Emma Sawko calls herself "a real Parisian." Yes, and a modern one. As it is not so much geography that qualifies her as such - she was born in NYC, raised between Paris and Switzerland and currently divides her time between Paris and Dubai -, rather her unique allure, steady mindset, entrepreneurial spirit and active lifestyle.
Her mother has always been health conscious and her father helped her to become a determined woman by telling her that she could achieve anything and everything. A background that has obviously defined her destiny and led her to her calling. Today, Emma owns three cafés in Dubaï, two in Paris and is scheduled to open the third one in less than a month, with New York and London outposts in the works. She definitely continues to shoot for the moon!
I/O: How was Wild And the Moon born?
ES: When I first came to Dubai and opened Comptoir 102 – the first concept store of the region- I really wanted a small café where people could meet up and chill. Some little place to become a home away from home, with my own recipes. It was a risk in a region where junk food is law. But people loved it and the Café 102 - then the first organic restaurant of the region - quickly became a hit with the locals and expat crowd alike. I realised there was a real demand for real, healthy and vibrant food and wanted to take it a notch further. I wanted to bring the food I had discovered and thrive on while in NY. The cold pressed juices, raw vegan movement, amazing superfood… That’s how Wild & the Moon was born.
I/O: Define the place in a few words?
ES: t’s a chilled place that reminds me of the laid back West Coast culture with cool NYC vibes. We used reclaimed wood, and recycled materials, plenty of plants… But it also takes after the more feminine and refined French atmosphere.
I/O: According to you, how did the whole wellness movement affect nutrition in the past few years?
ES: I think there has been a real change in the way we now regard health. After years of being fed “fad diets,” people now have conscience that the wellness approach has to be a holistic one. It is not about the calories. And it is not only about the food you eat, but also where your food is coming from, how it has been grown, how it affects the environment, and how our own actions affect our planet. And so, people now take a more global and conscious approach to health. They want a healthy mind in a healthy body. And it’s easy to see: you eat junk food, you feel sick. You start eating healthy and you feel like a million dollars.
I/O: And how does it show in Paris?
ES: When we opened our first restaurant in Paris, I was still wondering whether the French crowd would be ready for it. It is not easy to set new eating habit in a country with such strong culinary traditions so it was really a leap of faith. But eating healthy is not a fad and if French people love their cuisine, they also love a good produce, slow food, prepared with love and care. This whole wellness movement therefore came later in Paris than it did in London, New York or the States in general where Food may be less identitarian than it is in France… Nevertheless it came unexpectedly fast. People were ready, it has been coming from deep within and it’s the sign of a true transformation. We see it in the street; our restaurants in Paris are full, but we see many others healthy concepts coming up too. And not just in the food business but in the well-being business in general with slow cosmetics brands, yoga studios, wellness centers etc.
I/O: What would be the main differences regarding wellness in Paris, NYC and Dubai?
ES: I think there has been collective mental shift towards wellness and wellbeing in general that has no borders. I suppose the media globalisation helps, but we also share the same fears towards the way the food has been handled those last years and how it affects our health, our environment, the way it is redistributed or wasted. If 3 or 4 years ago, NYC was still ahead of the game in terms of nutrition or cooking trends, that knowledge has now gone global. In fact, have been approached by people from NYC to open our concept there and bring that French je-ne-sais-quoi.
I/O: Why did you choose to open in the Marais?
ES: Not only did we love the area and the energy of the place, it also had other healthy restaurants close by, and it’s a bit of the healthy hub of Paris. There’s an international and well-travelled crowd around who knows a bit of that health food culture, and so for us it was a safer bet to open here rather than being the aliens serving seaweed balls in a more conservative area.
I/O: What was the catalyst for your interest in superfood, raw food and vegan recipes?
ES: I grew up on healthy food and discovered raw vegan food, superfood and green juices in NYC ten years ago, so it was already part of my lifestyle. I had made the experiment with my own health, my own body, I could feel the benefits, I could feel it on my own body and mind. I knew what it was all about and that is why I wanted to develop it. In Paris, it was also something that was missing and so bringing it there was an obvious choice.
I/O: Nutrition is very much influenced by the mind and emotions, so how do create balance between food and feelings?
ES: They go together. Eating bad, processed food, laden with sugar, pesticides, chemicals, GMO… will result in decreased mind and body performances. Eating healthy, wholesome nutritious food is a sign of respect towards yourself. We need to treat our body as a temple. The body feels better, the mind is clearer and the emotions healthier. It’s vital to have a holistic approach to nutrition; it’s a present to your Mind, Body and Soul.
I/O: How does the use of local, seasonal and organic products affect the way you source and create?
ES: Our choice to go for local, seasonal and 100% organic means we have to work twice harder than everyone else. We cannot function the way other restaurants do. Our menu changes at every season. We don’t work with produce available all year round that are being flown from the other side of the planet. Some recipes are simply not available sometimes because our local supplier had poor weather and a bad harvest… And it’s what life is about, really. We do the best we can, working with nature’s laws and respecting our environment.
I/O: Do you have rituals regarding food?
ES: No. I don’t have rituals, I am French and I think food shouldn’t be dogmatic. Life is too short to be orthorexic. I have a life, you know. I’m a woman, a mother, a lover, a friend, a business owner, a sports addict and an epicurean so I couldn’t quite fit a ritualistic or codified way of eating into my life even if I wanted to. Food is about freedom too.
I/O: Do exercise regularly?
