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How the Pandemic Changed Sabine Roemer’s Jewelry Business

LONDON — Disrupter, fixation, opportunity. The pandemic has been all that and more for jewelry fans and designers alike.

Just ask Sabine Roemer.

The German-born designer has two brands: the high jewelry line that carries her name (one-off pieces priced from 10,000 pounds, or about $14,095) and Atelier Romy, which sells trendy pieces like stackable chain necklaces and ear party studs online for £50 to £500.

And now that England is easing restrictions, she said, both lines are emerging as direct-to-consumer businesses — and are linked more closely to her own identity as a craftswoman.

“Workmanship is absolutely apparent in everything Sabine does,” said Marisa Drew, a senior investment banker in London who has jewelry from both of Ms. Roemer’s brands. “There’s always a personality in her pieces and she really approaches her designs with a story in mind.”

Ms. Drew said she likes Ms. Roemer’s transformable designs and strong attention to detail, features that also resonate with Sarah Giovanna, a managing director at a private equity firm in London.

“She sits down with you and really creates something that fits you. For me, it’s all about flexibility,” said Ms. Giovanna, who also wears both lines. “I work in a high-intensity environment, dealing with big businesses, and I want pieces that I can dress up and down. Both brands deliver that.”

Last year’s lockdown, however, was “a make-and-break moment,” Ms. Roemer said, especially for Atelier Romy, which was only three years old when the pandemic hit.

“I was forced to look at every single aspect of the business, and not just entrust it to others,” the 41-year-old designer said, admitting she had focused on creation and clients. Suddenly she couldn’t just help clients dream up high jewelry pieces like a pair of diamond and pearl earrings topped with 17-carat citrines or work on a philanthropic collaboration like the jeweled rendition of a postage stamp she created for the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust in 2017 to celebrate the queen’s 65 years on the British throne.

In March 2020, Ms. Roemer canceled her shipping agent. She hadn’t been entirely happy with its service and decided fulfillment should be handled in-house. “I packed, I shipped and tied the ribbon around every box,” she said. “I needed to learn everything — my accountant joked that it was like McDonald’s, where you have to start in the kitchen and work your way up.” (A handwritten card now accompanies every order.)

Ms. Roemer and her team also focused on Atelier Romy’s social media presence, creating stronger digital content and visuals that highlighted Ms. Roemer as the maker behind the jewels. She wouldn’t share sales figures, but Ms. Roemer said shoppers must have liked the changes, as sales increased fivefold.

It’s the kind of online marketing that is here to stay, said Juliet Hutton-Squire, head of global strategy at Adorn, a jewelry market intelligence firm.

When consumers couldn’t spend on travel, she said, they began spending more on luxury items and investment pieces. Fashion brands were well positioned to capture those sales, thanks to their early investments in digital, and “brands with an online presence or shoppable content on social media were even further ahead of the curve as mobile phones became the way we shop,” Ms. Hutton-Squire explained. “That is just going to continue. We are not going back from this.”

In many ways, Ms. Roemer’s early career — which began as a 15-year-old goldsmith apprentice in Germany — led to her roles as a businesswoman and jeweler today.

Crafting jewelry, she said, is not all about “tools, craft and creation,” as she had once imagined. “You soon realized you also have to be good at physics and math, chemicals and chemistry. Thankfully, those were my favorite subjects at school.”

Atelier Romy has exercised her mathematical brain even more. “I love data,” she said. “I find it fascinating sitting at home in lockdown and just looking at data and who’s coming into the virtual shop.”

After graduating from Pforzheim Goldsmith and Watchmaking School in Germany, Ms. Roemer joined Stephen Webster, a London designer she said she particularly admired as “a craftsperson and not just a designer.”

More work for other Bond Street houses followed, plus orders from private clients — turning the early 2000s into something of a golden era for Ms. Roemer’s high jewelry career. Her philanthropic work also was recognized, especially several custom pieces she made in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, like a gold, diamond and emerald bangle inscribed with the South African president’s prison number; Morgan Freeman wore the piece to the 2010 Oscars as a best actor nominee for “Invictus.”

