Skip to main content

Ladies who Lunch (Brunch, Afternoon Tea & Snack): Emma Underwood

I’m really interested in the things we talk about when we share food, and that time we share when we sit down and eat and drink. I’m interested in community, how we fit into the world, how we measure ourselves against the world, and the fact this year seems a particularly political year. 


I am also acutely aware that within popular media, there are still too few a space for women to have complex and in-depth conversation - the Bechdel test is still relevant to do today, with many films failing. Therefore, this is an interview column with women I find inspiring, and we sit down and eat and drink.


I recently meet with Emma Underwood, GM of Burnt Truffle in Haswell, for an earlier dinner. She was down in London to do Blood Shot at The Dairy with the Sticky Walnut crew. We spoke about how a restaurant can create a community, how people can still feel tribal about the space they have carved out for themselves. Both our PhDs had feminism theory as the main component and so we spoke about how we navigate ourselves within work spaces, as women, and how important it is to have such wonderful colleagues, bosses and inspiring people around us. And in a re-capp, I asked her my usual “Ladies that Lunch…” questions.


What does ‘success’ mean to you? 
To me ‘success’ means achieving what you strive for, and in my case that’s simply being happy. I was set to follow an academic path from a very early age, which ended rather abruptly when I had to give up my PhD at the age of 25, so my own definition of success changed very quickly. ‘Success’ used to revolve around academic achievements: a good essay mark, an offer of publication, but now I tend to judge my ‘success’ upon personal happiness. Of course I want the restaurants to do well, and success within my career is vital, but doing well at work doesn’t always equate to personal happiness, which to me is essential.

What would be a political word, or concept, or philosophy do you want to know more about?
I was really fortunate that my PhD gave me the chance to research lots of small extreme left wing groups (it mostly focused on feminist theory within anarchist groups) so I was able to spend a couple of self-indulgent years exploring the fascinating worlds that these people built for themselves. 

One group I found especially interesting was the Situationist International, who largely explored anti-consumerist theory through art. One of their theories was that all urban geography was ultimately capitalist, so instead proposed their own ‘psychogeography’, which encouraged people to ignore traditional pathways and roads centralised around capitalist tendencies, and create their own journeys instead. Apparently they would spend hours wandering around Paris with these principles. It’s so fascinating that you can perceive yourself as being radical simply by walking a different route, but it demonstrates the transformative power of political thought. I would really love the chance to explore this group further.

What is your understanding of community?
Community is simply the people that you surround yourself with, united by a common goal. I don’t think that communities are formed geographically anymore, but rather through interests and ideas. I grew up in a really small village that had an extremely strong sense of community, and I feel that same sense living in Heswall, but equally the restaurant community is very powerful.

We all live off our phones, especially in our busy lifestyles, but do you know any phone numbers off by heart still? If so, who’s?
I know Luke’s off by heart, not for any romantic reasons but because he will usually phone one of his suppliers with an order he has forgotten just as I am dropping off to sleep. I am well versed in both his phone number and the Wellocks Specials List as a result.

Thinking about a dish or a food from your childhood, what would be the one thing you would have now and would it live up to the stands of time, of being an adult?
My mum used to make this tuna pasta bake that I would go wild for. I’ve learned the hard way that it is shit when I made it in uni once. It’s one of those packet mixes that you add milk to, and has a remarkable lack of flavour to it.

When you are really hungry, what food do you think about?
Beans on toast, perfect comfort food.

What’s your favourite meal of the day?
Every night after work me and Luke sit and eat dinner together, no matter what time it is. We worked together at Sticky for two years, and spend far less time with each other since Burnt opened. It’s a really nice chance for us to sit and discuss the events of our respective days. Our career progression within the group has followed a really similar path, meaning that we have been able to offer one another valuable support and advice, the majority of which has been offered over a quick bowl of pasta on the sofa at midnight. 

We both saw and wanted the smoked duck – what about that dishes did you like the sound of? Is there something if you see on menus, that you can’t go passed?
I love duck, and will usually go for poultry and game. I really like fresh flavours, so anything with cucumber and sweetcorn. I used to eat avocados every day until I realised they made me put on half a stone. I love spicy food too, I put sriracha on everything. I will honestly eat anything; I have a slight dairy intolerance but will happily eat cheese all day. It’s well worth it.

And lastly, what was your favourite meal from this week?

We’ve just had a ridiculous staff lunch which has to be the winner. We had Mark Poynton from Alimentum cook a guest evening at Burnt last night, so the boys decided to make some of the leftovers into a four course staff lunch today: scallops, duck, granita and battenburg. Lovely at the time but struggling to push myself into getting the restaurant set now!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How do we decolonise? A series of questions

I have been thinking a lot recently about how we decolonise our thinking, especially around food and drink and to be honest I have no answers but I do have a series of questions. I have a some specific streams of thinking. I am also concerned with the indigenous identity, and how it is one that sits within many other spaces. “Commonly held beliefs of the white culture attack commonly held bliefs of the Mexican culture, and both attack commonly held beliefs of the indigenous culture. […] she learns to be an Indian in Mexican culture, to be Mexican from an Angle point of view.” Gloria Anzaldua, Towards a new consciousness. Because to me this is the essential strip back we need to get to, to understand what colonialism means, and how we untangle that. But how do we engage with that language in the UK where indigenous narratives is not a known language, because ‘native’ does not mean difference? How do we connect globally with the understanding of indigeneity? There is the

Rice, and everything else

I want to tell a story about journeys. Journeys that are circular, that fold back on themselves. For Gawai this year I had a conversation with my dad about rice, and about celebrations, and on Instagram I told a story from a Gawai. It also made me think about my name – the journey my name has gone on, and how I have moulded myself to others, to audiences I meet on my migration and how I fit into what feels comfortable for others. To be complicated means having to explain myself a lot, which is both ok and annoying. I sit with both those feelings. The story of rice is complicated too, its about farming and eating, it's about gods, it's sacred but also it's everyday.  This piece is a journey too; it is a snap shot of different things that to me, make up a whole. This is my history. My name is Anna Sulan Masing. [I haven't edited my dad's words, because these are from back and forth chats, and I like imperfection that modern technology of rushed emails and

The world for some spice

This is a bit of a rant, it was going to be a twitter thread but I realised I had more to say that a few posts so thought I would take the liberty of this space - after all, that is what it is here for. But, the editing - typos, spelling, phrasing etc - will all be a bit off, as I write this in rant and in rush. Two things happened yesterday that are connected, and another thing this morning that is adjacent to the same thinking.  Firstly -  I listened to Take A Bao podcast (which I am going to write about more Kavey Eats blog for next week), and I was reminded how it is pitched for a global audience, it is talking about global food trends, but what makes is so great is that it completely takes out a western-centric narrative.  This isn't a food podcast that explores politics, it is a gentle, interesting look at various interesting foods and drinks. It just takes the assumption that Asian foods are interesting to all, and that to talk about it we don't have to exotic