Five years ago, I met friends Emily Fiffer and Heather Sperling as they launched Botanica and introduced them to our audience with this cooking class at the home of Jenni Kayne.
This summer marks Botanica’s five year anniversary and celebrates the indelible mark that the plant-forward Silverlake hotspot has had on L.A.’s food culture.
Botanica in Silverlake
Our food-savvy audience needs no reminding what a feat five years is by industry standards these days. In honor of the big anniversary, we invited Emily and Heather to join our In the Kitchen series to hear about what they’re cooking and who is keeping them inspired these days…
Names: Emily Fiffer and Heather Sperlin of Botanica
Before we came to LA we were…Both living wildly different lives as food and culture editors in Chicago and New York. Emily was an editor at DailyCandy. Heather was an editor at TastingTable.com. We were as obsessed with entertaining and cooking vegetables back then, just without the restaurant to match.
The moment we knew Botanica was going to make it…It felt pretty surreal and promising when international tourists started walking through our doors.
Any time guests come in and say, “I just want to live here,” we get a thrill. That is exactly what we hoped would happen—so much so that we even wrote that quote in our fundraising deck. We’re firm believers in manifesting. That said, staying in business in our low-margin, high-turnover industry requires ceaseless energy, strategy, and perseverance. For better or worse, you can never get too comfortable. But, making it through the pandemic with our culture, community, and values intact makes us feel optimistic about the future.
Emily Fiffer and Heather Sperling
Food trend we love now:Emily Fiffer: Vegetables! The environmental impact of consuming animal protein is non-negotiable at this point. People are finally catching on, and emphasizing vegetables in our diets is becoming more important than ever.
Heather Sperling: Exactly. People are finally learning that eating your vegetables—especially local ones, and those grown by practitioners of regenerative agriculture—is the best thing you can do for your body and the planet.
Food philosophy in one sentence:
EF: Always eat your vegetables. Never forget your herbs.
HS: Everything in moderation, including moderation…except for herbs.
Food you love to eat with zero prep/additions:
EF: Fennel! An unsung hero.
HS: Kimchi! Especially baek-kimchi—white kimchi.
Favorite ingredients lately:EF: Masa. I got a tortilla press a few months back and cannot. Stop. Pressing. Tortillas.
Ingredient that makes everything taste better: EF: Maldon flake salt. HS: Citrus. If I had to choose one, lemon. But orange juice and zest is really an unsung superhero of savory cooking.
Favorite dish on our menu lately: EF: My one true love on our menu is our seared maitake mushrooms with toasted farro and green tahini. It always hits the spot. HS: Sugar snap peas with house-made paneer and fresh and dried mint.
Favorite spots in the Botanica neighborhood: EF: Voodoo Vin for wine, Lake and OK for gifts, and Honey Hi for lunch. HS: Pine & Crane for Taiwanese food. The Silver Lake Pool & Inn—my husband’s hotel. We love having friends and family stay there so we can meet them by the pool for drinks.
We have a market in the front of the restaurant, stocked with pantry goods from primarily women-owned, California-based small businesses too. We have olive oil from Shear Rock Farms, seaweed from Daybreak Seaweed, dried pasta from Semolina Artisan, spices from Diaspora Co., tinned fish from Fishwife… the list goes on and on. It’s a very special and delicious collection of culinary delights.
Producer/suppliers of note: We source our produce from the Santa Monica farmers market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and occasionally the Hollywood farmers market on Sundays. Our farmer list is long, but to shout out a few that you shouldn’t miss at the market:
Weiser for potatoes, melons, peppers; Windrose for greens, herbs; The Garden Of for lettuce, root vegetables; Thao Family Farm for all the green vegetables, plus insane rainbow of tomatoes and eggplant come summer; and Andy’s Orchard in the summertime for the most mind-blowing stone fruit you’ll ever have.
In our kitchen you’ll find plenty of: Herbs. All types, but especially dill, parsley, cilantro and mint. Spices, including sumac, za’atar, cumin, coriander, aleppo, urfa. Tahini. Extra-virgin olive oil.
What excites us about the food scene in LA now: It’s wonderful to see LA pushing the boundaries in hospitality! LA has always had great food, and the service piece has lagged a bit. We’re definitely seeing a sea change in this department as of late.
Favorite food cities/destinations on our mind:
EF: London forever and always. And Israel is next on my to-go list.
EF: I love The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. It reads like a novel. Francis Mallman’s Green Fire is quickly becoming essential for summer grilling, and Jim Harrison’s The Raw and the Cooked—not necessarily a cookbook, but a book about food—for a reminder of the wildness and hedonism that cooking can evoke.
HS: Everything by David Tanis (especially Market Cooking), all Claudia Roden, and Spice by Anna Sortun.
Fave veggie + what you make with it:EF: I love all vegetables, truly, but I make baked onion bhajis on repeat at home, always with a dipping sauce and a giant herby salad on the side.
HS: I couldn’t pick a favorite, so I’ll shout out something that’s not always used by people who don’t have a cultural connection to it: okra! We’re coming into summer (okra season), and I cannot wait to grill it, stew it with tomatoes and spices, and saute it over high heat in cast iron with loads of minced garlic thrown in at the end.
Craziest thing we buy at the market: EF: What’s crazy isn’t what I buy. It’s the quantity of vegetables I buy weekly, and manage to consume on my own. I feel like I eat for a family of 5. Flex.
Favorite splurge: EF: Mandarinquats, forever. HS: Dried fruit from the farmers market. The raisins, dried apricots and dried plums in this town are unreal. I love Avila & Sons stone fruit. And holy crap, Arnett Farms sliced & dehydrated strawberries. So good. They ship nationally, for those feeling splurge-y.
Your idea of an ideal dinner setting…
EF: On a beach, with an open fire to cook over and a friend to rinse the dishes in the sea. But really, I’d settle for my back yard.
HS: I go to Wellfleet, Massachusetts every summer. We eat oysters we gather on the shore and vegetables from the farmers market while watching the sunset over the bay. It’s just as good as it gets.
For last minute entertaining, I…
EF: Try not to stress! No one will be mad if you put out every dip in your fridge (dips are my love language), some crudites, and good bread. And always multiple bottles of good wine.
HS: Always keep olives in the fridge, tinned fish, good pasta, and excellent olive oil in the cabinet. Grow as many herbs and greens as I can in the yard. You can whip up a gorgeous feast with those as a base.
Signature cocktail:EF: I’ll defer to the Botanica bartenders here! I love our beet cocktail with mezcal—fresh beet juice, mezcal, cilantro, lime, agave.
HS: I love vermouth spritzes—Spanish-style, with seltzer, citrus or olives—but lately they’ve been supplanted by Ghia spritzes. I started drinking Ghia while pregnant and haven’t stopped. Ghia, lemon, orange, muddled mint and seltzer. So good!
Read the whole In the Kitchen series with top chefs from around the world.