Emily Scott got her first taste of a TV cooking competition this year. The chef appeared on the Great British Menu, which celebrated 50 years of British music, where she based her food on Desert Island Discs. She created dishes with names like Disco Fever and Castaway, which featured quail eggs, scallops and duck, as well as a panna cotta. She’s already been invited back to the competition and plans to add a bit of theatre to her food if she returns.
“TV is an odd world really as a chef. Most of the guys I was up against have Michelin stars and obviously I don’t have a star, I don’t cook with gels or foams, so I put myself out there,” she reflects. “Personally that was a big thing for me to do and I did stick to my ethos.”
This ethos is a strong emphasis on provenance and seasonality – she loves the story behind ingredients and the producers she works with are key to her food development.
It’s also reflected at her Cornwall pub, St Tudy Inn, which shot up the Estrella Top 50 Gastropub list this year – rising from 48 to a new ranking of 24. She retained its Michelin Bib Gourmand for the third year in a row too.
Here she talks about her love of seafood, chefs returning to pots and pans and pleasing the pub crowd.
I sometimes have a moment where I go: ‘Oh I have a real restaurant’ and I know that sounds ridiculous… I think for me the main thing is being food-led and the fact if none of my chefs turned up I could still open up my restaurant, even if it’s a much smaller menu. I don’t know how people can rely on chefs.
I have a strong ethos about provenance. I like to know where everything comes from. I like the story behind the food, like where the ingredients come from – the fishermen, I have an amazing friend who grows all my salad leaves and vegetables – for me they are the most important people as they give me the ingredients to cook with. I think provenance is going to get stronger and stronger.
My food is very seasonal so strawberries are going to start coming off my menu and we will start going into brambles and berries and plums and slowly work our way into September. You won’t find strawberries on my menu in winter. It’s all very led by the seasons as I think food is at its best when nature naturally produces it.
There is a finesse to my food. I wouldn’t say it’s fine dining because obviously I’m under the pub umbrella, so I’m trying to please quite a big crowd of people. It’s simple, but with simplicity there is technique there.
I lived in France for quite a long time and my partner is a wine maker in Bordeaux, so I have quite a strong French influence in my dishes as well as my love for Cornwall.
The little squares on Instagram I put up I always want that to be real. You have to manage expectations with Instagram or any social media. The fish and chips you see on my website is what you will get when you come here. Its not let’s show everyone what we do and then you’re disappointed.
There are so many dishes I love that reflect me. I think food is a reflection on your personality and who you are and you should put your heart and soul literally into it – rushed cooking never shows anything. My panna cotta obviously that was showcased on Great British Menu and that changes with the seasons with the different fruits available. I love that recipe as it’s so simple, but it can go very wrong as well.
My fish stew I’m proud of. I get very excited about fish cookery and I spent quite a lot of time in Port Isaac before I came here and I was married to a fisherman for about 20 years ago, so I spent a lot of time out on the sea and the water. For me being in Cornwall, it’s all about the fish and seafood, although I’m slightly inland here, there is lots of fish dishes on my menu. My fish stew is always what’s in season, its tomato-based, it’s quite a rustic dish, it comes with saffron aioli, little Thai basil leaves, it’s very pretty, so it sings summer and Cornwall to me.
I love British cheese, I love French cheese, but we had just a Cornish board cheese and everyone loved it as that is what they are here for.
Menu development really does depend on what I’m able to get my hands on. I get a phone call from my vegetable grower to say: ‘This is what I’ve got this week’ or ‘Cavolo nero has come in this week’, which I absolutely love. So it could be cavolo nero bruschetta with garlic with some pretty summer flowers, so very simple but so good.
As much as I love the food side, I love the style side. I love interior design so for me it’s not just about food it’s also about how you feel you when sit at the table and the things around you and how my food looks at a table. Although the interior, it’s very stripped back. I don’t have any tablecloths, it’s a mix match of wooden tables, my napkins are actually tea towels.
But then you’ll get the service as if you’re in a higher end restaurant with all the detail and my front of house will go through each dish. We will have certain dishes that we will say we love today and they will go through it and talk about the story behind it or the provenance behind it or my take on it – that’s what I’m trying to build on.You can come in your wellies or your high heels or come in with you dog and eat in the bar, you are welcome whatever, but you will get that good service but it’s very relaxed.
There is a huge expectation when we got the [Michelin] Bib Gourmand. I know this sounds naïve but I had to Google what a Bib Gourmand is and it’s about getting really good food at a good price – it’s not about white tablecloths or anything like that. But since we got that, some people get confused and think we have a star which we don’t – secretly I would quite like a star – but that would come with a huge expectation. There is also expectation even being on Great British Menu and Top 50 gastro pubs. We went from 48 to 24 this year and I worked very hard to be consistent.
I’ve cooked with quite a lot of seaweed this year and different sea vegetables like sea cabbage and samphire. I have a friend who has a farm where we went and dug up the samphire so it’s really plump and green, it’s not like the stuff that is flown in.
With edible flowers I’ve gone for some slightly unusual flowers that you might not necessarily get just every day as I have a supplier that picks wild food, so that’s quite interesting.
There is gorse flowers that grow all over the place that I have been flavouring my panna cotta with because they have a very lovely coconut fragrance when you infuse them. Little daisies that you might not think are edible but are. But what’s interesting with the flowers is they can have such different tastes so we have been experimenting with that. Fig leaves, which also if you infuse with milk also make everything taste of coconut, and meadowsweet ice cream. It’s about adding something that people go: ‘Oh tell me about that’, so keeping interest.
I’m always interested in different fish as well that’s line caught, off the boat. Sardines, I know they’re not unusual, but I’ve put them on the menu and they have absolutely flown out and it’s been great.
Make it over complicated, use too many flavours, try and do too much on a plate – those are the mistakes chef make in menu development. For me I quite like classic cooking as well and that comes from my time in France – keep it simple, less is more definitely.
A lot of chefs all they’re doing is cooking on fire, which I like, but I don’t want all my food to taste of wood fire. So I’m not sure if that’s going to peak at some point.
I think a lot of chefs are going back to cooking with pots and pans – maybe putting the sous vide away. I personally like cooking with pots and pans, you can feel what you’re doing rather than wrapping everything up and putting it into a stainless steel box. So I think maybe more chefs will go back to the old school style.
I think people are not necessarily wanting to go out for fine dining. They want to go out and get more than what you would necessarily cook at home and you want to feel relaxed and enjoy food without it being too high end.