Emily Fiffer is one half of Botanica – an all-day restaurant in LA, focusing on vegetable-forward cooking, natural wine, cocktails, and an amazing atmosphere. We haven’t eaten at Botanica yet, but man do we dream about it.
In this interview, Emily tells us about her self-care routines as an owner of a thriving restaurant, navigating a recent PCOS diagnosis, the work she did to start seeing exercise as a pleasurable part of life, her newfound appreciation for sleep, as well as routine, food, beauty, and so much more. And if you want another dose of Emily’s awesomeness, check out her interview on the One Part Podcast, where she talks more extensively about the process and challenges of opening Botanica (it’s really good!).
— Is routine important to you or do you like things to be more open and free?
Both! Building habits into my life (especially now that time is so precious) gives me a sense of support and steadiness. Even something as small as a morning coffee can feel grounding! That said, life isn’t perfect, schedules change (especially owning a restaurant) and sometimes routines fall by the wayside. I’ve learned that it’s important to be flexible while staying true to what I need to feel centered and operate at my very best.
— What do your mornings look like? If they differ from day to day, describe your ideal morning.
Most days start with a walk. I’ve been a big walker for years, and tend to go a little nuts with it. I speed-walk with a fannypack like a zany granny, 5-6 miles a day, 6 days a week. I never plan where I’m going to go; it’s very freeing for me to just wander/get lost. Then it’s either straight into work if I’m opening, or if I’m working the later shift, hitting the computer/running errands for the restaurant.
— Do you have any bedtime rituals that help you sleep well?
I always, always have to read before bed — usually a book or one of many long-ignored New Yorkers. I just need that non-technology-cue to lull me to sleep. Sometimes, if I do happen to look at my phone, I can actually feel my brain spinning into that addiction spiral. I try to curb it as much as possible but I’ve fallen prey to far too many Instagram yoga videos to pretend I’ve got it figured out.
— Do you have any kind of mindfulness practice?
Currently, not in any traditional sense. My daily walks serve as that ‘get out of my head’ time. I’ve gone through phases of intense breathing practices, and dabbled in meditation, but nothing stuck. I look forward to a time when I can get back into it — but now isn’t that time!
— Describe your typical or ideal meal for each of these:
Just a disclaimer: Nothing is typical when you spend all day in a restaurant. It’s been a real challenge for me to get used to, to be honest! The ceremony of sitting down to a meal has been pretty much lost (except for days off!). That said, everything I eat is as fresh as can be. I’ve also been tweaking my diet recently (more on that below) which has affected what I’m eating and when…
Breakfast – I go in and out of breakfast phases; right now I’m on a lunch kick, which works out well because 9 times out of 10 I’m running around too much to eat right when I get into work.
Lunch – For the first year after we opened, lunch most days consisted of a variety of random bits from the walk-in, meaning lots of fresh market veg, a few scoops of dips (romesco, beet muhammara, whipped tahini), a sprinkle of dukkah and a 6-minute egg. I generally would eat this as rapidly as possible standing up or sitting on an old wine box in our office because I’m classy. Lately, mostly due to shame, I’ve been trying to eat lunch sitting on an actual chair, like a boss. I’m a creature of habit, and these days a plate of sautéed greens with a ghee-fried egg does the trick.
Snack – I’m not a big snacker…but if beverage snacks count, I tend to drink a LOT of water/herbal tea/throughout the day. We’re always tasting bits of everything to ensure quality, so being hungry generally isn’t a problem.
Dinner – Does shoving Persian cucumbers in my mouth at 11 pm count? Just kidding. On nights I’m not at the restaurant I’m usually making something super simple and vegetarian using whatever might be in my fridge. On current rotation: ghee-seared little gems with a crazy delicious miso-ginger green goddess (we serve it at the restaurant and I can’t get enough so started making it at home)! If I’m at the restaurant I’ll throw together a plate of whatever I can find — dips for days, and a couple varieties of cooked veg.
— Do you partake in caffeine and in what form? If not, what is your drink of choice in the morning?
I look forward to drinking my morning coffee when I go to bed at night. We serve Coffee Manufactory at the restaurant and it’s ruined me for anything else. Just one cup every morning, either with Strauss cream or full fat coconut milk.
— Do you have a sweet tooth? If so, how do you keep it in check?
My sweet tooth retired maybe 6 years ago. I was feeling a bit groggy and weighed down so started being more mindful about my sugar intake, and felt so good I never really looked back. Everyone is different, but for me personally it just feels better. I also recently learned that I have PCOS, which comes with high blood sugar/insulin resistance. So now I actually have to watch my sugar intake for health reasons. But treats are fun! So I indulge my way. I tend to keep a batch of homemade raw chocolate-almond butter-popped quinoa cups in my freezer to dip into. They’re unsweetened and I love them just as they are.
