The Fashion Magpie Erin Flinn

Woman of Substance: Erin Flinn of Eataly.

I don’t even know where to begin with Erin.
I’ve tried to start this post about ten times and can’t quite figure out the lede — she’s a big heart with big ambitions; the gentlest, truest soul; and one of the most adventurous spirits in my life.
So how do we capture this beauty?!
For starters, she’s huge-hearted: the type of gal who would actually give a stranger the shirt off her back, the last coin in her wallet, the sandwich she was taking home to eat.  No exaggeration; I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her do each of these things IRL.  She lives her life in the service of others.
But don’t let that give you the sense that she’s mild-mannered or pious: she’s adventurous, smart as a whip, and unflappable in the face of…well, anything.  She’s a tough cookie.  She once dog-sat Tilly, who found a dead rat that she proceeded to carry around in her mouth for half a block.  “Oh my GOD!” I shrieked in horror at her recounting.  “What did you?!”  She shrugged: “I took it out of her mouth.”  Bare handed.  “What are you gonna do?” she asked, unphased.
I’ve also seen her burn herself horribly while cooking, unflinchingly tend to the wound, and then quietly return to preparing dinner without so much as a whimper.  And she’s entirely unsqueamish in the kitchen — cleaning raw octupus, mincing chicken livers, stuffing sausage into casings — she doesn’t bat an eye at any of it.
In fact, she leans into adventure — she was always our first call when we wanted to take on a massive cooking undertaking or try a new experience of any kind — food or otherwise — in Chicago.  I remember wanting to take a letterpressing class and knew instantly that she would be the only person worth asking; of course she said yes, and we set off to sip wine and letterpress together.  We’ve talked into the wee hours of countless wine-fueled nights about our pipe dreams of owning a Mid-Atlantic-influenced tapas restaurant (think patatas bravas with Old Bay or blue crab croquetas), of traveling to Sicily together, of running a small farm stand featuring her jams and breads and Mr. Magpie’s garden yield.  She’s got the entrepreneurial bug like Mr. Magpie and I — part dreamer, but mainly a major doer.  She’s one of the most industrious people I know.  Just let her professional record do the talking:
After graduating with a B.S. in dietetics from Miami University and a diploma in Culinary Arts and Bread Baking from the French Culinary Institute (now called the International Culinary Center), she worked as a baker in several bakeries, including, most recently, Eataly, where she has worked since 2014.  In July 2016, she was promoted to Quality Head for all of Eataly’s U.S. bakeries, meaning that she oversees all existing stores; opens new ones (she’s opened three in the past year and a half!); streamlines and documents all recipes, processes, and training programs; creates new recipes and menus; and fosters relationships with Eataly’s millers and other producers.  Let that gamut of responsibilities sink in for a minute — think about the intricacies of operations, quality assurance, management, and even geography involved in her day-to-day.  And what’s not listed here is that she will often step in to bake when someone is out for the day, or there’s a shortage of some kind — and that she travels probably 90% of the year from store to store.  It’s a big and tough job and I can’t imagine anyone else pulling it off with as much grace and industry as she does.
Many years ago, someone asked what I did for a living, and I said: “I work for a non-profit focused on educational access.”  The man sitting next to me said: “Aha.  That’s when you know someone has a lot of responsibility — when they talk more about the work their organization does than about their role in it.”  That could not be more true than with Erin, who will humbly and unassumingly tell anyone she works for Eataly’s bread department, and chat about their bread menu and their new stores, without at any time tipping her hat to the enormity of the role she plays in its success.  (One example: when I asked her for photos for this post, she sent me about a dozen of the bread and one of herself!)The Fashion Magpie Eataly Bread 2
The Fashion Magpie Eataly Bread 1
