Published 10 June 2022
by Henry Southan
CODE caught up with chef and ‘foraging queen’ Harriet Mansell who, after taking part in the Great British Menu, is now building a culinary empire in Lyme Regis with restaurants Robin Wylde and Lilac. As well as advice for budding chefs and restaurateurs, she weighs in on how the hospitality industry can become a more appealing industry to work in.
I’m very well thank you. This year feels quite dreamy compared to the last two. The last few months have been invigorating and energising. Whilst we are still working through the tail end of the pandemic and it’s effects will undeniably continue for months to come, we are faced with a greater sense of calm, in that things seem to be more manageable now. There are of course a range of logistics to work through, particularly in the face of rising costs, but I know that I feel equipped to approach this head-on and continue working towards sharing our passion with those who come into our space.
I feel a sense of homecoming here. I do love the area. I grew up in Sidmouth which is where I’m currently living, and my restaurants are in Lyme Regis, Dorset. Having always adored a transient life, it was initially a challenge to accept settling in one place, but since moving into that fully I have discovered the depth and satisfaction of being in one area, through exploration and a burgeoning sense of understanding of time and place. I feel very attached to this area but would never say that anything is permanent.
Both are inspired by understanding and reflecting on the world around us. We don’t have a restaurant garden or plot of land to grow on, so we work incredibly closely with the world around us to gather what we need when it is energetically in its prime, and bring this to our kitchens. We work to gather and deliver these ingredients with the shifts in season. By going out every day and sourcing ingredients and flavours from this part of the world, we learn the nuances and beauty of what is growing and how it shifts by the day. The natural world is bursting with ingredients, and the discovery of new flavours and how to work with these and balance these in our dishes enables us a level of expression that is the essence of what we do. Robin Wylde offers a tasting menu, a snapshot of these twists and turns. And Lilac showcases the best of our farms and brings these in small plate sharing form, encouraging a sharing philosophy. The name ‘Robin Wylde’ is all about evoking and capturing a sense of this area and ‘Lilac’ is about capturing the ‘Lilac Haze’ that we so often see in our sunsets here in Dorset, and in that moment or rather that feeling of heady anticipation before an evening of fun and frivolity. Good food, friendship and connection. Sounds cringey but that’s what it is. There is also a Lilac Wine song reference in there which holds a resonance but in a different way.
Chefs, follow your heart and what makes you light up. Remain focused and open to learning. Remember that as a younger chef you might think you know better and perhaps you do, but just remember to remain respectful, and that there is so much to learn. So be open and humble to learning and this will put you in such good stead. You will never stop learning and you will see so much change. There is more than one way to do something ‘right.’
Restauranteurs, have a watertight business plan. Cashflow forecast. Troubleshoot. Get very in tune with your inner seat of intuition and learn the difference between external and internal motivations and guidance. This is the key. Know the vision and visualise the outcome. Set your business values early on and be guided by them. There is one thing that I know has enabled the hard decisions to be made, and it has been never compromising on values. Set business values. Create a mental space or some kind of ‘box’ or category for making mistakes, and factor this into your budget. It is very helpful in learning the cost of mistakes and being able to attribute them to part of your budget and process. It helps to allocate this, rather than internalise frustrations on making the inevitable mistakes. It is all a learning and information gathering exercise. You don’t make the same mistake twice.
Celebrate and mark benchmarks, don’t let them pass you by. Acknowledge what you have done and share this with your team. Find the space for yourself that you need to accomplish your business goals. Look after yourself and allow yourself the space to be creative and supported, so that you can create and support the business you want to see thrive. Personal care, boundaries, space, and routine are the underpinning of creating a sustainable business, and finding and feeling the joy in what you are doing. Play to people’s strengths and weaknesses, including your own. Do the things that you love and build these into your role. See this in others and pay close attention to allowing people to shift into their strengths. It’s a juggling act and can be so very rewarding when it is all in flow. And it all starts with you, which is why you are the most important person in this whole thing to look after. Don’t ever compromise on taking the time to check that you are in a position to thrive. Look after yourself.
Sharing our passion and excitement for food and hospitality with future chefs by continuing to work on the things we love. Teaching and setting time to offer opportunities to teach people and show people the things that make us tick. For me, I thought hospitality was simply the best place you could ever be working in, since you had the opportunity to make people so happy by creating experiences. Sharing this philosophy with a movement of workers who are still unsure and transitioning through the effects of the pandemic will be the path we need to take.
It will possibly take a little longer to attract these people back to the industry since we know that hospitality was hit hard, and it’s reputation as one of the more widely publicised industries to be hit has some residual damage. So, let’s preserve and set the way to show what a powerful space it can be – to source, discover, create and share. We get to combine exploration with science, flavour, art, sharing, nutrition, and biodynamic principles of gathering food, seeing, understanding and harvesting ingredients from the wild and bringing these to the table. Seeing looks of delight on people’s faces as they try something familiar and evocative, or something new for the first time. There is nothing like it. It’s magic. Taking something that is growing in abundance, energetically in its prime, and bringing it back to the restaurant and preparing it with the knowledge of what power that particular plant or herb has, perhaps it was harvested at just the right time for maximum effect. And sharing that as part of the dance of the tasting menu. Creating a ground ivy fermented kombucha for our soft drinks pairing is alchemy in its finest form. This is where the magic happens.
We get to work with these plants, these roots, flowers and seeds, and craft them into something beautiful and delicious. And we get to create, bounce off each other, feel the companionship of being the tightest family, of passionate and vibrant people. We get to grow together each day. There is nothing like it. It is the greatest privilege to do what we do, and to be a part of this is something very special. That’s my take on the picture of what we are doing, and I would love to share this with more people. We can only together be better and stronger, and so I know that with time if we as passionate hospitality businesses keep doing what we are doing, playing to our different creative strengths, we will encourage people to want to get in on the action. Making sure that we continue to progress, innovate and create. Setting healthy working hours. Creating a supportive and nurturing work environment. Attractive rates of pay. It will only be a matter of time…
Working on the next steps. You won’t see anything from us this year, other than heads down and a focus on quality and settling into our space. There is a larger vision at hand, but there is nothing I will be saying on that just yet.
A big vat of seasonal veggie soup with lots of herbs, fresh crusty loaf and superb cheeses
Something simple, it wouldn’t be a concern.
A picnic in the woods or by the sea. Nothing better.