— Are there any particular supplements, herbs, or tinctures/tonics that you take regularly and find to be helpful with your energy level and general wellness?
I have a running joke with my boyfriend that I’ve built a pharmacy on our kitchen counter. It’s a rotating roster of tonics, herbal tinctures, supplements and powders. I used to steer clear of a lot of that stuff, but about 6 months ago I made a decision to be a real advocate for my health because several things were out of whack that I hadn’t taken care of. That resulted in multiple wake-up calls and diagnoses (PCOS — see above, low bone density) that have kicked me into high gear. So: Mornings now include Chinese herbs and a Western herb tincture for PCOS; BioSil for bone density (I credit Linda Rodin for this gem — it makes my nails feel like steel and my skin extra-glowy). Cinnamon pills for blood sugar. And a probiotic. I also drink multiple gallons of water a day, and firmly believe it’s the secret to immunity.
— Do you exercise and do you have a particular exercise routine that you repeat weekly?
In addition to walking, I started doing Pilates about 6 months ago to help build up my bone strength. I’ve spent the past 5-6 years not paying for exercise, and it’s been awesome, but low bone density is not something to be messed with. Pilates is incredible; it’s like equal parts brain and body workout, and I always feel so good after I do it. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my Tracy Anderson habit! I’ve been doing the ab and arm workout from her mid-2000’s Mat DVD for about 10 years. Honestly, that shit works. I have it downloaded onto my computer so I can do it from anywhere. Highly recommend.
— Do you find exercise to be pleasurable, torturous or perhaps a little of both? How do you put yourself in the right mindset in order to keep up with it?
I spent many years using exercise as a means to torture myself. When I worked toward accepting the idea that moving my body could be pleasurable, it totally changed my world. I stopped running and going to the gym and started going for walks, hikes (moving to California changed my life in this respect) and doing yoga; I found that everything in my life got better once I stopped pushing myself. I crave physical activity in order to stay mentally afloat, I miss it when I’m unable to squeeze it in, and I’m just a much happier and more balanced person when I’m moving — all preferably out in nature. I think probably because I’ve traveled beyond that tipping point, into unhealthy territory, and found my way back again, that I find moving my body to be essential to my happiness.
— What is your idea of beauty – external, internal or both?
Beauty is embodying a combo of kindness (toward others and yourself) and comfort in your skin.
— What is your skincare approach – face and body?
It’s hard to not get swept up in the skincare scene right now (ha, I just called it a scene!). But overall I try to keep it simple and natural — only using products made with things I can pronounce! Currently I’m loving Evan Healy face wash and The Ordinary hyaluronic acid. The Ordinary’s approach feels so relevant right now. Good skincare should be accessible! I’ve fallen prey to many an expensive product and at the end of the day it’s all about what works for your individual makeup. Other things I love: Gloria Noto’s Deep Serum and Evan Healy’s body oil. I exfoliate my body daily with a cheap/amazing Japanese scrubber; as far as bath products go, I’m a strict natural product-from-the-drugstore girl. Whatever’s on sale is on the shelf.
— Are there any foods, herbs or supplements you find to be helpful to your skin/hair/general glow?
This isn’t rocket science, but eating many pounds of green things, drinking lots of water, and getting ample fats on the daily. Supplements aside, being happy is the number one glow weapon. You can slather on all the oil in the world and eat well but if you’re feeling crummy it’ll show.
— Do you have any beauty tips/tricks you’ve found to be especially useful throughout the years? Family heirlooms are very much welcome.
Our bodies change and have different needs at different times in our lives, so I haven’t stuck with anything consistently… with the exception of my hair care! I have super curly hair and have been going steady with Bumble + Bumble Curl Creme and Brilliantine for going on 10 years. I have bangs and it keeps them tamed!
— Do you practice any consistent routines in order to avoid stress?
Exercise, sleep and maintaining relationships with friends. I find that the more emotionally grounded I am, the more easily I can handle the things (both big and small) daily life throws at me.
— If stress cannot be avoided, what are your ways of dealing with it?
Stress cannot be avoided in this job but we’re trying! Walking around the block and breathing deep for even 5 minutes can do so much good. Also: massages! And baths with epsom salts! Mmmmm.
— What measures do you take when you sense a cold/general feeling of being under the weather coming on?
Honestly, I tend to get sick like once every couple years (because water!). But if I do feel off, I go hard on the warm water / lemon juice / ginger juice and try to sleep as much as possible. I don’t take any medications, even if I’m feeling bad. I have my grandma to thank for that stubbornness.
— Do you strive to maintain a healthy work/life balance or do those things overlap for you? What is your approach?
This is a complicated issue! Naturally, opening this place created a fierce imbalance. I feel like we entered a vortex as normal human women and came out ragged, run-down versions of ourselves. Now that we’re on more solid footing with the business, we’re working on keeping each other accountable in order to achieve more balance. It’s a work in progress :). That said, this project is not only our business, it’s our passion; I can’t really fathom work and life being separate (at least not at this stage!). And that’s okay!
— Describe the actions you take or mindset you try to tap into in order to stay on track with your self-care practice and being nice to yourself?
Being nice to myself is probably my greatest challenge in life. I’ve been working hard to forgive and go easy on myself, but it’s freaking hard to undo years of doing. Doing little things, like building in time for pilates, a massage or a bath feel super indulgent and calming — and I try to remind myself that I deserve those things.
— What do you consider to be the single most important change you’ve made to your routine or lifestyle in terms of wellness?
Sleep! I actually never understood the power of sleep until we opened Botanica. Sleep deprivation is no joke. I’ve learned I need 6 hours at a minimum for my brain and body to function properly. I also have been toying for the past couple months with eating only cooked vegetables. I used to subsist on raw veg and I wasn’t at all tapped into how it was actually affecting me / weighing me down / hindering my digestion. Eating cooked veg feels much more satisfying at this moment in my life so I’m going with it!
— How do you deal with periods characterized by a lack of inspiration or procrastination?
Heather and I talk about this a lot! Brainstorming sessions are hugely helpful for us; getting outside the four walls of the restaurants is also nice for a change of pace. Not being too hard on ourselves when we’re not inspired is probably the most important thing we can do, though. Inspiration comes and goes and you have to trust it’ll come back.
— A book/movie/class that influenced your view of self-nourishment or self-care.
Can I pick a few?! Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal (how to use the most of what you have and make even the most peasant-like meal ceremonious and special) and Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking and More Home Cooking (how to laugh at yourself / be real in the kitchen). And I love Norah Ephron’s movie, Heartburn. Meryl’s oversize blazers and overall wardrobe nourish me to my very core.
— We love that your aim for your menu at Botanica is vibrant, fruit/vegetable/grain-forward, healthful food, with no other rules beyond that. You don’t dwell on labels. Can you tell us a bit more about this philosophy?
Thank you and yes! For us, labels limit our potential. The beauty of cooking with no rules is the ability to call on any number of ingredients to make something taste more delicious. The result is a menu with dishes that are vegan, vegetarian, meaty, gluten-free, glutinous, dairy-free, yogurt-laden, etc. etc. We like to think we can make almost anyone happy — there’s something for everyone (the exception being those with allium allergies; those are tough to work around because we love the crap out of garlic and shallots).
— What are some of the dishes and drinks your customers are most excited about at the moment, and which ones are your personal favorites?
Food-wise, daytime favorites include Turkish Eggs, Cake for Breakfast and the Morning Mezze. Drinks like our matcha latte with cashew-date milk, and our cacao-date mocha, are a huge hit, too. At night, people love the seared Japanese Sweet Potatoes with Salsa Verde. And if we took our Beet cocktail off the menu there’d be a thirsty riot! My personal favorites rotate but my Coffee Manufactory habit is ever-present.
— The restaurant business is notoriously difficult, yet you’ve managed to create a beautiful space with delicious food that’s quickly becoming a local favorite (LA locals mention it all the time in these self-care interviews!). To what do you attribute this success and what would be your advice for someone thinking about opening a restaurant?
Thank you so much! Hearing that never gets old. I think the secret to our success is that we believed fully and wholly in our concept, with a gut-level confidence that our hypothesis (that LA actually needed Botanica; that this type of food was the wave of the future) was correct. We honestly never doubted ourselves. In terms of advice for restaurant-opening, I could write like 7 novels, but I’ll sum it up: Believe fully in your vision, don’t let other people’s doubts destabilize your commitment, and ask for help. We couldn’t have done this without the kindness of our friends / families / strangers who later became friends.
Fun and Inspiration
— What is something you are particularly excited about at the moment?
Number one: British food writing/media (Guardian Feast, The Gannet newsletter, The BBC’s Food Programme, and the website Rocket & Squash — his Supplemental is my favorite bit!).
And back on American soil, two newsletters: Ann Friedman’s (again with the intellect / worldview expansion; she is a genius) and Jenni Avins’ Quartzy (thought-provoking cultural knowledge in my inbox every week).
— What do you do to unwind or treat yourself?
Lately I’ve been listening to the British podcast ‘My Dad Wrote a Porno.’ I’ve spit out multiple beverages in various rooms of my house because I laugh so hard. It feels like a treat to escape with laughter. On the agenda for unwinding in 2018: more dancing.
— A book/song/movie/piece of art to feed the soul:
Book – Just Kids
Music – anything I can dance to
Movie – This is My Life (I grew up watching it and it’ll never fail to make me happy)
Piece of Art – anything by Georgia O’Keefe
— Is there anyone you would like to hear from next in this interview series?
Portrait photo by Gentl + Hyers // This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links