Emily Scott is putting her brand on everything, from her eponymous restaurant to her second cookery book. She talks about work, wellbeing, and meal planning for Joe Biden
Emily Scott is a fierce, gritty, determined chef and businesswoman. She has fought hard for her success and weathered many storms, through which food has always been a lifeline.
She laughs when I ask about the fashion videos that also have turned her into an Instagram influencer, sent clothes to model by independent designers.
"The videos are a bit of fun, and I'm aiming not to take myself too seriously – but fashion and putting outfits together is something I love. It's the creativity."
We talk about diversification, and how operators have had to be savvy to spread risk. Her first book (a second is on its way), food festivals and sponsored projects have all helped to top up the cash reserves in leaner times.
Times are not lean currently. Emily Scott Food on the sea wall at Watergate Bay in Cornwall is consistently full. The restaurant started as a pop-up in the former site of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, launched in partnership with Will Ashworth, the chief executive and owner of Watergate Bay hotel. In 2021 Scott took on a three-year lease for the nearby Watchful Mary site, while Ashworth turned Fifteen into new hotel suites.
"The pop-up at Watergate Bay was successful and it was a new experience for me as I put my name to it and it suddenly became very personal. I'm involved in every decision across the business. We're all used to brands and names, but this is me. I take it very seriously and I'm going to do it as well as I can. I'm not going to just put my name on something and then just do whatever.
"It's good. I feel very humble and lucky to be in a position where I've made some big changes to the way we run in order to remain in business. It's all worked in a very positive way."
The decision to focus on a six-course tasting menu, rather than an all-encompassing offering, including sharing plates and a children's menu, has made a big difference. "We have control over waste and the ingredients we use," she says.
"We cook within the seasons, and we can be so specific from a sustainability perspective. Our magic number is 55 for dinner and we're not trying to turn tables. We could do more, but tend not to so we stay consistent, which is important.
"We've got a full kitchen team now too and they are all so talented. If one person is unwell, the show goes on. That's been the most incredible part of the changes we've made. I now have people who want to work with me in serious roles, doing some serious cooking, and very much within my ethos."
Mark Hellyar, Scott's partner in life and also in the restaurant, is fundamental to its success, she says: "Working together and living together can work well."
Kye Byford, her head chef, has been with her for four years. "Kye and I work so well together and he really gets my style and ethos of cooking. We have another exciting year ahead. My restaurant manager, Tiago Sarzedas Sebastião, has worked with me for over three years and is passionate about hospitality and being part of the team. My team is everything and it is important to know what you can achieve by yourself and what you can achieve with a great team."
Recruiting staff is still tough so the focus is now on retention. "All the team are on three-and-a-half day weeks with three splits and a late and early shift. I guess I'm a bit old school, but not in a bad way. I work hard, and you're going to come and work hard for me, it's like, let's get on board with this.
"I'm a great believer that work is important for your mental health as well. Whatever has happened to me in my life, work has always been a positive. I've always been able to get up and get out, and the days where I didn't were always much harder. For me, work-life balance is about understanding that not everyone is living the same life and we're not always OK. There are lots of challenges thrown at us all."
Scott trained in Burgundy after being sent to France for her health as a teenager while suffering from anorexia, a fact she hasn't shared publicly before. "I'm beginning to talk about it because I'm at a point in my life and career where I can maybe inspire other people that you can get through things in life," she says.
"Yes, it can be hard, but it doesn't mean it's over. Recovery is possible. It's just ironic that I've ended up working with food – but maybe not! I was very poorly and was sent to France for a change of scene as I'd been in and out of treatment. I was at the beginning of recovery, but it had been quite difficult, and when I got to France it was like a light switched on. I was suddenly in an environment that I felt good in; I felt valued.
"I started finding my place at the stove, cooking in this amazing provincial restaurant in the heart of Burgundy. I learnt a way of cooking that brings people together with happiness and joy. It was the sense of positivity that got to me, I think.
"Eating disorders are negative things but I was so switched on by this amazing food experience and, although I was very unwell, I had to step up. I then started helping to run L'Etape restaurant with John Christophe and Sophie Slowik. John had worked with Marco Pierre White in his early days and had a background front of house which was incredible. It gave me so much experience and taught me so much, that when I did come back to London, I went on to train at the Tante Marie cookery school. I did a year's diploma and then set up my own business at the age of 23."
Finding herself back in the UK, in Port Isaac in Cornwall, Scott met her ex-husband, a fisherman, and opened Browns in 1989, which she describes as a simple kind of tea shop. "We had the first coffee machine in the town; it was a simple bistro-type place". The Harbour restaurant followed, which she owned for about nine years before selling it to Nathan Outlaw in 2013, just after she was named Best Chef by the southwest's Food magazine.
After she had her three children, Scott's next venture took her and her family inland to the St Tudy Inn, where she stayed until taking on the pop-up at Watergate Bay in 2020, while the St Tudy Inn was still closed due to Covid.
TV or not TV
Scott had been invited on Great British Menu in 2017 but had turned it down as the St Tudy Inn received a Bib Gourmand and business was brisk. When she was invited again a year later, she agreed. "It was a great experience, but it is a competition, and it was hard," she says. "I think I showcased myself well – and I have been asked back since," she laughs.
