For this week's Flower Person, we have the incredible Diana Yen, founder of the creative studio, The Jewels of New York. Diana's food styling is so beautiful anyone would be hesitant to touch, but too delectable to refuse! Luckily, each post on her Instagram page is accompanied by a detailed recipe so you can create your own edible masterpiece at home!
In this interview, we chat about the wonderful healing properties of flowers, the community-building quality of food, and tapping into the magic within ourselves to create.
Hi Diana! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
I have a creative studio, The Jewels of New York, that combines the love of cooking with the beauty of everyday things. I’m a recipe writer, food stylist, and photographer. I love sharing visual stories of food, and I think the cooking process itself can be just as beautiful as finished dishes. I’m currently exploring umami flavors in the kitchen and focusing on recipes that let my voice shine as an Asian American cook.
I see that The Jewels of NY Instagram page has such a multi-cultural flair! Where are you from and where do you call home now?
I’m originally from southern California and grew up near the beach, but spent most of my summers in Hong Kong with my family. It was a perfect balance of lazy beach life with the hustle of the city. I think those exciting summers in the city attracted me to moving to New York, which I currently live in. I’m in Brooklyn these days, so it has the neighborhood charm but I’m close to manhattan whenever I need an energy boost.
That sounds like the perfect balance of zest and serenity--just like your food styling and photography! I'm particularly drawn to your work with flowers. Where did your love for flowers come from or what first drew you to flowers?
My grandfather was a botanist and very into Chinese medicine. Not only are flowers beautiful but they can be used in many applications for their health benefits. I come from a family of nature lovers, almost any ailments we have can be healed by nature. There is nothing more delightful to the eye and mind than a bouquet of flowers.
That's something we passionately believe in, here at The Qi! Flowers offer the ultimate all-natural wellness benefits. What are you working on at the moment?
I treated my time during lockdown as a personal artist’s residency. I took the opportunity to create daily beauty in recipes and felt grateful that I had a community of home cooks to connect and share with. It definitely kept me sane and grounded. I realized that I’m constantly working with clients and maybe my vision for food doesn’t always come through. During this time I connected with my roots and focused on Asian inspired recipes that are simple, healthy, and approachable.
Knowing ourselves lets us shine brighter for who we are. :) Lockdown definitely has been the time for self-reflection. What are some inspiring words you love and live by?
I read a quote on the subway yesterday (my first time riding in a long time). And it said, “What we create will save us”. I felt like it was my motto for the past few months. I needed to constantly create and treat each day with purpose to fight the loneliness that came with isolation. My creative work saved me mentally and let me contribute to the world during a difficult time.
Every day is a new opportunity--I love that! But what’s a daily ritual that’s made an impact in your life?
Cooking from scratch. It seems obvious since it’s my job, but living in NYC makes it very easy to eat out most meals. The act of cooking simple meals from scratch keeps me closer to nature. I like to know how things are made and the chemistry that happens during cooking, I’m constantly learning. Cooking feeds both my body and mind.
I find myself constantly intrigued by the science of cooking. What are you drinking and eating currently?
I have been doing small-batch fermentation at home, making kimchi and pickles. I’ve also found fun ways to use the brine from those projects to make cultured vegan cheese and raw fermented sodas. They are full of probiotics and taste amazing!
Fermentation is a science project that has a delicious treat at the end and sounds like such fun! What’s something you do that brings you massive joy?
I love when people send me pics of my recipes that they’ve cooked. Knowing that I helped inspire them to have fun cooking in the kitchen during hard times and seeing them nurture themselves and loved ones makes me so happy. It is truly fulfilling.
Food is one of the best ways to connect with people. We touch hearts by satisfying appetites. Who is someone that had the most impact on your life for the better?
My best friend since I moved to NYC, Quy Nguyen. He’s the owner of FORM
Atelier. He has an incredible eye for objects and an unrivaled zest for life that is so inspiring. He is the brother I never had and pure genius in every sense. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from him is that you can live in NYC and thrive professionally, while also remaining true to your core values. In essence, you can be kind and good and still get what you want out of life. Above all, you should always treat creative work with a curious and open mind!
Finally, if you could be any animal in the world, what animal would you be and why?
I would be a rabbit so I could communicate with my pet Cleo the Bunny! They have a quiet way of communicating with body language, I always think it would be so cool to be on her level. We could hop around together, munch on kale, and chew on the couch!
- Favorite affirmation? I have the freedom and power to create the life I desire.
- Favorite book? Wildcrafted Fermentation by Pascal Baudar. He’s an incredible forager and cook in LA. His food is beautiful and honest.
- Favorite food to cook? Homemade pasta.
- Favorite city? New York City, the most diverse place on the planet!
- Favorite movie? Call Me By Your Name, Italian summer is what I’m dreaming about.
- What is one advice you would tell your “younger self”? While you have a corporate job, buy a home first before sinking everything into your business. Save up to have a stable foundation because once you start a business, you’ll pour in everything you have.
If you would like to find more about Diana and her work, her socials are linked below: