Last week I sat down with Emily Parkinson at FREEHOLD in South Williamsburg to talk shop. That is, to talk about what exactly she does at the illustrious Eleven Madison Park. (Side note: if you don’t know about the restaurant, please click the link and fall into a minor k-hole researching what it is they do and fully appreciate that it is ranked by many standards as one of the best restaurants in the world.) Okay, now that you have a little context, take in the fact that Emily’s title at this restaurant is: Head Dreamweaver.
Emily’s job’s title makes most people cock their head to the side, furrow their brow, and start to ask… “Um… what?” “Exactly,” is normally my response.
Long story short, Emily is the person who makes your EMP dreams come true, when you didn’t even know they were your dreams. Celebrating National Margarita Day, perchance (who even knew that was a thing?)? Emily might collaborate with the pastry chef and create a margarita slushy course served on a centerpiece of sand and hand-painted palm trees. Maybe you’re a chef in town from Chicago and have a restaurant there that’s Maine themed. Emily might orchestrate a grand lobster bake mid-course with chefs, managers, and captains, in the PDR outfitted with buoys and and netting around the walls, making you feel just that much more at home.
Long story medium, Emily’s path to make dreams come true is really quite incredible. She didn’t find out about this job and apply on Craigslist or GoodFoodJobs or Harri or by word of mouth, rather she fell into this job because of her passion and god damn creativity. After being obsessed with Eleven Madison Park for some time (see: she bugged everyone about it, she devoured the cookbook and tried out recipes at her supper clubs around the city, she stopped in one day with her friend because she just HAD to see the space, just to look around) Emily got herself invited to a dinner with a friend’s family. Not wanting to be that person that takes photos of every dish… Emily sketched out all the dishes and eventually made a painting based on the dinner. (Read: DEDICATED PASSIONATE CREATIVE PROFESSIONAL aka my new best friend).
Fast forward a few moments and we find Emily serving Will Guidara (a fellow Cornell alum) and she kept it the hell together until the end of the meal where she was like “OMG I LOVE YOU AND YOUR RESTAURANT”. (Again read: my new best friend). They chatted, he found out about this painting, and eventually offered her a part time set-up over at EMP working with this new position they just created: the DreamWeaver. Emily worked those nights when the Head DreamWeaver was off, and now… Emily Parkinson makes dreams come true nightly.
But let’s get logistical about it: What exactly does that mean? “I’m a small part of what makes [the DreamWeaver experience] cool. It is a hugely collaborative effort. What I do focuses around the logistics of the creative execution working with managers, the maitre d’, the chef, the whole team” Emily said.
There are two major ways Emily makes it all work. One is pre-planned magic. Take, for example, this couple that has been coming to the restaurant for a while, let’s just call them Christophe and Melanie (C&M for short, because it’s easier that way). The team already knows C&M personally -- they know what C&M likes to drink, who they are enamored of in the restaurant, all the good stuff. So for their anniversary Emily worked with a ton of people to draw up sketches of C&M’s favorite people, drinks they’ve made them over the years, masks and hats they've worn to EMP's various parties, and is printing them on a matching scarf and pocket square in an Hermes style. All of this purely as a gift from the Restaurant to Christophe and Melanie. That’s magic. (stars emoji, heart-eyed emoji, stars emoji).
But Emily said that it’s so fun when these little bits of information come out during the meal, during service. The other night, someone came in and had been gifted this dinner at EMP. The woman was super talkative about a concept about an extended dinner party -- and the last installment of this concept would be this black-lit alien-themed dinner. The Maitre d’s was like “oh wow, so great! Here’s your table” *walks away in search of Emily*…. “EMILY WE HAVE TO TALK”.
Emily got super excited and reached out to the manager on duty, and “can we do this thing, no no wait let me rephrase: we’re doing this thing”. He gave in and Emily raced off to the hardware store for black lights, some tin foil, and started to build and elaborate alien candelabra things out of decanters and extension chords. Side note: tin foil is a great building material. There wasn’t a Private Dining event that night so Emily and her team completely transformed the PDR into that black-lit alien themed moment. And for dessert this couple was led up to the PDR to have their Baked Alaska. Think: black-lit room with alien hands and alien music and a flaming dessert. She shrieked so loud the whole restaurant heard. “It was so silly but so much fun. It’s just amazing that this kind of thing can happen in that environment.”
It is these moments, where creativity and making things and making things happen within a restaurant environment when Emily sits back and realizes that this is basically the perfect job. It’s giving people what they want before they knew they really wanted something. It’s being thoughtful and intuitive and hospitable in a next level way.
"In that it is spontaneous and resourceful creativity, which exercises a very different part of my creativeness (there must be a better word for that) than having the luxury of brooding over a project and testing materials and techniques until I get it right. There is rarely a bike ride home from work where I'm not like "Ahhhh, I should have gold leafed that instead of spray painted it"...or whatever else, but the most important part is obviously that the guest is receiving something totally unexpected, personal, and fun."
To me, Emily makes dining in a restaurant a truly cemented experiential moment. A full circle experience. I’m screaming. I’m obsessed. I would tell you more, but I don’t want to reveal too much of what’s behind the curtain of Emily’s mind. Go say hi sometime.