We're back to that sticky subject of exposure and attention. "Great British Menu did give me a good platform, but as I said, I'm this funny mixture of wanting to be on my own and be quite antisocial and just quietly get on with it, and then there's this other side to me that's fiercely ambitious and driven and business-minded. So that pushes me on to pursue things that I'm not comfortable with. "I've failed at lots of things and that's OK. My failures have turned into my successes now. Sometimes we judge failure or success on what other people think, and it should be more about how I feel about what's happened.
"That time was incredibly tough. I had three children running about in a busy pub and it was full-on. Running a pub is a way of life – we lived above it and I tried to be the landlady, the chef, the caretaker, the team builder, and you can't sustain that long term. When Covid hit, I was given the opportunity of taking on the pop-up and of course I had to say yes. It was a lot of pressure because everyone had loved Fifteen, but it allowed me to keep my team in work through the pandemic and it raised my profile again with all the amazing reviews we received. We absolutely rocked it there."
Then, along came Biden. Scott won the cooking gig for the G7 Summit, held in Cornwall in 2021. "I just received a phone call from the Eden Project saying they had some clients that would like to talk to me – and that ended up being the Cabinet Office. I had a Zoom call with them and made it from a long list to a short list. Eventually they asked me what I would do if I was given the job of cooking for the world leaders, so I just told them. It finally went down to two people and then they took five days to come back to me.
"Cooking at the G7 was incredible and an important moment in my life, but we treated it like any other outside catering job in some ways. We focused on the detail, the seasonality, the provenance and bringing people together. We wanted to bring them joy. I do remember a few Foreign Office eyes rolling when I told them we were going to use tea towels as napkins, mismatched glassware and flowers from the garden and that it was going to be relaxed and beautiful."
Scott and her team pulled it off, and she agrees, the experience and attention it bought had a positive impact on her business. "I feel very lucky to be recognised now, but with that comes expectation. So, you then have to up your game and make sure that you deliver what you're talking about."
Scott continues her appearances on TV, cooking on Saturday Kitchen with Matt Tebbutt and an episode of BBC2's Rick Stein's Cornwall, where she recreated the meal, she cooked for president Joe Biden and former prime minister Boris Johnson.
It's all good for business, she says, but she constantly reminds herself and her team to remain consistent. "I know what it's like to have no money. I know what it's like not to be able to pay my VAT bill. To be on my own and to think I have no options, so, this is a much better place to be, but I don't take it for granted for one second. I think hospitality is wonderful and I think that needs to be celebrated, but it has had such hardships lately."
Recognition from her fellow chefs is important, she admits. "To cook for Rick Stein in my restaurant last year. I mean, that was a huge moment. Hospitality is accessible to everybody. You can come in with no skills, with the right mindset and passion, and a willingness to learn, and you can turn it into the most extraordinary career."
As for the future, it's all about focusing on the restaurant. She's just finished her second book (her first was Sea & Shore: Recipes and Stories from a Kitchen in Cornwall) which will be out sometime in summer. And she has a couple of exciting projects up her sleeve, which she hints at, to yells of excitement (from me).
Overall, Scott is trying to enjoy what she's doing on a day-to-day basis. "In hospitality, you get flurries. So, for me it was the G7, then my book came out, and there was a bit of TV, but then it can go quiet again, and you think, ‘oh my God, that's it, nothing's happening'. But it's those times you need to cherish – to just look around and really focus on the things that bring you all those exciting moments."
Scott on positive recovery
Scott describes anorexia as "my drug of choice". She clearly remembers the moment she decided to stop eating, when she was 15, about to do her GCSEs and with the overwhelming feeling that she was going to fail.
"Not eating was the only thing I could control," she says. She adds that anorexia has nothing to do with losing weight, which is a symptom, but rather that she was good at not eating.
"I was good at something, and I was in control of it. But I've learned to take the negative things I might think about myself and turn them into positive things or focus on other people. There's a saying when you're anorexic, that you like feeding people, and there is truth in that. Now though, I genuinely enjoy eating food as much as I enjoy cooking it. So, I think that saved me, actually. I was in and out of hospitals a lot back then and a lot of the people I knew aren't alive today. It's an awful disease, but it's about choice. I'm a great believer in choice."
She describes recovery as looking after yourself, whether that is through exercise, getting enough sleep or spending time by yourself.
"Anorexia is about disappearing – it enables you to hide behind it. What I'm able to do now is step forward and accept myself. We could all do with a big dose of self-love. If you look after yourself, you have the ability to look after other people around you.
"I don't feel embarrassed that I've suffered from an eating disorder. It's something that happened to me, but it's not an easy subject to talk about. I hope that by talking about it, it might be helping other people. There's so many people struggling with so many things."
From the menu
- Pavilion bakery, whipped cod's roe
- Escabeche of Porthilly, soused vegetables
- Padstow crab, pickled heritage carrot, brown crab hollandaise
- Tea-smoked Cornish trout, creamed pumpkin, lobster, verjus and walnut dressing
- Baked plaice, caramelised shallot, roast chicken and black truffle sauce
- Seaside days: saffron soft-serve ice-cream, PX-soaked raisins, saffron bun
- Chocolate pavé, 70% chocolate, hazelnut, sea buckthorn and milk sorbet
- Café and petits four
Six courses, £75
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In