You can find the recipes for an extra sour whiskey sour that Julia made herself in isolation and a version of Rich's favourite pasta dish on the 'How to Eat Alone' recipe blog. Visit Richard Brendon Studio here and also, have a look at both Yard Bird, Hong Kong and Misi, Brooklyn, which are the two restaurants Richard mentions in the interview.
Transcript, interview with Richard Brendon by Julia Georgallis
Hi, welcome to the How to eat alone podcast, with me, Julia Georgallis. I’m a baker, I write about food and I currently run edible food museum, The Edible Archive.
This podcast looks at the art of eating alone and explores topics surrounding loneliness and aloneness. I’ll be talking to people from all walks of life about their own experiences of solitude and solo dining. With every episode, I’ll share a recipe which is designed to be cooked and eaten by one person and one person only, because I find, as a single person, that most recipes are written for two or more people.
When we’re eating alone it’s sometimes hard to make our meals special. During the first pandemic lockdown I was alone and got so complacent with mealtimes that I would eat from packets instead of plates plates and I’d eat on my lap in front of the telly a lot. And then when I started the How to eat Alone project, I began setting the table properly for myself because it was a way for me to make mealtimes special again.
In September, I moved back in with my mum, so for the second and the beginning of the third lockdowns at the end of 2020, I wasn’t alone. But, after Christmas, everything changed. I have a type of arthritis so I have to be careful to not contract the coronavirus. My mum was acting as a carer for my grandparents and they were also having care from nurses. The UK was dealing with a really serious pandemic wave, London was pretty scary actually I think at one point it got as high as 1 in 7 people had covid in certain parts of London. Because my mum was coming into contact with carers, it also put me at risk. So I had to leave home and I isolated at my dad’s empty apartment (my dad actually left London for Cyprus at the beginning of the pandemic). And that was great, in a lot of respects because I had my own space again and it most importantly meant that I didn't contract covid when the rest of my family did. You know, I was safe but it was lonely. I just found myself getting really complacent again with my eating habits. Until, one day, I went on Zoom call with some of my oldest friends. I made myself a really nice meal beforehand and then I found this really beautiful set of whiskey glasses that my siblings and I had bought my dad the Christmas before. So I made myself whisky sours and drank them from my fancy crystalware and I set the table properly and it sounds really silly and really superficial but honestly it really lifted my spirits.
The glasses were designed and produced by a good friend of mine, Richard who founded tableware brand, Richard Brendon Studio. He’s American born, Kent raised and he lives and runs his studio from Notting Hill in London. Before I was a baker, I worked as a designer and I met Richard when we were at art school together. I think both of us have enterprising personalities and we would both have endless side hustles and schemes and when we graduated a couple of years after the 2008 recession, there wasn't much work for designers so we joined forces, we took some of our own products and the products and art work made by friends and other young designers and we started a pop up brand selling on market stalls, in pubs, empty shops and we organised showcasing events for young artists. It was really fun but it was quite short lived and after we closed the brand Richard opened his own studio. What I really appreciate about him is that he’s so committed to his own vision, his tableware is super celebratory and I think the reason that it's so good actually is because he understands how to eat and drink really well. I was reminded of all of this when I drank those isolation sours. I decided to talk to him about being his own boss, what he likes about it, what he doesn’t like about it and why he decided to start his own brand in the first place.
RB - Well I started the brand in 2013, but as you know Julia, I kind of, for a while after university, I had a few products and we of course had our own little venture for a while selling our own work and some other designers work.
JG - Our side hustle! Our market stall side hustle!
RB - Exactly. So, in our final year of university, I designed my ‘Reflect’ collection, the kind of first collection that I launched my brand with. But as you know I’d been selling that for a few years to a few different retailers and I suppose it was at the end of 2012 that I decided to go full time on working on my business and developing a brand. Really the brand is all about trying to create tableware that is absolutely as good as it can be and it really elevates everyday experiences and as a result we kind of end up working with these really incredible craft industries. So all of our ceramics, our bone china, is made up in Stoke on Trent and our glassware is mouth blown in Slovenia. Kind of a nice part of what we do as well is, as well as trying to create products that are really great for food and drink, we also support these wonderful industries and you know we’re on a mission as well to regenerate the skills in these industries
JG - When you had the idea for this brand, did that come from a desire to want to be your own boss?
RB - That’s a good question, I think without consciously knowing when I left university I think I always wanted to be my own boss but I don't feel like it was a real conscious decision that I was going to develop my own brand. I think I was quite fortunate that I developed a product as we were finishing design school. I was therefore granted an opportunity to start a business. You know, I think with our market stall prior to me starting our brand that was the first little business I had and whilst we were studying I was also running the university ski and snowboard club which was almost like a little business
JG - Yeah you were a hustler!
RB - Yeah, we had to raise a lot of money to fun all of the things we did so I think it all there really
JG - What are you like as an employee, or what were you like as an employee? Did you like working for other people?
