Lunching with Shanika Hillocks
Interview

Lunching with Shanika Hillocks

Shanika Hillocks leads Influencer Marketing at E. & J. Winery and writes for the likes of Bon Appetit, Condé Nast Traveler, SevenFifty Daily & Healthyish. Sheltered in place in New York City, she sits at her marble dining table describing her current Covid lifestyle and how her first gigs in hospitality inspired her career.

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I just turned thirty and moved into my own apartment! Pre-Covid Shanika did not have her own place and because I knew this is where I’d be spending most of my time, I’ve really become a homebody in the best way. Knowing that my apartment is my office, my gym, my restaurant at times, my bar, and my spa, I’ve had this rare opportunity to nest and really add thoughtful touches to my space. 

As much as I thought I was prioritizing my health, from a mental standpoint I was so focused on the success train that I neglected a bit of stillness. 

 

As much as I thought I was prioritizing my health, from a mental standpoint I was so focused on the success train that I neglected a bit of stillness. I would always be ready to workout but COVID has taught me and allowed me to prioritize mental health, and I’ve recently established a relationship with a therapist and am taking sessions regularly.

I actually felt overwhelmed by a lot of it because it felt like it was new news for a majority, while myself and other people who look like me, this is our living experience. 

I’ll insert thoughtful touches into my day whether that’s lighting a candle, making myself a cup of tea and enjoying it slowly on the rocking chair in the morning or making my lunches super colorful and palate-pleasing because I have a pretty robust afternoon. The art of slowness, if that makes sense.

Commenting on her personal essay, “I Run For My Health. Do I Have to Fear For My Life?”:

Interestingly enough, it was probably one of the easiest pieces I’ve ever written because emotionally, it poured out of me. Following that piece, a lot of people obviously engaged in conversations with everything that happened afterward. Blackout Tuesday, the protests, making statements, all of that stuff. I actually felt overwhelmed by a lot of it because it felt like it was new news for a majority, while myself and other people who look like me, this is our living experience. 

It’s almost like you’re feeding the beast, you always have to be saying something.

In terms of how people are taking these conversations, social media is such an interesting space. If it weren’t for social, I wouldn’t have a job. Digital connections now, it feels organic to me. But I also feel that people utilize the tool irrationally at times. It’s almost like you’re feeding the beast, you always have to be saying something. Yeah, pre-COVID, if you’re talking about content and wanting to keep your engagement up, sure. But I’ve been aiming to apply the art of slowness in the content I produce on social, now more so than ever. 

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Shortly after leaving a temp job after college, I answered an ad on Craigslist and it was for a PR job in wine & spirits. From my naive perspective, I could not believe that jobs like this existed. For me, it was always a real estate agent, teacher, doctor. Who would’ve thought you would be able to represent such a sexy thing as wine? 

I’d like to start writing stories and I’d like to write ones that are reflective of people of color in this space.

Following that trajectory, I thought, you know what, I’d like to start writing stories and I’d like to write ones that are reflective of people of color in this space. That was my biggest M.O. when I started. This was six years ago when some of the amazing people I knew in the space who were Black or POC just weren’t getting those same features and recognition. So, I just started writing more about the things I wanted to see and that was my biggest motivation. Now, we are seeing more and more stories. 

I write. Not full-time though. My nine-to-five is Influencer Marketing at E. & J. Gallo Winery. I get to engage in the food space, be in my writing in addition to my engaging job, which is super fun and also allows me to work to my interests, even in quarantine. 

The treatment of farmers, the exploitation of workers in production and on-premise, the power plays of some of our leaders--all being unearthed in light of the pandemic. 

It would be easy for me to say that the industry has pivoted seamlessly in light of COVID-19 with options like online delivery and wine & spirits to-go.  Sales grew rapidly during the first few months of shelter in place, so from an in-house perspective, it was a win. However, we have to look at the ecosystem at large--the treatment of farmers, the exploitation of workers in production and on-premise, the power plays of some of our leaders--all being unearthed in light of the pandemic. There are disparities in our industry, and the necessary conversations and actions are just starting to be had.

I was born in Long Island but was raised by my grandparents and they wanted to retire so we transported down to Florida. I grew up there. I went to school in this small town called Apopka, about sixty-five minutes or so outside of Orlando. I’ve been in New York, residing in Harlem, for about eight years as of this fall, which is pretty wild to think about. 

I love making dhal (split pea) curry. It's the dish that reminds me of home and makes the apartment smell amazing. 

I’ve been quarantined here full-time but I have had some safe social-distance things. Definitely a little homesick. I come from a West Indian family and quite a large family at that, so anytime I think about my favorite food memories, it’s always been with super traditional dishes gathered with several people that I love. In quarantine, I’m craving those smells so much. I’ve cooked several curries, tons of chutney. I love making dhal (split pea) curry. It's the dish that reminds me of home and makes the apartment smell amazing. 

Lunch is a time to bring beauty back into the day. I’m super sensorial, I want fresh herbs, I wanna be able to see as many colors as possible. I want something to sink my teeth into. Being able to take the time to check the boxes on every single one of those things is important and it’s one of my favorite things to do at lunch time. Lunch has also become a more imperative part of my day being sheltered in place.

I like to level up a simple fish, like sardines, lightly sautéing them in olive oil and serving with a flavorful sauce.

Eating seasonally is the best way to savor ingredients at their peak flavor, so today, I'm enjoying an heirloom tomato, and basil salad with avocado and my go-to finishing olive oil and sea salt. I have a love of canned fish as it's no fuss and nutritious. I like to level up a simple fish, like sardines, lightly sautéing them in olive oil and serving with a flavorful sauce. For today, I made a quick garlic aioli using whole grain dijon mustard, garlic, an egg yolk, and olive oil. I’m also enjoying my relationship with leftovers now. Just because it's mid-day lunch, doesn't mean the meal needs to be rushed or thrown together. I still make time to enjoy the colors, flavors, and as much as I can, a laptop-free lunchtime.

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I studied abroad in Spain and lunch during that time was such a contrast. One, I would leave university and come back to my señora’s parents’ house and there would be a spread. I’d have several hours before I’d go back to class. So much time that I could eat, chat with them, take a little siesta if I wanted to. Those lunch experiences were a time to connect. 

I’m reclaiming that time that, in corporate America and NYC life, is relegated.

Now,  most times, after I wash up and do the dishes, I’ll send a voice note to a friend to connect. I’m reclaiming that time that, in corporate America and NYC life, is relegated.

Words by Nayla Al-Mamlouk and Photography by Elena Mudd

Shanika's go-to lunchware

The Lunch Kit

Everything you need for dining al desko. Complete with modular InvisiSeal Food Containers, silverware, a sauce pot, napkins and the bag.

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