When I think about Erin, I think about the countless nights we spent cooking together in our home in Chicago, just the three of us (Landon is as enamored of Erin as I am and just about the only person in the world he’ll cook with), with a few bottles of wine, an unwieldy spread of charcuterie, and Robin Thicke or John Mayer or the cheesy but good-for-the-soul soundtrack of a Nora Ephron movie (we’re both huge fans) on the speakers.  We would laugh, rave about recent culinary discoveries, vent and commiserate, and, more than once, cry.  She was the first person we had over to our house for dinner after mini was born — just two weeks into new parenthood!  We made a lot of fresh pasta dishes — I particularly recall corn and truffle agnolotti, walnut and zucchini pansotti, a meat ragu — with her standing at the corner of the granite countertop cranking our janky old metal pasta roller.  And then there was Vietnamese pork dumpling soup, paella, veal scallopini, fried chicken, and — always, multiple times a season — thick, bone-in ribeye steaks that Mr. Magpie would sear on the grill and we’d serve with oven fries dipped in malt vinegar.  (We were in the Midwest, after all.)  Her joy and ambition in the kitchen are electric: she makes just about anyone excited about food, about ingredients, about the process and ritual of gathering around a good meal.
When I think back on those many unforgettable meals, her considerable culinary skills fade to the background, and I can only think this: that Erin is a true-blue, ride-or-die friend.  Aside from family, she is the only person I would unhesitatingly call at 2 a.m. for a favor, or put to work in the kitchen (not that I would ever need to ask: she comes over, sets her bag down, and gets to work without asking where to begin), or ask to help with mini.
One of her favorite phrases is, appropriately, the Italian “fare la scarpetta,” meaning “make the little shoe” — referring to the act of using a small bit of leftover bread to mop up the last of the sauce on your plate.  This is just how she lives her life, too: savoring the experience of it, taking time to linger and enjoy what’s in front of her.
Get to know Erin a bit better by visiting Eataly and trying some of their bread.  (I love their focaccia in particular — especially the one topped with slabs of Italian ham and hunks of mozzarella!)  You might even see her in the kitchen; she travels a lot.  Alternately, check out her responses to the Proust Questionnaire below.
Your favorite qualities in a woman.
I love when a woman speaks openly and confidently about her accomplishments. Traditionally, I think women are taught that they should be modest and downplay their strengths, which is a shame because there’s nothing wrong with owning your accomplishments!
Your favorite heroine.
I’ve always identified with Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen Kelly from You’ve Got Mail. It’s a love story, but that’s almost the secondary plot line.  She has lived this full life without it hinging completely on the need for a romantic relationship. She’s brave and independent and also not afraid to ask for advice and help. I’m a sucker for anything by Nora Ephron…
Your greatest fault.
Procrastination in my personal life, hands down.
Your greatest strength.
I have a habit of being positive and (probably annoyingly) upbeat all the time, especially in the face of hard days, long hours, and moderate disasters. I think it makes me especially well suited for kitchen work and entrepreneurship.
Your idea of happiness.
Being anywhere in the world, surrounded by family (or friends that have become family), eating good food and drinking wine. Preferably while outside on a warm patio strung with twinkle lights.
Your idea of misery.
A long flight when I forget to bring snacks.
Currently at the top of your shopping lust list.
Majorly lusting for a cute suitcase (and a trip to take it on!) I’ve been dying to go to both Sicily and Spain for years, so this summer, it’s on. I hemmed and hawed over styles, but will probably go for a sleek, sensible hard-sided version from Away.
Desert island beauty product.
SPF 50+ sunscreen. Lots of time inside (the kitchen) has really brought out my inner fair-skinned Irish girl.  Plus, I’m pretty tough, so I’ll probably live, like, forever on that island, and I’ll need SPF to keep lookin’ fresh.
Last thing you bought.
A salad and wine (balance!)  Basically all my money is spent on snacks, and transportation to and from said snacks.
I feel most empowered wearing…
Probably leggings and sneakers. I feel like I could maybe save the world while wearing stretchy pants.
Favorite Magpie post.
I love a post you wrote a couple of years ago about how much you adored each of your sisters. And every post about mini magpie just melts my little heart!
Erin-Inspired Items…
(Ed. Note: Erin loves color; her apartment is the cheeriest real-life Anthropologie store I’ve ever seen.  Click images below to see details!)
P.S. See more women of substance here.

5 Comments

  1. Love this WoS interview! I have been a fan of Eataly for years and love that we have one in Boston now. I’ll think of Erin next time I pop in for some bread!

  2. New favorite response from the Proust questionnaire: “Basically all my money is spent on snacks, and transportation to and from said snacks.”

    1. LOLOL, that was my favorite, too. I also liked her comment about probably surviving for, like, ever on a desert island because she’s pretty tough!

      xox

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