There have been many chefs that have taken to the Cornish coastline to set up restaurants, drawn to the postcard-perfect beaches, freshly caught seafood and the ever-growing tourism. But the ones who really make a mark – and stand the test of time – are those whose love for the southernmost county stretches beyond its rugged cliffs, turquoise blue waters and monied attraction. It’s the ones who capture the soul of Cornwall in their cooking. Emily Scott, head chef of her eponymous restaurant nestled in Watergate Bay, is one such person. Having lived and worked in Cornwall since she was 23 years old, Emily is well-versed in the magic of Cornwall. It’s something she translates to her guests, who enjoy the prolific seafood dishes she dreams up with a view of Watergate Bay in the background.
Emily is not about pomp and circumstance. Instead, she is guided by what nature has to offer. And her ethos of no fussing and no faffing trickles down from the way she runs her restaurant to the way she hosts at home. There’s a sense of storied simplicity. From the ingredients she uses on her menus to the herbaceous floral arrangements from the garden she places on her table at home. We caught up with Emily to talk about the culinary appeal of the county, cooking with the ebb and flow of the seasons and where she eats out in Cornwall.
How did you get into food as a career?
To put it simply, I am passionate about food and it is in my kitchen where I feel most at home. I love nothing more than delighting others through food, bringing friends and family together around the table. My passion for the connection between food, a sense of place and storytelling is infectious, intriguing and comforting all at the same time. My story is one which interweaves the sentimental tales of a childhood in Provence with grandfather ‘Papa’ collecting strawberries from the fields to the hum of crickets in the warm sunshine; to the beautiful shores of Cornwall and golden sandy beaches. Experience and memories are translated into ingredients which collectively are heightening into simplistic, rustic dishes which are easily recreated at home.
You’ve had restaurants in St Tudy and now you’re set up at Watergate Bay – what is the appeal of Cornwall for you?
The home of sea shanties, finding treasure on beaches and combing for shells. In the South West of England, you'll find Cornwall on the tip of the peninsula, surrounded by sea and a rugged coastline that wraps itself around for miles. The home of Poldark, Daphne du Maurier, cream teas, and old-fashioned holidays, there's more than a hint of magic to Cornwall. So inspiring, creative and exciting.
How do you make use of the local produce and does the narrative of your menu always depend on the location?
Always talk to your fishmonger. Here in Cornwall I have many sources of the finest fish and shellfish. I’m all about no faffing, no fussing, just beautiful food. Provenance and using local suppliers is key to the connection of land and sea. I like to cook within the ebb and flow of the seasons, with what nature has to offer.
What’s your favourite dish to cook at home?
One of my favourites is Cornish fish pie with soft leeks and fennel topped with sourdough crumbs; my children have always loved it too and it’s always eaten with great happiness and enthusiasm. My fish is a no egg affair. I prefer leeks and fennel running through it with handfuls of flat leaf parsley. Fennel is one of my favourite ingredients and often forgotten, as good raw as it is cooked. It works deliciously with fish. Creme fraiche is always a winning ingredient for me, enriching it beautifully. I use undyed smoked haddock, salmon for colour and a white fish such as pollock or ling. The sourdough topping makes it slightly lighter, and it also freezes well which I have always found useful on busier days.
How do you like to host?
Laying a table for me is all about keeping a stripped back and simple look and using the things that make your house a home. Mismatched cutlery, Cornish blue crockery, my favourite French bistro glasses, tea towel napkins, flowers cut from the garden depending on the time of year. I often find in the colder months jam jars filled with winter herbs rosemary, sage and thyme. I am a perfectionist although I am slowly learning that some of the best moments come out of chaos of not over planning things so try and relax and enjoy bringing your style and energy to what you do.
Can you give us a few tips on where you like to eat in Cornwall?
The Fish Kitchen - a place that I love and sold to Nathan Outlaw in 2013 so it is in very good hands. Michelin Star. Delicious small plates of fish and seafood on the harbours edge in Port Isaac; The Seafood Restaurant, Padstow, Rick & Jill Stein’s iconic restaurant. A lively, fun restaurant set in the idyllic location of Padstow. Perfect for a long lunch or supper with friends. Delicious fish and seafood; and Prawn on the Lawn, a favourite restaurant of mine deep in the heart of Padstow. A wonderful atmosphere with delicious food. Booking is a must.
Can you tell us about an ordinary object in your kitchen that has a special significance?
My vintage preserving pan and funnel that was my grandmother’s. Grannie was always religious about making jams and marmalade, something that I have become obsessive about too.
What’s your favourite piece in the Monoware collection?
The bud vases are beautiful. I love the simple yet classy design, perfect for styling my table for supper or bedside table.
What’s a dish that reminds you of home?
Treacle tart: this frugal delicious pudding that my mother would always bake for most family gatherings. A perfect way to use up old bread and it never disappointed shortcrust pastry with a syrupy filling always topped with vanilla ice cream.
Your favourite cuisine?
Cooking seasonally - for me a sense of place eating strawberries in June, a crab sandwich looking out to sea, a simple tomato salad on a warm summer’s day; crab linguine with friends, cooking over fire all the nostalgia.
Best song/album for a dinner party?
It depends on the time of year and mood - vinyl records on our vintage record player always goes down well. A favourite album of mine is This is Carla Bruni.
Portrait of Emily by Kim Lightbody