with their hands using skills that we have lost.

What is your ultimate comfort food?  

Anything that is seasonal, and taken for granted as being an ordinary ingredient. In the summer I was having a love affair with cabbages, and now its pumpkins in all of their glory.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given in your career and why? 

You have a pair of hands and people always need people who can cook well. I like working with my hands and producing a tangible product that lifts people’s souls, like a meal. I will perfect this by doing it every day, giving people comfort and inspiration in one bite.

Who is your role model and how have they influenced you in your work?

 I am inspired by local shops and supermarkets. Market traders who are up working while we sleep as well as the unspoken heroes in the hospitality industry. The growers and farmers and those fighting for climate change and sustainability and against food poverty. Nose to tail, leaf to stalk campaigners are my heroes. 

What ingredient can you not live without and why?

Salt is important as a seasoning and I could not live without it.

What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?

My glasses. I am practically blind without them, being incredibly short sighted.

Where is your favourite place to eat in London?

I enjoy the vibrancy of Parlour run by Jesse Dunford Wood in Kensal Rise, whose eclectic and classic cooking and vibe is exciting.

What do you like the most about your favourite London restaurant?  

I like the inventiveness, and the local feel. Parlour offers great comfort food as well as great produce cooked in a contemporary way. And they kept going during the lockdown, supporting the community by becoming a food store with staples like flour and yeast.

What do you like to do on a day off?

I like to cook and photograph and walk and read in between, with my son beside me.

Apart from food, what are your biggest passions?

Photography, people and portraits. And gardening but then that brings me back to food…

If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner party guest and why?

Edna Lewis continues to inspire me and my cooking. A great pioneer of black Southern cooking as well as an accomplished seamstress designing and sewing her creations for Marilyn Monroe, she epitomises the standards of seasonal good cooking from Southern America at a time of segregation and racism. Her legacy is so important, the philosophy of her inventiveness and flair influencing a generation of cooks of all colours, making American cuisine what it is today. As a fashion designer myself, and now cook, I pay homage in using everyday ingredients, making them affordable and luxurious for those who take the time to enjoy their simplicity and complexity in every mouthful.

Elainea Emmott is a chef and photographer who uses these two mediums – food and photography – to tell complicated stories, weaving history, culture and innovation that presents the contemporary world with a vividness and depth. In between an office job, raising her son, Wesley, who has Asperger’s, as a single parent, photographing protests and activists on Saturdays, cooking on Sundays and tending to her bountiful garden full of herbs and homegrown vegetables, Elainea has condensed her talents into an impressive collection of achievements with an infectious charisma and forthright determination to succeed. As a photographer, Elainea has captured at the Women’s March London, Million Women Rise and is the official photographer of Black Lives Matter. As a chef, Elainea’s cooking and food photography caught the eye of the producers of Crazy Delicious producers (Netflix US / Channel 4), which saw Elainea create Michelin-standard dishes for the likes of Heston Blumenthal and US Soul Food chef, Carla Hall. The experience on the show motivated Elainea to take up an online course at Leiths (watch Elainea’s recent takeover of their Instagram) to hone her skills and start a supper club, ‘Our Seat, Our Table’, from her home and venues across London that focuses on diversity., @emmottelainea