Meet the Woman Who Illustrates Restaurant Meals Instead of Instagramming Them

By
Image
Photo: Emily Parkinson

These days, at almost every restaurant, it’s not unusual to spot diners capturing the experience with their phones. But Emily Parkinson brings her sketchbook instead so she can draw food, jot down flavor combinations, and take note of ingredients. After studying design in college, Parkinson works as a server at Marta, and her illustrations naturally bridge her two passions.

Parkinson started sketching food when she launched her supper club The Wildling Kitchen and wanted to promote her events. “I find that when you’re sketching something, you get to know it better,” she says. “I hadn’t ever really sketched food before, and I got so excited about the way, like, pretzels can look.”

Last week, Will Guidara tweeted Parkinson’s illustration of her meal at Eleven Madison Park. “I went there over a year ago and brought a sketchbook and did all the preliminary drawings during the dinner,” she says. “I didn’t bring my watercolors because they already thought I was nuts. I was on a cloud of happiness from that dinner for at least a month, and I wanted to memorialize it. I relived the meal as I mapped it.”

Parkinson posted the EMP drawing on her blog, but it wasn’t until a chance meeting at Marta that she got to share her work with Guidara. “I had butterflies the whole time … I actually served Michelle Obama three days later, and I was more nervous and excited to serve Will. What’s up with my priorities?” she says. “I was trying not to gush, but at the end of the meal, I told him that I still think about the dinner, and that I sketched it. He was touched.”

At this point, Parkinson says she’s only getting started in both the food and design worlds — everything’s done informally, just whenever she’s inspired — but she hopes to make a move into professional illustrations. Her ultimate goal is to sketch the courses at Alinea. “I feel like it might have to be sculpture, though!” she says. “I don’t know if two [dimensions] could describe that meal.”

Here are a few more of her illustrations:

Tea at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok.
Tea at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok. Photo: Emily Parkinson
Cards from a taco-themed dinner.
Cards from a taco-themed dinner. Photo: Emily Parkinson
Composite exquisite corpse of fish bones, artichoke, and radish.
Composite exquisite corpse of fish bones, artichoke, and radish. Photo: Emily Parkinson