Diana is the first creative, part of our new WINE & POETRY series, with which kick off we want to exit gracefully the old year and come in 2019 with lightness, appreciation and virtue. We found Her eye of beauty and simplicity captivating, inspiring and motivating at the same time. And her kitchen - full of love, warmth and real meals. All of her recipes - coming alive from fairytales, always accompanied by good company, right tunes and lots of wine. As a founder of the studio, The Jewels of New York, Diana tries to bring a sense of tenderness through simple seasonal home cooking and harmonious ambient.
Read this cozy talk with Diana Yen and put your foot in it!
Create your happy table...
This interview is devoted to Sharing Sundays.
'I always make sure to have music in background, soft lighting and lots of wine'
'I treasure the process of making food from scratch, for me it’s a therapy.'
What are the main ingredients for a 'happy table'?
Fresh food and good company. I think people worry too much about having multiple dinner courses and everything coming out perfect in the kitchen but some of my best meals have been as simple as a bowl of figs, cheese and tea with close friends.
How do you accomplish beauty on a plate?
I think it comes down to colorful fresh produce. Arranging food lightly and in layers can make a nice presentation. One of my favorite things to plate are salads, I think of them as edible floral arrangements.
How can a feast be simple? Is less is more your philosophy behind the kitchen's doors?
I think that a feast can be as simple as focusing on one main dish for guests to share. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with too many dishes, ask a friend to bring salad and another to bring dessert. The most important thing for a successful evening is that the host is relaxed and enjoying the company. I’ve arrived to friends homes where they are down the hall in the kitchen preparing multiple courses all evening and barely end up sitting at the table with friends. While it may wow people in a culinary sense, you’ve lost the entire experience of connecting to those around you.
Portrait of Diana Yen
Illustrated by Katarzyna Jagielnicka for Noir Catcher
Diana, how did you form your interest in cooking?
I began cooking in college when I lived in San Francisco. I was surrounded by the best restaurants but was living on a student budget, so the next best option was visiting the farmers market and learning to cook on my own. I also loved having dinner parties and gatherings around food.
Where do you find inspiration for your dishes?
I find a lot of inspiration while I’m traveling. I might discover a new spice or be blown away from a dish at a restaurant and try recreating my own version at home. I’ve recently moved to Fort Greene in Brooklyn and am lucky enough to be a block away from an incredible little farmers market. I load up on the prettiest produce I can find and come up with creative ways to cook with them throughout the week.
What is the element of surprise in your cooking?
I love making good produce the focus of a dish. Sometimes I’ll find fun colorful veggies like fairytale eggplant or baby artichokes and try to keep them as whole as possible because they are so adorable. Anything miniature surprises people and give them delight when they see the dish.
An Intimate Gathering at home.
How do you combine your artistic background with food?
I have a design background that has given me ability to work with food on a visual level. I think of styling like you are painting a plate with all the components.
What is your favorite winter recipe?
I love roasted brussel sprouts. It might sound a little OCD but I cut off the base and peel off all the layers individually like little petals and roast those separately from the centers so they have a nice crispy texture. They turn out like kale chips and I sprinkle them over everything!
What are your advices for a festive table?
Lots of candles, tapered and votives. And greenery like eucalyptus leaves makes it feel wintery. Usually, I’ve got pretty bowls with oranges or winter fruits.
What about wine pairing? What is your newly discovery?
I’m not an expert when it comes to wines but since I’m from California I love drinking pinot noir when I’m having winter stews.
How do you create a cozy and intimate gathering?
I always make sure to have music in background, soft lighting and lots of wine!
Diana's team - the Jewels of New York.
What are you preferred places in NYC & Cali, in terms of simple good food and good-energy ambiance?
In New York, I like Estela for italian food. The atmosphere is chic and modern but still feels warm and inviting. The food is delicate and stylish, my favorite for a special dinner. My first stop in California is Gjusta, which is like a new take on a Jewish deli with healthy, delicious food. You grab a ticket and go to the counter where there is yummy prepped ahead salads, open faced toasts and even a smoked fish station.
How do the culture of gatherings vary at the two coasts from your perspective?
In NYC people don’t entertain as much as home, given time and space. So when they actually do it, it’s extra special because we are so used to eating in restaurants.
Gatherings in LA are super casual, there are lots of barbecues and outdoor gatherings. With such great weather, it’s incredible to enjoy dining under the stars.
What about a cold weather place to meet with friends?
I enjoy going upstate to the catskills to enjoy the wintertime, all the mountains are covered in snow and it’s great to find a place for a hot cup of apple cider and sit in front of a fire. One of my favorite restaurants is Brushland in Bovina.
What would you cook your guests for a pre-Christmas gathering?
I always make beef stew around this time of year. If you want to be extra fancy, you can place the cooked stew into a carved out pumpkin and roast it together. The pumpkin becomes an edible vessel for the stew and you can scoop out chunks of pumpkin along with the stew.
What is the most important when you capture a table in your table sets?
That the food is just made, it needs to be as fresh as possible.
Diana's Christmas cookies recipe
Each chapter and recipe in your A Simple Feast book has a story, meaning, purpose... What would you like to communicate through it regarding sharing food?
I was inspired to write the book after moving to New York and wanted to tell the stories and journeys that surround the meals we make.
I suppose you encounter a lot of improvisation along the way.. is there a funny cooking moment you will never forget?
I had made a special rice pilaf salad for a wedding that took the whole day to make and we saw it was burnt at the bottom of the pot right before the event, so we had to toss it out. I had to run to a chinese restaurant, buy their entire supply of white rice and threw seasoning and veggies into it last minute. The couple said it was their favorite dish of the night!
Is there a culinary pioneer that you admire?
I’ve always thought Alice Waters was the biggest food hero. She is one of the most recognized names in the food world and cares about everything from sustainability in food to the vibe and design in her her restaurants. She treats dining like an art form.
Another happy table...
Running your own business is exciting and very challenging... How did you manage to sustain and grow your creative studio? What was your motivation?
My motivation was to have creative freedom. That’s the biggest reward that comes with your own business, everything you do is because you chose your own path. I try to remember that even when work is hard.
You work in a collaborative nature. How do you keep a harmonious flow in your team work?
I try to recognize the strengths of other people and let them do what they do best. I’m supportive with assistants and other stylists, I think making the best work comes from happy, appreciated people.
Why is seasonal cooking important?
I think it’s important in working with nature and following the seasons. It makes sense for the environment, health and our bodies.
What are the good local markets?
Union Square Farmers Market and Stone Barns are the best.
How do you implement slow cooking in your recipes?
I treasure the process of making food from scratch, for me it’s a therapy. Most of my recipes focus on simple components all made from scratch, I rarely use premade items from jars.
A Simple Feast CookBook.
can be purchased at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Roost Books