Ms. Roemer said the experience showed her how jewelry could be a form of storytelling. “The easy thing to do was put a bling diamond piece that gets attention, but I wanted to put Mandela’s story on the red carpet,” she said. “In the end, jewelry is emotional — you wear it every day on your skin. I don’t wear my grandmother’s handbag every day but I do wear her ring. It’s close to me, and really carries that emotional value.”

That same year, her first high jewelry collection debuted at Harrods.

Atelier Romy — a name inspired by the birth of Ms. Roemer’s first daughter, Romy — was created as an affordable ready-to-wear line to be sold exclusively online. “I wanted to portray something a bit different,” she recalled. “Something with strong bold designs but still modern and zeitlos” — German for ageless — “depending on how you’d layer and make it your own.”

Valery Demure, the London-based brand consultant who represents several independent jewelers (but not Ms. Roemer), said: “Sabine interests me because she doesn’t come from a jewelry family. Everything she’s learned has been through hard work by herself, and the fact that she has all these skills. She is a woman with a real soul and purpose.”

That sense is increasingly relevant in a post-pandemic world. Ms. Hutton-Squire said the pandemic’s “enforced pause button” highlighted the importance of sustainability and the environment, spurring jewelers to act online in more authentic ways. Whether that was creating, for example, a playlist for meditation or sharing home recipes, “it wasn’t all about sell, sell, sell,” she said. “That really kind of separated the authentic bands from the less authentic ones.”

That also explains the growing demand for craft — something Ms. Roemer said she had experienced prepandemic with some of her high jewelry line’s female clients. “They have a very different mind-set: asking who made it and what it is. It’s less about the stone, how big it is and the carat size,” Ms. Roemer said. “They just want to express themselves and their personalities through jewelry.”

She has been bringing the sentiment online. Atelier Romy now has weekly drops of “how to style” videos and footage of Ms. Roemer at the workbench, cutting, soldering and shaping metal, always among her most popular posts. “Few people really know how jewelry is still made,” she said. “It was nice to take people into the workshop and show them the process.”

In March, Ms. Roemer introduced Cornerstones, her first high jewelry collection in more than 10 years. The extra time in lockdown has been a creative boon, she said (“I always found the best pieces happen in the workshop when you don’t have a plan”) and the collection of nine pairs of earrings were muses on travel, with multifunctional pieces like sea-inspired blue topaz, aquamarine and diamond transformable earrings that Ms. Drew purchased.

Ms. Roemer said she hopes to resume meeting clients from both brands, which, thanks to the pandemic, feel more complementary than ever. “It’s like having two babies — you can’t pick a favorite one, they’re equally important,” she said. “But also very different.”

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The Lure of H Mart, Where the Shelves Can Seem as Wide as Asia

At the H Mart on Broadway at 110th Street in Manhattan, the lights are bright on the singo pears, round as apples and kept snug in white mesh, so their skin won’t bruise. Here are radishes in hot pink and winter white, gnarled ginseng grown in Wisconsin, broad perilla leaves with notched edges, and almost every kind of Asian green: yu choy, bok choy, ong choy, hon choy, aa choy, wawa choy, gai lan, sook got.

The theme is abundance — chiles from fat little thumbs to witchy fingers, bulk bins of fish balls, live lobsters brooding in blue tanks, a library of tofu. Cuckoo rice cookers gleam from the shelves like a showroom of Aston Martins. Customers fill baskets with wands of lemongrass, dried silvery anchovies, shrimp chips and Wagyu beef sliced into delicate petals.

For decades in America, this kind of shopping was a pilgrimage. Asian-Americans couldn’t just pop into the local Kroger or Piggly Wiggly for a bottle of fish sauce. To make the foods of their heritage, they often had to seek out the lone Asian grocery in town, which was salvation — even if cramped and dingy, with scuffed linoleum underfoot and bags of rice slumped in a corner.

1.5 percent of the American population was of Asian descent.

beaten to death in Detroit by two white autoworkers who were reportedly angered by the success of the Japanese car industry. Asian-Americans, a disparate group of many origins that had historically not been recognized as a political force, came together to condemn the killing and speak in a collective voice.

Today, as they again confront hate-fueled violence, Asian-Americans are the nation’s fastest-growing racial or ethnic group, numbering more than 22 million, nearly 7 percent of the total population. And there are 102 H Marts across the land, with vast refrigerated cases devoted to kimchi and banchan, the side dishes essential to any Korean meal. In 2020, the company reported $1.5 billion in sales. Later this year, it’s set to open its largest outpost yet, in a space in Orlando, Fla., that is nearly the size of four football fields.

And H Mart has competition: Other grocery chains that specialize in ingredients from Asia include Patel Brothers (Patel Bros, to fans), founded in Chicago; and, headquartered in California, Mitsuwa Marketplace and 99 Ranch Market — or Ranch 99, as Chinese speakers sometimes call it. They’re part of a so-called ethnic or international supermarket sector estimated to be worth $46.1 billion, a small but growing percentage of the more than $653 billion American grocery industry.

Japanese Breakfast, in her new memoir, “Crying in H Mart,” published last month. The book begins with her standing in front of the banchan refrigerators, mourning the death of her Korean-born mother. “We’re all searching for a piece of home, or a piece of ourselves.”

As the 20th-century philosopher Lin Yutang wrote, “What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?”

For an immigrant, cooking can be a way to anchor yourself in a world suddenly askew. There is no end to the lengths some might go to taste once more that birthday spoonful of Korean miyeok guk, a soup dense with seaweed, slippery on the tongue, or the faintly bitter undertow of beef bile in Laotian laap diip (raw beef salad).

When Vilailuck Teigen — the co-author, with Garrett Snyder, of “The Pepper Thai Cookbook,” out in April — was a young mother in western Utah in the 1980s, she ordered 50-pound bags of rice by mail and drove 150 miles to Salt Lake City to buy chiles. She had no mortar and pestle, so she crushed spices with the bottom of a fish-sauce bottle.

Snackboxe Bistro in Atlanta, was a child in a small town in east-central Alabama, where her family settled after fleeing Laos as refugees. They fermented their own fish sauce, and her father made a weekly trek to Atlanta to pick up lemongrass and galangal at the international farmers’ market.

The essayist Jay Caspian Kang has described Americans of Asian descent as “the loneliest Americans.” Even after the government eased restrictions on immigration from Asia in 1965, being an Asian-American outside major cities often meant living in isolation — the only Asian family in town, the only Asian child at school. A grocery store could be a lifeline.

When the writer Jenny Han, 40, was growing up in Richmond, Va., in the ’90s, her family shopped at the hole-in-the-wall Oriental Market, run by a woman at their church. It was the one place where they could load up on toasted sesame oil and rent VHS tapes of Korean dramas, waiting to pounce when someone returned a missing episode.

A few states away, the future YouTube cooking star Emily Kim — better known as Maangchi — was newly arrived in Columbia, Mo., with a stash of meju, bricks of dried soybean paste, hidden at the bottom of her bag. She was worried that in her new American home she wouldn’t be able to find such essentials.

Then she stumbled on a tiny shop, also called Oriental Market. One day the Korean woman at the counter invited her to stay for a bowl of soup her husband had just made.

“She was my friend,” Maangchi recalled.

Kim’s Convenience” might say, a sneak attack. Once Brian Kwon entered the office, he never left. “My father called it his ‘golden plan,’ after the fact,” he said ruefully. He is now a co-president, alongside his mother and his sister, Stacey, 33. (His father is the chief executive.)

For many non-Asian customers, H Mart is itself a sneak attack. On their first visit, they’re not actually looking for Asian ingredients; customer data shows that they’re drawn instead to the variety and freshness of more familiar produce, seafood and meat. Only later do they start examining bags of Jolly Pong, a sweet puffed-wheat snack, and red-foil-capped bottles of Yakult — a fermented milk drink that sold out after it appeared in Ms. Han’s best-selling novel-turned-movie “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.”

To be welcoming to non-Koreans, H Mart puts up signs in English. At the same time, the younger Mr. Kwon said, “We don’t want to be the gentrified store.” So while some non-Asians recoil from the tanks of lobsters, the Kwons are committed to offering live seafood.

Sunday Family Hospitality Group, in San Francisco, remembers the H Mart of his youth in New Jersey as “just the Korean store” — a sanctuary for his parents, recent immigrants still not at ease in English. Everyone spoke Korean, and all that banchan was a relief: His mother would pack them in her cart for dinner, then pretend she’d made them herself.

Later, as a teenager, he started seeing his Chinese- and Filipino-American friends there, too, and then his non-Asian friends. Spurred by postings on social media, young patrons would line up to buy the latest snack sensation — “the snack aisle is notorious,” Mr. Hong said — like Haitai honey butter chips and Xiao Mei boba ice cream bars. (The current craze: Orion chocolate-churro-flavored snacks that look like baby turtles.)

In “Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown,” a new cookbook by the chef Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho, Mr. Jew, 41, recalls Sunday mornings in San Francisco with his ying ying (paternal grandmother in Cantonese), taking three bus transfers to traverse the city, on a mission for fresh chicken — sometimes slaughtered on the spot — and ingredients like pea shoots and lotus leaves.

He still prefers “that Old World kind of shopping,” he said, from independent vendors, each with his own specialties and occasional grouchiness and eccentricities. But he knows that the proliferation of supermarkets like H Mart and 99 Ranch makes it easier for newcomers to Asian food to recreate his recipes.

“Access to those ingredients leads to a deeper understanding of the cuisine,” he said. “And that in turn can become a deeper understanding of a community and a culture.”

Chai Pani in Asheville, N.C., and Atlanta, feels that something is lost when you buy paneer and grass-fed ghee at a Whole Foods Market. You miss the cultural immersion, he says, “getting a dunk and having horizons broadened.”

“An Indian grocery is not just a convenience — it’s a temple,” he said. “You’re feeding the soul. Come in and pick up on the energy.”

In the TV special “Luda Can’t Cook,” which premiered in February, Mr. Irani takes the rapper Ludacris to Cherians, an Indian supermarket in Atlanta. Once Mr. Irani had to scrounge for spices like cumin and turmeric at health food stores; now, surrounded by burlap sacks stuffed with cardamom pods and dried green mango, he tells Ludacris, “This is my house.”

Min Jin Lee, 52, remembers how important H Mart was to people working in Manhattan’s Koreatown in the ’80s, when it was still called Han Ah Reum and “tiny, with almost no place to negotiate yourself through the aisles,” she said. (It has since moved across West 32nd Street to a larger space.) Her parents ran a jewelry wholesale business around the corner, and relied on the store for a cheap but substantial dosirak (lunch box) that came with cups of soup and rice.

She sees the modern incarnation of the store as a boon for second- and third-generation Korean Americans, including thousands of Korean-born adoptees raised by white American parents, who “want to find some sort of connection to the food of their families,” she said. “There aren’t gatekeepers to say who’s in or who’s out.”

BTS — anti-Asian sentiment is growing. With visibility comes risk.

For Ms. Lee, this makes H Mart a comfort. “I like going there because I feel good there,” she said. “In the context of hatred against my community, to see part of my culture being valued — it’s exceptional.”

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Clubhouse App Creates Space for Open Talk in Middle East

Clubhouse policy bans users from recording conversations without participants’ consent, but the company says it temporarily records audio for investigating reports of policy violations. It has not specified who can listen to such recordings, or when.

A Clubhouse spokeswoman declined to comment.

Yet something about the spontaneous, intimate nature of the conversations — open to everyone regardless of fame or follower count — keeps lassoing people in. Away from government propaganda, Clubhouse is allowing Qataris unfettered access to their Saudi neighbors after years of bitter feuding between their countries and Egyptians access to Muslim Brotherhood defenders.

“People have been longing for this kind of communication for a long time, but I don’t think they realized it until they started using Clubhouse,” said Tharwat Abaza, 28, an Egyptian dentist who said he had listened to rooms discussing sexual harassment, feminism, the need for sex education in Arab countries and mental health. “At this point, it’s one of the freest platforms, and it’s giving us room for important discussions that we should be having without fear of witch hunting.”

There are, of course, many less charged Clubhouse rooms in the Middle East, discussing the cuteness of penguins, entrepreneurship, recipes, breakups and music. During the holy month of Ramadan, users in some countries are offering live recitations of the Quran and communal prayer rooms.

But if Clubhouse can function as group therapy, talk show, house party or seminar, it stands out for its political potential.

In Iran, despite predictions of low turnout ahead of its June 18 presidential election, election-focused Clubhouse rooms are among the most popular. Thousands participate daily at a time when in-person campaigning is limited by the pandemic.

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What is Australian Food? A New Cookbook Provides Some Answers.

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What is Australian food? Is there even such a thing? These are questions I’ve been asked so many times, and I admit to finding them incredibly frustrating. It doesn’t help that the answers are not simple ones.

This week in the United States, Phaidon released a 432-page answer in the form of “Australia: The Cookbook” ($49.95, 65 Australian dollars) by chef and cookbook author Ross Dobson. The book was released in Australia on March 30 and it goes a long way toward clarifying the definition of Australian food, for both an international audience and Australians themselves.

Indeed, if (or, more certainly, when) I’m asked that question again, I may point the questioner to the first two chapters of the book, the first titled ‘A brief introduction to Australian cuisine,’ and the second is an essay on Indigenous food by Jody H. Orcher, an Ularai Barkandji woman and director of Wariku Bushfood Infusions.

In the first chapter, Dobson goes into great detail chronicling the three main periods of Australian food: the tens of thousands of years before colonization; the 150-or-so years in which Anglo colonists mainly cooked to satisfy a craving for the foods of England; and the period since the 1950s, when immigration has vastly changed the way Australians eat.

restaurant in Sydney, Lankan Filling Station, I reviewed in 2019).

The conversation, which you can still watch online, covered many questions that I have been grappling with for years, in particular: what is the meaning of the term “authenticity” in a country like Australia? Carey, who’s mother is Sri Lankan, talked about cooking Sri Lankan food at her current restaurant. While it’s the first time in her career she’s felt her food is authentic to her own life and experience, it’s also the first time she has been subject to criticism over the so-called authenticity (or lack thereof) of her food.

nytaustralia@nytimes.com.

Now on to this week’s stories:


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How to Pretend You’re in New Orleans Tonight

While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

Over the course of the decade since I first visited, I have often imagined myself at home in New Orleans. I think of the syncopated shuffle of a snare drum, the simple pleasure of an afternoon walk with a to-go beer in hand and the candy-colored shotgun houses that sink into the ground at odd angles. And so it wasn’t a huge surprise when, at the beginning of 2021, I found myself packing up my life and moving to the Crescent City for a few months. Why not be somewhere I love at this difficult time, I thought? Why not live in my daydreams for a little while?

New Orleans is above all else resilient. Mardi Gras parades were canceled this year, though it didn’t stop New Orleanians from finding ways to celebrate (nothing ever will). In recent months, brass bands have taken to street corners in front of masked, socially distant spectators instead of packed night clubs. Strangers still chat you up about the Saints from their front porches. My visions of this city may still be filtered through the fuzzy lens of a visitor, but I know I’ll be pretending I’m still there long after I’m gone. Here are a few ways you can, too.

bounce, popularized by superstars like Big Freedia, the call-and-response songs of Mardi Gras Indians, and so much more. For an overview of the sounds of this loud, percussive city there is no better place to start than the wonderfully eclectic WWOZ, a community-supported radio station that has been on the air since 1980. Luckily, you can listen to it from anywhere online. It’s only a matter of time before you start getting to know the various D.J.s and tuning in for your favorites.

a show on WWOZ for more than 25 years, told me. “New Orleans is the reason for it all.” Soul Sister was one of a handful of local experts I consulted in putting together a playlist that will send you straight to New Orleans. Among her recommendations are a bounce classic by DJ Jubilee and the music of Rebirth Brass Band, which brings her back to afternoons spent celebrating on the street: “It reminds me of the energy and freedom of being at the second line parades on Sundays, dancing through all the neighborhoods nonstop for three or four hours,” she said.

Professor Longhair, for example, starts it off — recommended by Keith Spera who writes about music for the Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate. By the end of the playlist, you will undoubtedly agree with Mr. Spera’s assessment of New Orleans music: “There is no singular style of ‘New Orleans music’ — is it jazz? Rhythm & blues? Funk? Bounce? — but you know it when you hear it.”

Dooky Chase Cookbook, the collected recipes of Leah Chase, who died in 2019, of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, an institution that has hosted civil rights leaders, presidents and countless regulars at its location in Treme, the neighborhood where jazz was born. Next, tap into the Cajun influence on the city with “Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou,” by Melissa M. Martin who oversees a restaurant of the same name in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans. Ms. Martin recommends making her grandmother’s oyster soup. “I can picture her stirring a pot on Bayou Petit Caillou and seasoning a broth with salty Louisiana oysters, Creole tomatoes and salted pork,” Ms. Martin said. “The marriage of three ingredients transports me to the tiny fishing village I call home, where salt was and still is always in the air.”

Anthony Bourdain for encouraging her to keep it secret). But she has shared versions of her recipe, so you can try your hand at it at home. “That will get you pretty close to the real thing,” she said with a wink I could almost hear over the phone.

Free Tours by Foot, which has transferred their expertise to YouTube. You can now stroll the grandiose Garden District, pull away the sensationalism around New Orleans’ Voodoo traditions and take a deep dive into jazz history in Treme. “New Orleans is full of painful history, and it’s also known as one of the most fun cities in the world,” Andrew Farrier, one of the tour guides, said. “I think it’s useful for all of us to know how those two things can live so close to each other.”

New Orleans’ drinking scene extends far beyond the vortex of debauchery that is Bourbon Street. There are the classic New Orleans inventions, of course, like the Sazerac, but for something a little different, turn to one of the city’s most revered mixologists. Chris Hannah, of Jewel of the South, invented the Bywater as a New Orleanian spin on the Brooklyn. “Among the ingredient substitutions I swapped rum for rye as a cheeky nod to our age-old saying, ‘New Orleans is the northernmost tip of the Caribbean’,” Mr. Hannah said.

your quarantine pod and a “set-up” and you might just get close. What is a set-up, you ask? It’s a staple dive bar order that will get you a half-pint of your liquor of choice, a mixer and a stack of plastic cups. It’s also an often-overlooked part of New Orleans drinking culture, according to Deniseea Taylor, a cocktail enthusiast who goes by the Cocktail Goddess. “When you find a bar with a set-up, you are truly in Nola,” Ms. Taylor said. “First time I experienced a set-up, it was paired with a $5 fish plate, a match made in heaven.”

“The Yellow House,” a memoir by Sarah M. Broom, which the Times book critic Dwight Garner called “forceful, rolling and many-chambered.” Going further back in time, try “Coming Through Slaughter,” a fictionalized rendition of the life of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden by Michael Ondaatje.

If you are in the mood for a documentary, Clint Bowie, artistic director of the New Orleans Film Festival, recommends Lily Keber’s “Buckjumping,” which spotlights the city’s dancers. For something fictional, Mr. Bowie points to “Eve’s Bayou” directed by Kasi Lemmons. It’s hard to forget New Orleans is a city built on a swamp when you feel the crushing humidity or lose your footing on ruptured streets, and this movie will take you farther into that ethereal environment. “Set in the Louisiana bayou country in the ’60s, we could think of no better film to spark Southern Gothic daydreams about a visit to the Spanish moss-draped Louisiana swamps,” Mr. Bowie said.

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