Five months ago, Emily Lambert and Ruth Hansom wowed the British public by winning the financial backing of twice Michelin starred chef, Atul Kochar, on BBC Two’s hit series Million Pound Menu. Their entirely British Dining concept, Epoch, stunned diners and persuaded investor Atul Kochar to invest almost 1 million pounds into their very English venture.
No strangers to success, Ruth and Emily have already achieved what many other industry professionals only dream of. Hansom (left)was named 2017 Young National Chef of the Year, the first female to ever win the accolade, while Lambert (right) was The Ritz’s first ever female Sommelier.
Since bursting onto our television screens back in April, the Hansom Lambert duo have been busy. Ruth is currently working as Head Chef at Luton Hoo's Wernher Restaurant and Emily will be starting an exciting new project in the next week with a focus on locality, British produce and English wines. With their restaurant, Epoch, still under development, their current positions will no doubt stand them in good stead for their exciting joint venture.
We caught up with Ruth and Emily to find out more about their inspirations, aspirations and of-course chat English wine. Scroll on for our interview.
You both bravely quit your jobs at the Ritz to pursue your dream of starting Epoch, your own restaurant. Life must have changed a lot for you both since winning the backing of Atul, how have you been prepping for the opening of Epoch?
Overall, it has been a very surreal experience and the whole filming and airing of the program flew by. We attended a few hospitality events after the program aired and we had people coming up and congratulating us; it was surprising how many people watched it. To prepare for Epoch, we have taken a Restaurant Manager and Head Chef role at two top restaurants to gain more experience and to understand more of the financials. I think the program gave us the visibility to be considered for those roles and we are excited to use our experiences when we officially open Epoch.
Your concept for Epoch focuses entirely on British produce, from the seasoning all the way to the wine list. What do you think the biggest challenge regarding this principle will be?
On the food side, there are key ingredients like pepper and spices, which some may argue are important for a dish, we use dehydrated horseradish instead...but will that be enough? On the wine side, the biggest issue is full bodied red wines. Beef and lamb are meats that the UK is famous for, and not having wines with enough body to support them is a worry.
How did you choose your original wines for the program and how will you be choosing your wines from now on?
(Emily) - The UK is such a new wine growing country and it is quite hard to know about the different vineyards and the quality of their offering, unless you can actually go and try their wines. I chose my selection from vineyards I knew, Denbies being close to my home in Surrey. I discovered Astley and Gusbourne whilst working at the Ritz.
Since November’s filming, I have had the opportunity to visit more vineyards, and attend important trade tastings to discover more English wines. I am slowly building up contacts and find everyone is so friendly, hardworking and optimistic about the future of English wine. It is hard to select wines now as by the time we open in Spring, 2019 new vintages will be available and I know how varied the UK’s vintages are...Fingers crossed for 2018!
From a chef’s perspective, what season do you think epitomises the best of English ingredients and therefore can contribute to the best dishes?
(Ruth) - This is a real tough one. I love summer for all the amazing fresh vegetables, thyme, peas and tomatoes but I think Autumn has to trump it! We have game season and that to me is something that really defines British Cuisine, as well as mushrooms, root vegetables, blackberries, apples and pears! It gets me super excited!
What dishes and wine pairings are you most excited about right now?
(Ruth) - As it’s getting to Autumn, I love Chestnut and English sparkling wine together. I like to make a chestnut Veloute and a sparkling wine jelly. We pour the hot soup over the jelly to let it disolve and flavour it. It gives an amazing aroma too.
What is currently your favourite ingredient to work with and how do you get the best out of it?
(Ruth) -At the minute it’s grouse. I like to remove the legs and gently confit them before glazing. The breasts should be cooked on the crown with lots of foaming butter, before being rested and carved, then dusted lightly with juniper salt.
Focusing on home grown and exceptional ingredients is something we love and admire. We also believe in getting to know the producers in order to understand how their personalities and background can reflect in the finished product - is this something you could somehow incorporate into your food service?
(Ruth) - Absolutely, for example our scallop dish with Bluebell’s Sparkling Rose. After visiting the vineyard, we discovered it used to be a pig farm! After already discussing we wanted to pair it with the scallop dish, we thought what better than to include some bacon crumb on the dish! It enhances the dish and also gave us a background story to tell to our guests.
Having worked as a Sommelier at The Ritz, you will no doubt have served a varied amount of prestigious wines from around the world - at what point were you first introduced to English wine?
(Emily) - We had over 800 bins on the Ritz wine list so to be able to understand the wine, you have to taste a lot of wine. I was at the Ritz when they first introduced English wine onto the list. Everyone always says that English wine is not great quality, and my expectations were low. My first English wine was Gusbourne 2010 Sparkling Rose and it blew me away.
The Ritz first introduced English Wine to it’s wine list back in 2016. How has the wine been received among their clientele?
(Emily) -Local people are generally quite excited and surprised to see English wine making an appearance on the list. We have a large array of clientele some of whom are novice and need guidance, and some guests who are extremely knowledgeable that know exactly what they like; spending £1000’s on a single bottle. I loved listening to people describe their preference and then recommending a wine pairing. Most were impressed and after sampling the wine, would always ask me to write down the name and advise where they could buy it.
With your list focusing solely on English wine, there are plenty of options for alternatives/lesser known grape varieties. How will you approach finding a heavier robust style to please warm climate wine drinkers (of which there are many)?
(Emily) - I am still getting to understand the UK wine offering and it continues to surprise me. We tend to grow a lot of German and French native grape varieties and definitely many that aren't commonly known. I think for this reason people will definitely ask about what the different wine styles are, which will help us educate the public. Fuller bodied red wines are where it does prove more difficult, although we have some great Pinot Noir and Rondo; it still cannot stand up to beef. I really feel I am on the start of a journey of discovery and I am still enjoying researching English wine.
Will you consider some of the unique urban winery alternatives sourcing fruit from overseas but producing here?
(Emily) - Definitely, I first tried British wine at London Cru winery, in Fulham, where I was very impressed with the quality. I think it is important that we are trying to support local artisan producers and hope to educate our guests on the distinction between British and English wines…and give them the option.
Can you name a still English wine that you feel is typical and really represents our industry and climate?
(Emily) - Represents our climate is hard as it is so varied year on year, sometimes day by day. But I know from friends who come from some of the hotter wine growing countries that we should embrace and appreciate the variety of our climate. I would say that Gusbourne Guinevere 2016; Denbies Pinot Gris 2015; Winbirii Bacchus; Gusbourne Pinot Noir 2014 all represent our climate.
As youngsters ourselves, we are all about bringing fresh energy to an industry which is sometimes overlooked/shied away from by other young people. Has your age ever affected how you have been treated within the industry?
We have definitely had to work hard to prove to people that as young females, we are worthy of where we have got to, and should be taken seriously. I hope the opportunities we have found will inspire others to follow into the industry. Knowledge can always be improved upon but passion and drive cannot be bought and now we have a mentor to help take us there; the experience will follow. We constantly get told we are taking too much on at our age, however you could say it is the perfect time as we have no responsibilities, and lots of energy. There is never a wrong time to follow your dreams.
What is the main thought you want guests of Epoch to walk away with?
That they have learnt something new about the provenance of their food and wine and they feel connected to the dining experience. I hope that everyone who joins wants to come back again!