RB - I had lots of jobs, but they were all really in hospitality and I was a waiter or a barman and I really enjoyed it, it was really good fun. The places I enjoyed the most were places that weren't corporate and you could do whatever you want in your own way.
JG - I hear that so many times from entrepreneurs, they always say, ‘you know I always liked doing jobs that I could kinda do my own thing or could do on the side and I think that’s really common. You know, I’m the same, I like having jobs that I can do part time and I can do my own thing on the side and it sounds like it's quite similar to what you were doing before you started your own business
RB - Yeah. You know I worked in one restaurant in America that was really corporate and they had this ridiculous training programme that you had to go through. It just didn't gel with me. Everything felt incredibly unnatural, so I really enjoyed working in hospitality but always in the places that were more independent, that kind of let people be themselves.
JG - Yeah. And how do you feel about doing things on your own in general? Do you like your own company?
RB - I kind of like being alone and kind of dont like being alone. I think one of the things that I’ve enjoyed over the last 12 months because of the pandemic. I’ve actually enjoyed being able to work from home more. I felt like I needed to be in the office and setting an example. And I love seeing my team. But if I’m in the office and my team’s there, then inevitably I get distracted (chuckles). So I’ve really enjoyed the focused time that I get from working from home and that I find really useful but I’m not very good at being on my own for prolonged periods of time. Like, over the course of a weekend, if I didn’t see anyone I would get really bored and not know what to do with myself.
JG - Well you’re a really sociable person
RB - Yeah, yeah I am and being your own boss is kind of a weird one in that way because I think you can feel, even though you’re surrounded by people in your team, I think you can also feel quite lonely because I think sometimes when you’re leading a business people look to you for leadership, but the reality is nobody knows all the answers. And I think when I started out, I felt like I needed to know all the answers and that can be quite isolating.
JG - And do you find yourself being alone for work a lot, day to day, either now or before the pandemic.
RB - Not a lot’s changed really between pre-pandemic and now. I think the main thing that’s changed is working remotely and I’m trying to reduce the amount of meetings I have per week because really what I want to be focussing on is creative, and I also want to have a lot more time to grow the business, because that’s what I’m good at and I really enjoy doing.
JG - Kind of the face to face and meeting people and networking and you’re the face of your own brand
RB - Exactly. And actually that’s one thing I’ve actually really missed this year. Just not getting to see any clients or suppliers and before the pandemic I was too busy with that stuff almost. And travelling a lot as well. I think I’m pleased that I haven’t been flying around the world as much as I was and I don't think I'll ever go back to the level of business travel that I was but I’d love to get out to America and see our suppliers and all the other people in the industry who I know. It’s fine, we can do things over video call and Zoom and it works quite well for a lot of stuff and that will be brilliant once we come out the other side of the pandemic, that actually I think people will travel less which is good for many reasons, you know it’s good for the environment.
JG - But it’s not as fun!
RB - It’s not as fun. And some things really are better done in person.
JG - You’ve mentioned travelling and I know you do a lot of travelling for work. And I also know you like eating. I know you like food!
RB - This is true
JG - And your brand is really, I know it’s about celebrating craftsmanship but it's also about celebrating food. So I just kind of wondered if you'd had any experiences from your travels when you find yourself eating alone and what that’s like for you?
RB - Yeah, all the time on my business travels pretty much would have been on my own. I used to do these really horrendous business trips around America where I would fly into New York and usually I’d then go clockwise around America, through the bigger cities so I’d go New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, LA, San Francisco, Chicago and then back to New York, back to London, in the space of 10 days - 2 weeks. And basically every day was packed full of meetings. I’d wake up in the morning with jet lag, have something awful for breakfast and then jump in an uber and just go around these cities having 4 or 5 meetings and then get back to the hotel or go straight to the airport. So what I often did was to try and make sure my weekend fell in, usually LA when I could because the weather is so nice there and it's a really good place to have some down days. So in the evening when I was done with meetings and didn’t have a flight, that would be time to do something that was quite fun and for me that would always be finding a good restaurant or goog bar, if I could. The nice thing about America is if you go and sit at a bar, you always end up talking to people. For me, not liking to be on my own, that was quite a good way of going and at least getting some social interaction with people.
JG - It’s quite interesting that you say, you can sit at a bar somewhere in America and people will talk to you. Are Americans better at dealing with people on their own, do you think?
RB - I think so. I think in the UK, I don't think people are unfriendly I think people are just…you know you see it on the tube - well you used to see it on the tube, when we used to go on the tube -
JG - Haha (says, jokingly) what’s the tube?
RB - Ha ha. You know, no one even makes eye contact with each other. You know, everyone just tries to keep to themselves. It’s quite a British thing, maybe it’s seen as a bit rude to initiate conversation. Whereas, in America, they don’t have any of that. There’s no inhibition, people just start talking to you. That’s one of my favourite things to do when I’m travelling round America is just sitting at a bar and you know, it’s not always at a great restaurant, a lot of the time I’ll be having dinner at an airport on my way to the next city but you know, you sit at a bar and there’s sport on the telly and you can start talking to some random American about baseball and they sort of very quickly really you’ve got no idea what’s going on!
