All-American Girl

Ukrainian-American, social media star, publicist, line cook. Emily Fedner has been it all and now she’s hungry for more.

Whenever Emily Fedner is missing her Baba or craving some authentic Eastern European food, which is often, she comes up to Brighton Beach. Sometimes, she’ll document the journey for her Food Lover’s Diary, a must-read account for culinarily inclined Instagram users. But even when she’s not making another video, she can’t help but drop some knowledge while simultaneously insisting her dining companion put more sour cream on their plate.


Slice of Life. Fedner poses at South Soho Bar with leopard print, anchovy, and the sharply effective Swiss Classic Paring Knife by Victorinox (in pink).

“My mom used to make mushrooms like this,” says Fedner while taking a bite of pelmeni in mushroom sauce at the Ocean View Café. Nearly every memory she has of growing up in Columbus, Ohio, involved food. Her parents and older sister immigrated from the Ukraine; both sets of grandparents, and many other family members, followed in 1991, and Emily and her twin sister Frannie were born in 1992.

“We grew up with no money, but good food and eating well was just always hugely prioritized in my life,” she says, adding that her mom’s fellow immigrant friends introduced the family to sushi, Ethiopian food, and everything in between.

“My house was not a peanut butter and jelly house; it was all the classic stuff, bringing weird things to lunch,” she says, adding that she resented that she couldn’t buy clothes from Abercrombie until they were on sale for $6.90. “But that’s another thing that I later on came to appreciate,” she says, “because the hunger, drive, and work ethic I have is not born of having things handed to you.”

Fedner killing in double denim at The Tyger.

She got her first restaurant job hostessing at age 15. “I really got a sense of and a taste for the camaraderie of restaurants and shared misery. I also learned that I freaking loved being inside a restaurant. That’s where I felt the most at home.”

In college, Fedner transferred from New York University to Ohio State University (“I thought I wanted to be in the big city, but spoiler alert, it was not the right timing for me”). At first, she wanted to experience some of the stereotypical college activities absent from NYU life. But once in Ohio, Fedner dropped out of sorority rush and attended only one football game. Instead, she spent her time working in restaurants.

Post graduation, she moved to Los Angeles to be near her sister Natalia. At a loss for what to do, she Googled “cool jobs + food,” which led to an internship, then a job, with a PR firm. She leveraged that into a move to New York and a job at the elite food world publicity agency BeccaPR. That firm worked with, among others, Estela and The Spotted Pig, “the kind of restaurants and chefs that I’m obsessed with. It seemed perfect,” she recalls.

But eventually, she hit “this deflating moment of realizing, ‘I just don’t feel like I belong here.’ It became evident the job was not for me.”

The turning point, she remembers, was sitting in at a PR meeting at Altro Paradiso, “and I looked across the way and the staff was gathering for family meal, and I was, like, ‘God, what I wouldn’t do to just hop the fence.’” At that moment, she admitted to herself “I’m a restaurant person. I’m not a publicist.”

She considered going to a culinary school, but quickly experienced sticker shock, as she was already paying off college student debt. Instead, a chef that she’d met through PR advised her to “just get experience on the job.”

She reached out to chef Frank Castronovo, owner of Frankies 457 Spuntino, and said, “Listen, I’ve not worked in a professional kitchen. But I am a quick learner. I’ve been cooking my whole life. Can I cook at your restaurant?”

After years of front-of-house gigs, her first time in a professional kitchen was on Valentine’s Day. “They put me in the dish pit using steel wool to rub the barnacles off of mussels for hours in ice cold water,” she says. “I’m talking numb hands, steel wool scratching me up. That was my first kitchen task. And I handled it.”

She eventually worked her way up to line cook, finding the camaraderie she was longing for and making fast friends with the cooks, “the least judgmental people you’ll ever meet,” who brought her food from the nearby Colombian and West African delis.

“I did this when I was 25,” she says. “That was the first time I proved to myself, ‘I can do anything, and even if I don’t think I can do it, and even if other people don’t think I can’ do it, and even if I don’t look like I can do it, I can freaking do it.’”

Finally at home on the streets of NYC, Fedner does a Mary Tyler Moore in fringe, boots, and cowboy hat. Follow Fedner’s pop-up collaborations with Raffetto’s of New York City @petitepastajoint.

Once again she decided to pivot. “I decided I was gonna settle with marketing and then kind of flail about and figure it out,” which turned out to be a fateful choice. She had joined Instagram in college, and while in LA, she’d been posting “static pictures of food,” to Food Lover’s Diary. “It was my means of exploring and understanding LA,” she says. Her marketing degree finally proved useful, she says, as it helped her see that “everyone can post the same exact photo of this burger, because they’re all going to the same event.

“The only thing people can’t be is me,” she says. “Instagram added video so I started doing food reviews, just speaking to camera, and then it evolved to what it is today, which is kind of a mix of everything.”

Her time as a publicist taught her “how to help people tell their stories,” she says, “because that doesn’t necessarily come naturally.” She specializes in the ways to best communicate what makes a dish or restaurant stand out.

“It’s the vibes of everything. It sounds so dumb, but that’s the truth,” she says. She makes it clear that she knows why people roll their eyes at social media writ large, but also notes that it’s remade how we communicate.

Nowadays, she’s telling her own story, as well as New York’s, one meal at a time. On Food Lover’s Diary, she comes across as your best possible dining companion: someone filled with genuine excitement for every dish, but also one who’s able to break down its history and explain what makes this version special. When she posts a video arguing that we should all appreciate Malaysian cuisine more, you don’t doubt her for a second; you also hope that she invites you to dine with her next time she’s out.

“There’s different mediums and methods of telling a story,” she says. “And I’ve always maintained that my method is not creating or editing video, my method is human interaction.”

Boot Scoot. Follow along with Emily Fedner’s exploits @foodloversdiary.

She had been a line cook for about a year when, she says, “my Instagram account was taking off. I was just getting cool opportunities,” she says. “I got to travel to Italy with a pasta brand, and then I got invited on a trip to Taiwan. So many opportunities were pointing me in the direction of ‘You need to be more of a free agent.’ It was time to make some hard decisions.

“My goal was not to become an executive chef or climb the ladder of cheffing. My goal was to bring myself closer to food and remind myself why I love this industry.”

She didn’t want to be tied down to one spot, but she also didn’t want to give up cooking for people, and then a fateful DM made it so she wouldn’t have to choose.

Sarah Raffetto’s family has owned the renowned New York City pasta shop Raffetto’s since 1906. She’d been thinking of ways to expand the Raffetto brand and began toying with the idea of doing pop-up dinners in the store after hours
with a rotating array of female chefs.

But that idea evolved after she began working with Fedner, who she first reached out to “because she had made a dish using our pasta tags and I could just tell that she was really knowledgeable and someone I wanted to potentially work with,” Raffetto says. “So I DM’d her, which is like a funny modern-day love story, as we like to joke.”

The pair had their first Petite Pasta Joint popup in 2019, and Raffetto quickly realized she didn’t want to work with anyone else. “I think we both suffer a little bit from imposter syndrome,” Raffetto says. “And she really taught me that you don’t need to put too much stock or value into calling yourself a name like a chef. It’s more about just authentically being yourself and doing your best, trying new things, taking risks.”

They do the pop-up events five times a month in a two-week span, rollicking events where, Fedner says, “everyone’s just laughing and drinking and eating. The food has leveled up. We trust ourselves more.” In between, she does a little bit of everything, including posting social media reviews, co-hosting the Friends of Anthony Bourdain podcast, and on-camera work for VICE Munchies, Food Network and Thrillist.

She’s had meetings, and plenty of false starts, about having her own food show, a lifelong dream. “I think that there’s good and bad ways of doing it,” she says. “I think Anthony Bourdain is a wonderful example of being a conduit and being amazing on camera for being himself.”

But she knows that whatever is in her future, she’s up for the challenge—she’s currently getting her level three wine certification— and if it doesn’t come to her, she’ll go out and find it.

“I’m actually incredibly grateful that things happened the way they did for me, because I think that at every step of the way I was able to acquire so much knowledge and skill because I didn’t just blow up overnight,” she says. “At this
point I’m so primed and ready for any opportunity that comes my way, because it didn’t come easily and because it didn’t come quickly. I’ve had the decade to become who I am now, and who I am now is ready for it.”