FOOD PERSON is From Clive’s weekly series celebrating chefs, tastemakers, and founders in and around the food world. Focused around creativity, entrepreneurship, and personal origin, Food Person explores the unique and beautiful connections we all have to food and dining.
I recently chatted with food writer, entrepreneur, and new mom Erica Key about her blog, her line of food-inspired candles, the dinner party series she’s created, and how she plans to impart a deep love of food to her 3-week old son. Erica has been working in food media for over a decade, and is such a knowledgeable, kind, authentic person. Check out our chat — and a peak at Baby Thomas — below!
When did you discover your passion and connection to food?
My mom was a very big home cook and stay at home mom. But on the weekends, she didn’t cook anything. Starting on Friday, the kitchen was closed. So on the weekends, we would go out to dinner. And once a month, my dad would take me out to a nice restaurant for a special treat. There were four of us kids, so we each got that date once a month. My parents always encouraged us to try new things — different types of cuisines, different restaurants — and the rule at restaurants was: if my mom could make it at home, we couldn’t order it. I’ve just always had a passion for food because food makes everything better. If you have to tell me some bad news, tell me over a bowl of cacio e pepe, and it’s gonna be ok. There’s such a deep emotional connection with food and happy times. So with my brand, I wanted to showcase amazing spots around the city where more happy memories like that could be made.
In addition to those weekend restaurant visits, what are some other strong memories you have that tie you to food?
My husband Desmond and I love to travel. And to us, food is the basis of travel. When I travel, I want to hang out with the locals and eat where they’re eating. We love to try new things and embrace the culture of wherever we are. Since my parents always encouraged us to try new things, I also remember my mom tricking us into eating certain foods, like rabbit. It was an amazing rabbit stew, but she would tell us it was chicken stew. Years later when I asked for the recipe, she told me that it was really rabbit. I still can’t believe I was 13 years old eating a bunny.
“If you have to tell me some bad news, tell me over a bowl of cacio e pepe, and it’s gonna be ok.”
Do you plan to instill similar beliefs to your son?
Absolutely. I think it’s very important for kids to try new foods and have a wide palette. I hate seeing kids say “I don’t like that” about a food. And I see some parents saying that their kids don’t like certain foods, and that’s just the end of it. But with me, I’m thankful that my parents were very innovative with trying to get us to try new stuff. For example, back when I was young, brussel sprouts were not as cool as they are now, and our parents really didn’t know how to prepare them. So it may not be that you don’t like brussel sprouts, but rather you just don’t like how they were prepared. So I definitely want to show foods prepared different ways to my son so we can see what he really likes. Just because he doesn’t like the way I made something doesn’t mean he won’t like that same ingredient prepared at Atlas!
What was the process like of first creating your blog?
I launched my blog in 2013 because I was always my friend group’s go-to for restaurant and food questions. It was like a food directory at the time, and I had no idea it would turn into what it is now. At the time, I was working for a food publication, and I was giving them so many ideas, such as moving towards online and digital content, Instagram, recipe ideas, and they really just didn’t want to do any of the things I was suggesting. I felt like my voice really didn’t matter and I wasn’t being heard. I decided to take all that energy and put it towards creating my own brand. That food magazine actually fired me when I started my food blog and told me it was a “stupid idea” that would never go anywhere. At that time, there weren’t really many approachable food spaces on the internet. It was all fine dining focused, which is great, but it wasn’t digestible for a lot of people. It was just really stuffy and it felt like there wasn’t a space for women who look like me and eat like me. I started with just doing restaurant reviews, and then moved on to recipe development and entertaining.
“I miss people being their authentic selves and not trying to go viral.”
A few years ago, you launched a line of food inspire candles. How did that come about?
I love candles, and I always said if I was going to do a product, it had to be something I was truly passionate and authentic about. So I wanted to create a food-inspired candle line, but not in a cheesy way. I wanted really good smelling, all natural, sustainable candles. My husband and I created EWE Home together, and it’s going to be a whole product line — and the candles were the first product, and we’ll be doing some other ones as well. I love the candles because they transport you to a time and place. So many of them remind Desmond and I of places we’ve traveled to together. The lemongrass scent reminds me of the lemongrass tea and martinis I had when I was in Bali. I wanted them all to evoke different memories and give different feelings.
You also host a dinner party series called Ten Of Us at amazing restaurants around the city. What’s the heart behind the series?
I started the dinner series because I would go to events all the time and there would be so many amazing people there, but I would leave feeling like I wish I had more time to talk to people. Some of the events were so large that I never really got a chance to connect with the people that I wanted to. So I decided to start Ten Of Us to create more of an intimate environment where women could have a great dining experience and connect with other entrepreneurs. And it’s been absolutely amazing. I’ve seen so many women get jobs through connections they made at a dinner, and collaborated in so many different capacities. It’s really been beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve been able to partner with some amazing Atlanta restaurants and brands to make the dinners happen, such as Woodford Reserve and The St. Regis. So I’m looking forward to starting them back up in a few months.
I know they’re all so amazing, but what’s a really special Ten Of Us dinner that sticks out in your mind?
We got to debut The St. Regis Maisonette chef’s kitchen, and the space is so amazing. That one was more than ten people, but it was really lovely and memorable.
“I’ve just always had a passion for food because food makes everything better.”
How do I get on the list to come to one of the dinners?!
The dinners are released through my email newsletter, that’s the only place I share info about upcoming dinners. I wanted to make it kind of exclusive, but also accessible to the people who know to look for it. (sign up for Erica’s newsletter here!)
I always like to end these chats with some fun questions. What’s your dream dinner party — who’s on the list, and what are you serving?
Jennifer Lewis and Nahara Shadidi from Blackish, Joan Rivers, Michelle Obama, I’ve gotta have Patty LaBelle, I’ll throw Robert DeNero in, Regina King, Regina Hall, and Matthew McCaughnahay for eye candy.
Maybe Regina King can tell us how she got those amazing arms.
Between her and Michelle — someone’s gonna tell us about those arms.
What would you serve?
I’d do an Italian feast. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like lasagna. So lasagna, salad, wine, and an amazing Mediterranean whole fish.
What’s a recent memorable dining experience?
Everyone’s been bringing us amazing meals since we got home from the hospital. Three days ago, my husband and I were sitting on the couch eating lasagna and brownies, cuddling with our new son and watching Law & Order SVU. I’m excited for more cozy nights like that!