JG - What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten when you’ve been on your own?
RB - Oo… There’s a few! And actually you know, I’ve eaten at a lot of really amazing restaurants on my trips round the world. I don’t know if I can give you one, I’m going to try and narrow it down…
JG - Ok
RB - Errr… the first one’s in Hong Kong. And I think the restaurant was called YardBird. And it’s a yakitori restaurant. I never really realised there were lots of different types of yakitori, I think I thought it was bits of chicken on a stick, grilled. But this restaurant in Hong Kong had a menu of about 20 types of different types of yakitori. And one of them was like minced chicken, cooked over the grill and flavoured with all kinds of amazing spices. And it came out with an egg yolk in some kind of soy miso sauce and what you did is you take the chicken, it’s shaped like sort of a drumstick and you mix the yolk and the soy and the miso all together and it's like a dipping sauce. And it was really really mind blowingly delicious
JG - You are doing the whole business man thing right because yakitori is very much the working man’s quick dinner after work
RB (Laughs) - Yeah, so I’m living the stereotype, it’s great. So that restaurant was great, the selection of beers, of japanese whiskies was great. I ended up spending way too much money there because I just really needed to try things. And then, I think the other one that really stands out to me is a restaurant in Brooklyn called Missy. Italian restaurant by a chef called Missy Robinson. And it’s a pasta restaurant. Basically it’s pasta and largely vegetarian antipasti. And all of the pasta’s amazing but the one, and I’ve had to go back to that restaurant two more times since is, what is it? It's spinach and mascarpone tortellini but it’s got burnt butter inside the tortellini. And then loads of butter and parmesan all over it. And it’s just like… one of the most delicious pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten. Even better than pasta I’ve eaten anywhere in Italy, I would say
JG - Ah man, don’t say that, they’ll never let you into Italy again now, you know that don’t you
RB - I’ve been banned!
JG - I might edit that out so that you can go to Italy again.
RB - Yeah there are loads more bars and restaurants, but those are some that stand out and that I remember very fondly
JG - They sound delicious. So it doesn’t sound all bad! Being alone doesn’t sound all bad.
RB - No, it’s not all bad, the main problem with those sorts of trips that I used to do was the amount of travel and meetings in such a small space of time. I would literally get back to the UK and if I didn’t get a cold or flu it would be a miracle.
JG - Well hopefully you won’t have to do those trips again I think the world has changed
RB - I think trips like that, it just doesn’t make any sense when you think about it now.
JG - I think we’ll look back on it when we’re old people and ask ourselves WHY DID WE DO THOSE SORTS OF THING
RB - It’s the sort of thing that if you’ve got the type of product that you need to sell globally and you are niche and high end which my brand and business is, it did open a lot of doors and get us into a lot of places really early on so it might be the type of ridiculous hustle you have to do to get a business up and running.
JG - Face to face is the one
RB - Exactly
JG - So, I want to ask you one final question, which I’m gonna ask everyone who comes on the podcast. What’s the best thing about being alone?
RB - Best thing about being alone is… you can do whatever you want (laughs). You can just do whatever you want, can’t you. That sounds selfish, but I suppose for me it’s quite unusual to be on my own and I’m not very good at it and I don’t enjoy it for very long but it is things like going to whatever restaurant I feel like or eating whatever I want or watching whatever I want on the telly. That’s the best bit, for sure.
JG - So I guess the next time you are on your own, you can remember that and go HEY I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT!
RB - Absolutely
There are a lot of people like Richard, who hate being alone but who have to be alone to achieve their goals, which is really admirable. I like the way he uses eating and tries to make his solo dining experiences special. I think it’s quite obvious that he enjoys a bit of decadence, so, in keeping with this theme, I’ve put up a simple but decadent meal on the ‘How to eat alone’ blog. I thought both the tortellini and yakitori dishes, even though they made my mouth water, seemed quite labour intensive dishes, and labour intensive is not the one when you’re alone. So I deconstructed the pasta dish and have put up a recipe for burnt butter linguine served with parmesan and a side of steamed spinach with mascarpone. I would suggest eating it along with my Isolation Whiskey Sour. Both these recipes are on the How to eat alone project/s blog, which you can find on theedible archive.org, just scroll through to the How to eat alone section of the website. You can also find recipes and more information about How to eat alone and also The Edible Archive on instagram and facebook. The instagram handle is the.edible.archive and check out The Edible Archive facebook page.
I’d love to hear from you if you have any thoughts about working alone, travelling alone, being alone, I’m trying to build this podcast up at the moment and would love to talk to you if you feel like you have a story to tell. Thanks so much to Richard Brendon for talking to me, and thankyou for listening. If you like the first couple of episodes that I’ve put out so far, I would really appreciate it if you can share this with anyone you think might like it or might benefit from listening to it. I hope you enjoyed being alone with me. I will see you next time for the next episode of How to eat alone.