An instant California favorite, Botanica serves food that makes you feel good. They cook with only the most beautiful ingredients, creating interesting flavors that are both bright and seasonal. Veterans of the media world, Heather and Emily are food and lifestyle journalists who changed careers and decided to open a restaurant. And LA is better for it. We spoke to the duo about everything from food philosophy to what makes their partnership work.
Please tell us about yourselves. Your backgrounds, who you are and what you do.
We’re the chefs/owners of Botanica, a restaurant, market and publication based out of Los Angeles. We’re devoted to vibrant, creative, healthful cooking. We’re consumingly passionate about vegetables, natural wine, design, hospitality, flowers, community, and nourishing friends, family and strangers with beautiful food. We built Botanica to be a home for all that, and then some!
How did you end up in the world of food?
Heather: I’ve been food-obsessed since I was born and cooking since I could walk. Despite all signs pointing to food, it took me until the very end of college (including a failed attempt at a very dry thesis not about food) to connect the dots and realize that I should and could turn my innate, lifelong passion into a career. I jumped right in, working at a restaurant and a market for a year to build up the food savvy necessary to talk my way into the editorial world. I spent the next decade working as a food writer, editor and consultant, eating all over the world for work (and for fun). After 10 years documenting, it felt like it was time to actually do… and, amazingly, Emily was having the exact same thoughts at the exact same time. We funneled everything we had been eating, drinking, reading, seeing and doing into an idea for a business that would engage all of our skills and interests while also filling a hole we perceived in the restaurant wold.
Emily: I was a late bloomer to the food world — I started out as a lifestyle editor who liked to eat but didn’t cook much myself. Once I moved into my own apartment I figured I should grow up already, so I started preparing my own meals and very quickly became obsessed. I dove head-first into every book, article, and restaurant I could. I walked the aisles of random groceries around the world and spent way too much money on spices and mysterious jars of who-knows-what in an attempt to understand people’s food cultures. It was a super intense, immersive experience. Concurrently, I met Heather, who was more than happy to indulge every conversation, food fantasy or road trip for royal pie. She helped guide me, in many ways, to grow as an entertainer and a cook (and introduced me to aioli; I am forever changed). After two stages (food internships) in London, one at Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Soho restaurant, and one at Moro, a Moorish-inspired Exmouth Market gem, I couldn’t ignore the feeling that it was time to create something big. The discovery that Heather wanted the very same thing remains the greatest of gifts.
Your food is so exquisitely beautiful and engages all the senses making it a multidimensional experience. What is your philosophy around food and has it evolved?
Why, thank you!! Our food is driven by the spirit of celebration; we aim to excite, delight and satisfy with every dish. We love a bountiful feast, and we want every table at Botanica to feel like one. But we want people to feel good afterwards, too. We feast responsibly! That means that vegetables and grains are the star of the show, that all the wine we pour is natural (and organic or biodynamic), that we steer clear of refined sugars and that even our cocktails are packed with fruits, vegetables and herbs. Our menu is intensely seasonal, with all of our produce and dairy coming from California farms, but we have a global pantry of spices from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. We love occasionally incorporating special, beautiful meat and seafood, too, like wild Pacific NW salmon or local black cod.
After years of eating at restaurants for our jobs, we knew that there was a major dearth of places serving food that was creative and exciting and genuinely nourishing and healthful. Since we’ve opened, our food philosophy hasn’t really evolved, but it has been validated by people eating at the restaurant and saying exactly what we hoped to hear: that they’re excited and satisfied and they feel really damn good.
How did you two find each other as partners?
Heather: We both ended up in the rather small food media world in Chicago at the same time (2009). I moved from New York to launch the Chicago edition of Tasting Table, and Emily was the Chicago editor of DailyCandy. Emily emailed me out of the blue and asked me to lunch (thank goodness she did!). Lunch led to regular dinner dates, and a constant dialogue about restaurants, cookbooks, and all things food. It quickly became clear that we needed to collaborate on more than just the occasional dinner party, so we launched a series of pop-up food and design markets. In hindsight, creating something for the public, something that had energy and filled a void and catalyzed a community was really the seed that grew into Botanica. Botanica was inspired by a very specific culinary philosophy, but our desire to build a vibrant, community-oriented business was also an elemental motivator.