ES: Yes, everyday, one hour. I couldn’t live without it. It’s a big part of my balance in life and it’s the first thing I do in the morning. I started Thai boxing over a decade ago and it’s still a big part of my training regimen. I often go for bootcamp as well because I love the kick it gives you in the morning. And I like to balance it with yoga to reset my mind.
I/O: What do you eat before and after?
ES: It depends. I always practice yoga on an empty stomach. Before boxing or bootcamp, I eat a couple of dates or soaked almonds to keep going. I have breakfast after my workout: usually a smoothie, prepared with homemade almond milk, one banana, a handful of fruits and hemp seeds or spirulina for the proteins. But sometimes it’s an açai bowl at work, or eggs, or even occasionally a vegan protein shake on the go, if I’m in a rush.
I/O: Who are the experts you admire? Who were your teachers?
ES: I am an autodidact, I learn everyday and find my inspiration everywhere. There are many people whom I admire but not just one person in particular. Not just one concept but many and I get a lot of inspiration for traveling around the world. Reading is another very good source for creativity. I spend hours on blogs and books.
I/O: What challenges have you faced and what obstacles might you be experiencing at the moment?
ES: We are working on a lot of projects at the moment, opening new places. There is a lot of work going on and the implementation of it all is not always easy. But above all, we are a company with more than sixty employees. Human beings, with their own lives. There is always emotions involved and it is subjective. For me it is the management part that is the most difficult, but also the most beautiful challenge.
I/O: How do you communicate today as a “young” brand?
ES: We communicate mainly on social media, especially Instagram, it has been growing very fast for us. As of now, it is still a nice platform to communicate. Even though it has lost a bit of its candor, it still has a positive vibe. But we have been lucky to receive a lot of attention and support from outside and are regularly featured in blogs, magazines, or TV. However today, I think the best advertising is from word of mouth.
I/O: How do you strive to obtain professional, emotional, mental and physical harmony in your life?
ES: It’s hard. But when it’s your life project, the balance comes more naturally. Even though it’s super time consuming, its stays positive in terms of energy. Sports help, my family helps and so do my friends. I have business partners and a great team, so I feel supported as well.I also try to take a little time away from work everyday (very challenging), even if I still have a part of my brain out there. And my phone is off for dinner until my kids are in bed. But if I need to disconnect completely, I leave the laptop behind, if not the phone… and I go for a retreat in the middle of nature.
I/O: What are your thoughts on feminism and female empowerment?
ES: My parents have been great role models and helped me become the woman I am today. And I want to do the same for my daughter… and my sons tomorrow. I believe equal rights are fundamental but I wouldn’t define myself as an activist. I have other battles and as a French woman, I don’t feel I have to fight for this, probably because I live in a country where I don’t feel the threat. I feel concerned as the woman and the mother of my daughter but not menaced. I know I’m lucky…
I/O: How can you build a more positive image of women through food?
ES: I am not doing that. I believe in food for all. Food that is good for you, for your children, for the producers, for the planet. Giving back to those who are less fortunate also. These are my battles.
I/O: Through your work, you nourish and care for people, who takes care of you?
ES: My husband is my number one partner. In business and in life. He shares the chores at home, is as involved as I am in the education of our children and we are complementary at work. It’s a blessing, I couldn’t do it without him. But of course, I also have a whole team of great people, business partners, family and friends, and we’re here for each other. My tribe is essential to me. I have always been very well surrounded.
I/O: Do you have a mantra?
ES: More a quote than a mantra: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars". I try to remember this one everyday. It has been working well to now.
I/O: Do you fell off the wellness wagon sometimes?
ES: Ah yes of course! I love food and I am always partial to a bit of street food, especially when in NYC. I fall for a slice of pizza, a good ol’ hot dog from the truck. And when I go out with my girls for a night out, it can be too much vodka and not enough cucumber in the glass! Isn’t it what wellness is about? Feeling good, not beating yourself up… Life is about balance; you indulge and you do better the next day.
I/O: What’s your favorite recipe?
ES: The Crème Budwig. My mother used to prepare it for breakfast when we were kids. It’s my madeleine. It’s healthy, easy to prepare, it’s comfort food. It reminds me of my childhood, and I feel good when I make it for my kids.
I/O: What role does travel play in your life? Where do you plan to go in 2017?
ES: I don’t know any other life. I have been a bit everywhere. Born in New York from Parisian parents, raised in the mountains, my parents always took us to many places. Later, I lived in many different cities and never ceased to love the change, the travel, the excitement. I was glad I could offer this lifestyle to my kids too and I know they are grateful. For 2017, I planned short trips to Jaipur and Beirut. Half work/half fun. And maybe one week in Merano in Italy for a little reset.
I/O: What makes you happy?
ES: My kids, my family, my friends, my work. But I’m a happy person anyway. I welcome joy, love life challenges and find contentment easily.
I/O: Where can our community find you?
ES: In one of our restaurants or on a plane!
I/O: What are your projects for the upcoming year?
ES: We are opening 4 new restaurants in Paris and corners at le Tigre Yoga and Hotel Helder. We also have new projects and pop-ups in Dubai, London and New-York, so it’s going to be quite intense.
I/O: Would you like to share a recipe that’s very W&TM with us ?
ES: The Budwig Cream because it’s part of my own story, it’s representative of the W&tM spirit, it’s delicious and easy to make: I mix half a banana and a fresh apple with the juice of a half lemon, a handful of soaked almonds and a spoon of linseed oil. Add a bit of spirulina and serve it with plenty of fresh fruits and ground seeds and nuts. It’s the best breakfast ever!