Dreams Into Reality: Emiko Davies, From Apartment Life to a Village in Tuscany
Food writer, photographer, and cookbook author Emiko Davies has called Italy home for well over a decade and in that time brought joy to the lives of many through her beautiful cookbooks, words, photos, and stories.
Recently Emiko along with husband Marco, a sommelier, and their two small daughters left behind apartment life in Florence to create a home in her husband’s natal village of San Miniato in the hills of Tuscany. I must admit I’ve loved every Instagram post she’s shared making her beautiful home.
Emiko generously shares her insights and thoughts on change, turning her dream into a reality, failure, courage and how creativity helps her navigate daily life.
You’ve lived in many different countries around the world growing up and most recently in an apartment in Florence with your husband and two children. What were you metaphorically ‘moving towards’ in this decision to move to San Miniato in Tuscany and what were you ‘moving away’ from? Was there a moment, catalyst, or inspiration that turned moving from Florence from an idea into taking action?
It’s more we were moving towards rather than moving away, I think! My husband Marco was born in San Miniato and his mum — my girls’ (who are 8 and nearly 3) only grandparent here in Italy — lives nearby. We decided to buy this house during the first 2020 lockdown, but even before then we had been searching for about a year for the right home in the historical centre of San Miniato. So a huge catalyst was being closer to our only family in Italy — that was really important. The other was space! We have been living in typical, tiny cramped apartments in Florence for 16 years — as a couple, OK; as a growing family of four, we were literally busting at the seams! And then there was the question, do we really want to spend two-thirds of Marco’s entire monthly salary on rent (yes, it’s bad in Italy, the salaries are low and the rent in Florence is so high) or can we actually just spend less buying a house in his little old (beautiful) home town and put down some roots? It was a no-brainer.
What is your relationship with the ‘creative process’ (that incredible place of letting go and having faith that something magic will be born from a wisp of an idea)? How has creating on a regular basis changed or enhanced your relationship with big life decisions, projects or yourself?
The creative process has become my every day, I’m constantly thinking, “What will I make today?” What will I put on my blog, on Instagram, what project will I throw myself into now? It’s constant. I think it was always meant to be this way — I had always done something creative: I went to art school, I studied printmaking, then photography, then art restoration but after more than 7 years of study, I couldn’t seem to make it work professionally. I only realised about a decade ago when I was stuck in a boring desk job that I needed to be creating something on a regular basis, no matter what. Around that time I started a food blog, which I just wanted for myself, like a sort of journal, something to work towards and eventually share, but first and foremost I did it just to have something to create every week. Then Instagram came along and that too all started as something I just wanted to do for myself. It’s been very organic but creating regularly has been the catalyst for all my big life decisions since that moment I realised how important it was for me, for myself, to be doing it.
Courage and risk are essential when we do something new or dare to move towards something we care about. What role did courage play in picking up your young family and starting a new life? Was there anything you were/are frightened of and how did/do you overcome this?
I have grown up living in different countries (we moved back and forth to China as a family a couple of times, a total of 8 years, and as a 17 year old, I went off to university in America by myself) so I think my definition of picking up and going somewhere is different from most people’s! My husband has lived in the one place his whole life so it was definitely different to his. I am not scared by change, I think change is a good thing, especially if you have weighed up the pros and cons and realise the pros outweigh the cons. I think (I know!) children can adapt and can benefit from change — and that the whole family benefits when everyone is happier! That, to me, is more important than worrying about the challenges.
You are a writer and photographer of Florentine, Aquacotta, Tortellini at Midnight and your latest book Torta della Nonna. From the outside, a creative life can look like a mystery. What is one habit, behaviour, or tip that allows you to stay on track and create what is important to you? Do you have a ‘litmus test’ if a project is the right one?
