Emma Rae: 'All my memories are based around food'

Emma Rae: 'All my memories are based around food'

Emma Rae head chef at Erpingham House

Erpingham House's head chef talks Edinburgh's vegan food scene, her long-standing passion for cooking and favourite menu items

Aberdeenshire-born Emma Rae is the newly appointed head chef at Erpingham House's first Edinburgh branch, located inside the recently opened Bonnie & Wild Scottish market place in St James Quarter. As an exclusively vegan and plastic-free establishment - the only one of its kind in the market - Erpingham House offers a range of well-known dishes from fish and chips to tacos, made from creative plant-based alternatives. 'Most people don't even realise' Emma said, 'when we tell them we are totally vegan, they say "oh well, I'll try it" and then end up coming back and saying "that was so good, I wasn't expecting that."'

Rae grew up in the Skene countryside west of Aberdeen, where high quality ingredients and locally sourced produce were the norm. 'We got a lot of venison and stuff - we were very lucky - from all the estates that were near the house. So we had such good food. I was just always in the kitchen, I was so nosy… all my memories are based around food. You know when you go to family parties and things? I don't remember what the party was for but I remember what food was served.'

Emma's love for cooking started there and continued as a hobby through her university years, when she was studying environmental science. 'I have an insane collection of cookbooks so… each week I'd have friends over for dinner and be picking something out of a recipe book and do a new thing.'

Emma Rae: 'All my memories are based around food'

Miso Aubergine from Erpingham House

Her interests in the environment and cooking finally coincided when she turned vegan after watching the popular Netflix documentary Cowspiracy. 'I considered myself an environmentalist and I kind of felt like a hypocrite. All my beliefs were to do with the environment and I was still eating meat. Even though I always tried to pick sustainable options, I thought I could be doing more. I then just reevaluated all my life choices.'

A life-changing trip to south-east Asia gave Rae the inspiration she needed to take the career leap. 'When I got back I went on a two-week vegan diploma at a place called Demuths down in Bath. It's a vegetarian cooking school and they do vegetarian and vegan courses… afterwards I got my first job at a food truck through a friend. I did a few weeks there and then got a job at a local vegan cafe in West London and then it just sort of rolled on. It was a very natural progression for me.'

Rae has built the Edinburgh Erpingham House menu using signature dishes, from the two existing restaurants in Norwich and Brighton, but tweaked ever so slightly with her own signature sauces and marinades. One of such tweaks is to the banana blossom fish and chips; 'I loved the concept but for me there was something missing' she said. 'I tweaked the brine and I love it. It's marinated in lemon juice and white miso overnight, wrapped in nori and battered in a chickpea batter with paprika and garlic.'

As one of the most popular dishes on the menu since the Edinburgh opening a few months ago, Rae hopes to be able to add more of her own inventions in the future. 'I'm hoping that we'll change the menu every couple of months, and then it will give me a bit more creativity once we learn what people like.'

Emma Rae: 'All my memories are based around food'

Bonnie & Wild / picture: Damian Shields

Under Erpingham House's mantra 'eat plants and be kind' the restaurants opt for a seasonal and local approach to sourcing produce and offset carbon emissions with optional tips from diners (99p pays to plant one tree). 'Obviously things like jackfruit and banana blossom will always need to be from further afield, but we try to be as organic as we can be and as local as we can be with all of our veg,' Emma explained.

The Edinburgh Erpingham House offers plant-based diners a high-end experience in a central location, something Rae feels wasn't the case just a few years ago. 'Now there are so many more options and stuff is actually banging and tastes really good. You know? Before, you'd go to a pub and be happy ordering chips and a salad, whereas now you're like "yes, I'll have a vegan roast!" Saying that, there is definitely room for more. I encourage all the vegan businesses to get themselves up here.'

Erpingham House is located in Bonnie & Wild Scottish market place on the top level of Edinburgh's St James Quarter. Visit erpinghamhouse.com/edinburgh for more information.