You opened one of our absolute favorite restaurants in LA, what was your idea behind it when you created it? And is it how you imagined? Physically, energetically, and pragmatically?
It may sound crazy, but yes, it is, in so many ways, just as we imagined it! But that’s probably because we spent soooo much time imagining. Everything at Botanica is totally (and perhaps semi-insanely) intentional. We thought long and hard about every aspect of the restaurant, from the tiniest design detail to the foundational values that shape the energy and attitude of the staff. For us, Botanica has really been a lesson in the power of intention, and how pursuing your core values and making every decision based on those values can lead to something beautiful, special and distinctive.
Working with a partner can be challenging and also one of the most rewarding relationships in life. What do you do to nurture it, get it back on track when it’s strayed and keep it healthy and strong?
Every day we’re grateful to be in this together; it’s a crazy and amazing journey. For us, the intimacy that comes from years of friendship is essential. Being able to laugh and cry together is a real gift, and it helps keep the bond strong. Honest communication is everything. Carving out quality time to talk, ideate and connect is key. It’s just like a romantic partnership, really, but with lots of vegetables instead of sex.
What practices do you both keep to balance your days spent taking care of others at the restaurant?
When you’re working 12+ hours a day, caring for 45 employees and 1000+ diners per week, days off have to include what we refer to as “aggressive relaxation.” Massages are a must (shout-out to The Raven Spa in Silver Lake!), yoga is majorly helpful, Epsom baths soothe our muscles (and minds!), and wine-filled dinners with our beloved-but-largely-ignored-right-now significant others are essential. Spending time in nature is also an amazing and important antidote to 75 hours per week in the same space. (As lovely, beautiful, delicious and happy as that space may be, we’re ready to GTFO by the end of our week.)
What’s your favorite dish in the restaurant? And if you had to imagine your very last meal ever, what would your plate hold?
Heather: I love the rice noodle salad on our daytime menu. It is my Southeast Asian salad fantasy in a bowl. So many vibrant colors, flavors and textures! Our simple green salad is also so special. It’s damn hard to find a simple salad of beautiful lettuces in a restaurant; it’s a treat every time I eat it. Last meal ever? Oh man. First of all, there would be many plates. A massive Lebanese/Turkish mezze spread to start, followed by some beautiful pasta dishes, with perfect fruit to finish it off. And lots of Champagne, obviously.
Emily: Ooh, I love the simple salad, too! I really do think it’s one of the most beautiful expressions of who we are as cooks. But if I had to choose another it’d probably be our romesco. I actually get butterflies before I eat it because I just get so excited thinking about what I’m about to put in my mouth. Last meal ever? A simple green salad (can’t help myself), the most perfectly pink poached shrimp with a slick of garlicky aioli, a plate of caramelized eggplant coins drenched in olive oil, lots of bubbles to drink, and sheep’s milk yogurt drizzled with tahini and warm honey for dessert. I almost died just thinking about that.
What are your favorite 5 from CAP?
– CAP Matcha! I have a matcha latte with our house-made cashew vanilla date milk every morning (even when we’re closed. I stop by just to make it).
– Sun Potion Ashwaganda & Green Adaptogenic blend to help keep stress at bay/help my body deal with it all.
– CAP Coconut Butter – It’s incredibly delicious and so energizing.
– Wonder Valley face oil – Three nights per week, I use it instead of my regular moisturizer. It’s so nourishing.
– Tata Harper rejuvenating serum – Twice a day, every day. It’s a botanical vitamin for your face!
– Tata Harper Recovery Gel for tension relief at the end of a long day.
– CAP Coconut Butter There’s actual video footage of me going at a jar of this magic in our office at midnight, like a total lunatic.
-I swear by the power of hydrosols; a few spritzes of Anarose Toner wake my skin right up.
-Breakfast bliss equals an egg fried in 4th & Hart’s Himalayan Pink Salt Ghee.
-Marie Veronique’s triple-threat Vitamin C, E & Ferulic Acid Serum works overnight to repair and replenish.
The beauty tide is turning. Naturals are the new wave.
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