We each have our own path, a journey that is intimately our own to navigate, to question at times, and to embrace. Sometimes we are blissfully in rhythm with ourselves and with nature, receiving signs that all is aligned. But frankly, those times of flow can be fleeting. There will always be instances in which the road ahead is blurry. These are the moments that force us grow because we are more receptive to trying something new. We are simply seeking illumination in the hope that it will lead us back on “track”, however unknown that track may be.
Adrift and Ashamed, But On My Way
Nine years ago I had no career to speak of—or at least nothing I felt proud of. Yes, I studied interior design, and sure, I cooked for my family and friends regularly, but even though I was passionate about both arenas, they did not seem to be leading me anyplace professionally. At the time I would have described myself as externally abundant but internally diminished. I was in my head at all times knowing I had so much to share but trapped within the confines of my mind.
Around this time we bought a home in Amagansett, (like I said, abundant!), and I was flooded with newness and inspiration in designing it. I was also entertaining more than ever and in an exciting place of discovery in this new hamlet I found myself in. The local farms served me in more ways than one. The farmers were educating me about our food systems and the importance of seasonal and local eating. At the same time I was insanely inspired by all the gorgeous, colorful produce and was beginning to take creative risks in the kitchen, building unique flavor profiles. I started to take pictures of the dishes I was creating, mostly to remember what I made since I cook intuitively and have the worst memory, but also since this new thing called “Instagram” was beginning to gain traction. Finally, and likely most importantly, I found myself engulfed in a brand-new community of people who inspired me and shone a light on things I had never seen before. One of those people is Katie Baldwin, co-owner of the women-owned Amber Waves Farm.
Nourishing a Dream
Fast-forward to two years later and EyeSwoon was born. I believe the union of food, farming, community, education, and design led to a confidence that finally allowed me to feel pride internally. Those five pillars became my lighthouse. When you time-lapse rapidly to current-day it may look like the path was plowed and pristine all along but it never is, is it? Much growth and hard work finally led me to realizing a dream I had harbored for years—hosting a local dinner at Amber Waves Farm, my local farm and CSA. Yes, last Friday through the swooniest partnership with Daily Harvest, this longstanding intention became a reality. Alongside Daily Harvest founder and CEO Rachel Drori and my co-host, chef and TV personality Katie Lee, we crafted a dinner within the actual growing fields of Amber Waves Farm. So, you can imagine how deeply emotional this dinner was for me. It was steeped in beauty, passion, and integrity and brought about by of a group of fiercely talented businesswomen across many creative and entrepreneurial disciplines, all in a place that is rooted to my heart.
Now that I got the sappy part out of the way, lemme share some specifics, like what Daily Harvest is, for those of you who are unaware, and how I went about executing the design and creative direction of the dinner.
I believe the union of food, farming, community, education, and design, led to a confidence that finally allowed me to feel pride internally.
Daily Harvest creates healthy frozen soups, smoothies, bowls, and lattes crafted with quality ingredients. The company begins by gathering organic produce, straight from farms, freezing it in peak season to lock in the nutrients, and then using it to create meals dreamed up by their team of chefs and nutritionists. No additives. Just good food that is ready in a pinch. Daily Harvest is also sponsoring a summer program at Amber Waves, free for the local community, to teach participants about how a farm really works, and how to cook healthy meals for your family. It’s the kind of knowledge that continues to feed us all, body and mind.
My Creative Process
My creative process for designing the Daily Harvest dinner was the same as it is with any and all events I conceive. I always begin with two considerations. One, I dig into the DNA of the brand—what it stands for at its core—and how I can digest it and turn it into a visual expression. Two, I look to my immediate surroundings, both the location and the season, and take cues from nature. Amber Waves Farm certainly provided much to work with.
