Raven + Lily in Conversation: Sutanya Dacres
A series of discussions with women we love, Raven + Lily In Conversation features interviews with the women who inspire us on a daily basis. Taking a closer look at the lives and stories of our collaborators, friends and other artists we admire, we continue our conversation with the voice behind one of our favorite podcasts – Dinner for One’s Sutanya Dacres.
An intimate podcast about the healing power of good food, Dinner for One creator and host Sutanya is a Jamaican-born, Bronx-raised, American expat in Paris mending a broken heart one dinner at a time. ‘It explores what happens when the Paris fairy tale ends and real life begins,’ says Sutanya, who got married after falling in love with a Frenchman in New York. ‘We moved to Paris and – as I like to say – my fantasy crumbled to bits like a flaky croissant,’ she says, talking about her decision to stay on in the city of love despite finding herself ‘divorced, sad and alone in France.’
Fast forward seven years later and Sutanya is alone by choice – sequestered in Aix-en-Provence, where she is writing her debut book. Part memoir, part recipe book, Sutanya is ‘really excited’ about it, and so are we. We found her in a celebratory mood – ‘I was listening to carols before you called’ – when we spoke to her about her favorite gifts for the festive season. As she prepares to spend her first Christmas on her own, we discovered how she plans on navigating the holidays solo, what she’s hoping to find under the tree this year, and who she’d invite to her dream dinner party. Read on for her pro hosting tips and enjoy her simple, seasonal recipe for roasted butternut squash with red onion, feta and pine nuts.
Where did the idea for Dinner for One come from?
I went through a really bad period where I didn’t want to accept my break up; I didn’t want to accept that I was in France on my own, and I wasn’t ready to face my new reality. Instead I did what I think a lot of women in their late twenties and thirties do: I went out a lot, drank a lot of rosé and dated random men. One night things got a little bit out of control and I had this awakening where I realised I was really hurting myself more than anything. Around the same time I made myself a meal and I felt so good doing it that I started cooking dinner for myself a couple of times a week. I realised that I could take care of myself, I could love myself again, and I would be OK. I started reading blogs about Americans in Paris and they all had these amazing lives – I couldn’t find anyone that was divorced, had chosen to stay in Paris and was talking about it in a vulnerable and honest way. Breaking up and having to start over is a universal experience regardless of gender, race, location or your relationship status. There are so many people that live by themselves and cook for themselves. I wanted to talk about how that experience has helped me, and to remind people that it’s not a bad thing, you’re not the only person going through it. You don’t have to feel shame over being single – the fact that we’re doing literally everything by ourselves should be celebrated. It can be hard and it’s kind of a slap in the face when it happens but you can get over it, you don’t have to wallow in self-pity. At the end of the day it can be a beautiful experience.
Why a podcast and not a blog?
I thought it would be an interesting medium for this kind of narrative and also to experience food this way. We’re so used to seeing and smelling food but what happens when you rely on just your ears? You hear me pour my wine, you hear me chopping things up, you hear me sizzling food – I thought it would be cool to heighten a sense that the listeners probably don’t associate with food. I also knew for a fact I couldn’t keep up a blog. I’ve started so many in my life. With the podcast, I put on my mic, get in my kitchen, and get the party started.
How do you plan on celebrating the festive season this year?
I’m actually going to be doing Christmas on my own this year. I’m really looking forward to spending this holiday season loving and taking care of myself. I’m going to take a few days off, watch TV and eat cookies. My plan is to make a very elaborate dinner – go all out, dress up, and do Christmas my way and for myself, which means oysters and champagne! I’ve spent a lot of time alone during the pandemic. I’m enjoying my own company and the solitude. It’s been such a crazy year, I need time to reflect on my intentions for 2021.
What are some of your favorite dishes to cook over the holiday?
I love cooking seasonably and I’m lucky enough to live near several outdoor markets that aren’t expensive. I went to one today and I bought fennel, carrots and potatoes – I love doing roasts so I’ll put salt and pepper on them and pop them in the oven. I love cozy comfort food: anything that warms and nourishes my soul in the winter.
Do you have any tips for cooking (and hosting) successfully at home?
In terms of hosting my number one rule is: don’t complicate things. If you’re having friends over and you don’t like cooking but you’re really good at setting the table or the mood, then do that and order the food. Don’t try and make some crazy dish – focus on what you know and what you enjoy doing instead. Even if you do know how to cook I feel like trying out a recipe for the first time when you’re having guests over is a terrible time to do it. The worst thing is to arrive and your host is stressed out. If you know how to make an amazing roasted fish, do that. If you’ve perfected how to make spaghetti alle vongole, do that. Focus on what you know, focus on what you love, and do that. And have a couple of glasses of wine before your guests arrive – not too much but enough to relax!
What are your favorite gifts to give and receive?
I love cooking and I love hosting so my favorite gifts are for the home. I love the Olive Wood Nesting Bowls at Raven+Lily – they’re great to display when you’re hosting or, if you’re making a salad for yourself at home, throw it in there. For giving, it depends on the person but I love getting things monogrammed. It’s a thoughtful way to personalise something impersonal.
Is there a recipe book you love to gift?
Anything by the ‘Barefoot Contessa’, Ina Garten, I’m obsessed with her – I want all her button-down shirts – that’s my goal. She cooks and eats the way I like to: good quality, flavorful food that’s not fussy or intimidating. She’s great.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I would love to have Michelle Obama but Michelle Obama after a couple of glasses of wine! I’d also invite Zadie Smith because she’s the author who made me realize my voice was important and my story was worthy of being told. I’d also invite a great aunt of mine who died young from cancer. It’s weird but everyone from my mom to my grandma has told me since I was little how much I look and act like her. She was very artistic and apparently there are so many parallels to our lives so I would love to meet her. The older I get the more curious I am about my family history and the people who came before me and how they set the foundations of who I am today. I’d invite one more because I like even numbers – I think it would be interesting to have Queen Elizabeth there, surrounded by a bunch of strong, opinionated, super intelligent Black women. I think we could get her to spill all the tea.
What would you cook for them?
I’m not a very delicate cook, I like home style cooking because I love sharing plates and passing food around. It would depend on what's in season but I’d probably have a nice roasted chicken marinated in buttermilk with a beautiful crispy skin. For the sides I’d do roasted butternut squash with red onion, feta and pine nuts. Then I’d do green beans, roasted carrots and some kind of potato. I’d serve them with garlic on the side because Queen Elizabeth does not like garlic. I’d also do a really beautiful leafy salad with lots of herbs and a mustard vinaigrette. Then for desert an apple tart with homemade puff pastry, ice cream and a chocolate mousse. And we’d have clementines, cheese and lots of red wine – I could go on and on. There’s no limit for this badass women dinner.
Sutanya’s Dressed Up Butternut Squash for One
You can eat this dish by itself, have it on the side with fish or meat, or enjoy it on a bed of sauteed spinach like Sutanya.
200g of butternut squash
30g of crumbled feta
1/2 a red onion
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of seeds
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika
A pinch of cumin powder
A couple of parsley leaves
Preheat oven to 190 degrees celsius/374 fahrenheit
Cut butternut squash into ½ inch cubes
Place squash and onion in a bowl
Add olive oil, salt, black pepper, paprika, and cumin powder to the bowl and mix
Place mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
Bake for 30 mins
When finished top with feta, sprinkle with seeds, and garnish with parsley