I think that creativity has to come from within, you have to be inspired yourself to do it, you cannot be forced to create something you don’t have your heart and soul into — or you could, but it just won’t be as good! I’ve turned down several books that were proposed to me by my publisher because they didn’t come from the place where my books usually come from — which is personal experiences and lived experiences, love and excitement for a certain cuisine or place. If that’s not there I just don’t think I would either enjoy the project or that it would come out well, so I have always fought for what I believed in. When my first pitch for Tortellini at Midnight was turned down, I just worked on it. I found a different angle, I researched more, took trips, took more photos, tested more recipes, tried to tweak it until I had something appealing for them and while staying true to my original vision. I turned down the projects they suggested instead. And I re-pitched it a while later. And it has become one of my proudest achievements. I think my tip here would be: simply don’t give up. If it is something you believe in, find a different angle.
What role does community play in your life online and in real life? How did having an online community change your 2020 experience?
I guess I have had my life online since 2010 when I started my blog! It’s always been a bit personal, because that’s me. Having a very active Instagram community has been so important to me over the past year, where I have barely even seen my closest friends who live in Florence, let alone my family and friends in Australia who I miss incredibly. My online community is there to chat, to cheer me on, exchange ideas, inspire me — it has definitely helped me feel less alone during this pandemic. The world seems smaller when we can exchange conversations so easily and instantly online.
I am not scared by change, I think change is a good thing, especially if you have weighed up the pros and cons and realise the pros outweigh the cons.
The concept of failure has gotten such a bad rap and I see over and over again the fear of failure blocks people from taking a step towards something they love. What has been a ‘failure’ of yours that has enriched your life and how?
I’ve tried many projects out that failed, I think that’s just part of the creative process! You have an idea, you try it out, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, you take it apart and try again or throw it in the trash! That’s creating! I think for me, the failure that I mentioned above, my first pitch for Tortellini at Midnight that was not taken well, turned into something even better. My publisher didn’t even want to see the pitch, she just wasn’t feeling it. I was crushed, especially as I was riding a wave of 2 beautiful books produced within a year of each other and felt so confident about this one. But I didn’t let it stop me, I think the motivation to improve it, to make it appealing, to tell the story in another way, was not only what made the book happen but I think it made it into a much better book, and one that has, in a way, defined me.
It was a very personal book, I delved into my in law’s family history, collected family photographs and family recipes, got lost in the State Archives to find birth certificates, I put everything I had into this book because — although I wanted to make a book that I thought anyone would love and use and cook for their families from — I still also wanted to do something that satisfied my creative soul, too. I wanted this book to be something my husband and my children could be proud of, that had the stories of their great great great grandmother’s meatballs.
When we take leaps of faith, we imagine some of the possibilities. What has been something unexpected, a beautiful surprise, or an opportunity that this journey to create a beautiful family home in a small town has gifted you?
Well, it turns out that people really, really love home renovation and I had some wonderful exchanges when we started renovating our home. It came with many limitations because it’s from the 1800s and in the historic centre where there are a few rules about what you can do and can’t. We also wanted to preserve a lot of the old features (and we were on a budget anyway!). But whenever a dilemma came up, I’d put it on Instagram stories and within minutes, someone has drawn out a sketch or sent me a video with a solution to the problem, it was amazing and I really loved that connection! It seemed to get people really excited and there was so much generosity, people even reached out to me to offer to help me design the house, I was really touched.
What’s a quote you would like to share with the world and why?
There is a Buddhist proverb that comes to my mind every now and then, “Enough is a feast.” I look at it in many ways, from literally — what food you have on your table, we only need to eat “enough” and we’ve had plenty. But when you look at it too in the larger sense, I really think that it is an important concept, a way to live life. The pandemic has also highlighted this for me too, what we need to live comfortably, or happily — we do not need lots of things, lots of objects filling up our homes or our lives, we don’t need too much food that we can’t finish eating, or toys that we can’t play with or clothes we don’t wear. I’ve become a bit minimalist, and wastage is a becoming such an important thing for me — in May it will be 12 months that I haven’t bought new clothes for myself, for example. I have enough. Moving into a new home was great actually for assessing how many things we actually own and I realised — we have enough. We have a feast.