I initiate a private Pinterest board and pin any and all striking visuals that fit within the desired theme. I go wide and far here at this early stage of development. I can narrow the theme once ideas begin to gel. At this point, I place the images into a categorized creative deck that I present to the brand. I am happy to show you that below. I was responsible for developing the creative for absolutely everything surrounding the event, from the location to the caterer to the actual dinner menu, beverages, florals, lighting, tablescape décor elements, a lengthy list of rentals, plus a plethora of printed assets. Each needs to be carefully chosen to engage the desired variety of textured, scale, color, weight, and patina, and every element must be presented for approval.
I had an exceptional team to work with. I retained Poppy’s catering to execute the menu. Together with Katie Lee, we fused the actual recipes from Daily Harvest with the fresh produce on the farm. I also brought on Taylor Patterson of Fox Fodder Farm to manage the florals. She and I worked with the Amber Waves farmers to harvest vegetables and wild flowers in the fields the very day of the dinner. The affair was “farm to table” in every sense of the phrase—we literally harvested all the beauty displayed on the table!
Revise, Revise, Revise. Ouch. Revise.
Creativity is seldom a solitary pursuit but a balancing act between what you envision in your mind’s eye and what someone else expects—and then you need to consider a budget. Admittedly, the majority of my first deck was denied—yup, one thousand percent a bruise to my ego, BUT you’ve gotta move on. Just as that blurry path I talked of earlier often leads to sunny pastures, sometimes when you are pushed creatively, it can lead to an outcome far better than your initial vision.
I can recall almost 20 years ago, Victor, my husband, was working on a remix for Madonna. He had already worked on the entire Ray of Light album so they were extremely comfortable with one another—they had an amazing workflow. She had asked him to produce a track for “What It Feels Like for A Girl”, off the Music album. But rather than his usual dance mix she wanted something more ambient. This was a huge opportunity for him to spread his wings. He worked nonstop for weeks in the recording studio. (I know every word to that song backwards I heard it so much.) He was so excited and proud of the finished product. I am sure you know where this is going—she hated it! She gave him very specific notes, and you know what, he disagreed. He listened again and was absolutely certain he delivered the best possible mix. Well, you just don’t tell Madonna no, period. He begrudgingly started over. That new mix became the version she sang on the Drowned World Tour—she LOVED it. My point is this—you always need to put forth your absolute best, what you feel proud of, but it’s not always gonna be exactly right. Being pushed, just like being lost, often produces a greater outcome.
So, at first I delivered a deck for the Daily Harvest team that included textured paper with romantic calligraphy, and an illustration of something harvest-related on the menu. Nope, not the right fit for the brand. “More minimal” was the feedback. Back to the drawing board. I imagined a table with a textural runner of wheat grasses and wild flowers blowing in the wind. “Too brown and rustic, please add more negative space, white and color.” What I came around to was adding color by way of the bounty growing in the very fields we sat in. Purple and pink radishes, golden beets, zucchini flowers, and garlic scapes became sculptural art once gathered on the table. Wild flowers from the fields were also cut in coordinating hues. And the warm-tone napkins were tied in a knot, as opposed to being folded vertically, to offset the streamlined rectangular menus. I find that being malleable is a necessary part of the creative process. Often you don’t know what will present itself until you take a step in a direction. Allow your lens to change focus as you go, zoom in and out, look at a composition, assess, and adjust.
Surveying the completed table, I could not imagine the visuals looking any other way. Although I could not have predicted it at the get-go, it made crazy-perfect sense to have the event awash in colorful, plentiful, and wholly dailyharvested provisions. Progress is not linear. We zig and we zag.
This dinner was steeped in beauty, passion, and integrity and brought about by of a group of fiercely talented businesswomen across many creative and entrepreneurial disciplines, all in a place that is rooted to my heart.
As we sat down to dinner at the most magical golden hour, it really struck me how my once-muddy personal path unfolded and turned the corner into a clearer, lighter, full-blown career. I was doing the same activities I had loved from the start, only now trusting more, letting go more, feeling rooted more, enjoying more, and definitely being illuminated—although this time from the flashing fireflies zipping overhead.