Hannah Thomas AKA Herbs and Wild | Our Spring Chef

Seasonal cooking has been in Hannah's veins since a young age, as has an entrepreneurial spark. From selling cakes at the end of her garden in her early teens, through to setting up her first space in Wiltshire in 2020, Hannah has always wanted to showcase her love and creativity for seasonal cooking which spotlights the best of local, wild produce. After a successful string of Supper Clubs and recipe boxes in lockdown, today Herbs and Wild is a beautiful, permanent feature of The Guild, just outside Wilton House and Hannah's crafted two delicious, Spring recipes just for Sociovino.

Tom caught up with Hannah, our chef for this Spring's seasonal subscription case, to learn about Herbs and Wild, Hannah's inspiration and what her plans are for the coming years!

Fact File:

Name: Hannah Thomas
Place of work: Chef and Founder of Herbs and Wild
Location: Wiltshire 

 

Hannah has drawn on the best of early Spring for her two recipes accompanying our Seasonal case.

Tom: Hannah we're very excited to share your delicious food with our subscribers this season, tell me what inspired you to get into the world of food?

Hannah: For me it started really young and my interest was built upon strong foundations thanks to my parents who used to grow a lot of their own produce and cook with it. It really instilled in me how amazing it is to cook with something that you've watched grow from seed, not only how satisfying that is as a human, but also just how delicious the ingredients are! I suppose it also helped me realise from a young age that not all foods are year round, you know strawberries for example, we would only ever have in two months of the summer. So seasonality is something I've appreciated for a long time and also the care that goes into growing food.

On the cooking side, my Mum is a great home cook and I actually fell in love with baking first. I used to love making puddings from an early age and I always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spark...I had a stall at the bottom of the garden selling baked goods from pretty young! More formally, my cooking skills developed through hosting a chalet in the Swiss alps for a Ski Season which I loved! Cooking for guests in my chalet was the first time a really got the buzz for creating something that was enjoyed by others too, that's a driver that's definitely stuck with me.

Tom: So how did you end up working professionally in food, then? Was it always a dead cert for you after your chalet hosting?

Hannah: It wasn't always the plan per se, no. I studied Biology and I got really interested in nutrition and gut health so I was looking at going down this path. I moved away from this once I realised that the route was going to be a little too corporate for me. The next step was enrolling on the three month course at Ballymaloe in Ireland (a cooking school that we love dearly here at SV!) and their absolute commitment to quality through seasonality just inspired me to continue down the path that I was sort of already on. I had been doing private catering a bit after I finished my studies but returning from Ballymaloe I got a job at the Ethicurean in Bristol, an amazing, ground-breaking Walled Garden restaurant showcasing the best of the seasons, this really propelled my ethos and cooking. It also opened my eyes to wild flavours, flavours we can forage in the world around us, it's a palate the we don't put enough of a spotlight on! 


Tom: And so how was Herbs and Wild born? How did you go from restaurant chef to owning your own business? 

Hannah:  I loved my experience at the Ethicurean but it was never my intention to be a restaurant chef and I really missed that buzz of hearing direct feedback from customers, we were always hearing it second hand from the front of house staff! I guess I'd always had the desire to put my name against the dishes I was creating and so I started a Supper Club and named it Herbs and Wild - I didn't even overthink the name much it just kind of stuck from early on. Alongside the Supper Clubs I was doing private catering under the H & W brand and cooking workshops. I went full-time Herbs and Wild in 2019 and a year later the opportunity so have my own space in Wilton came up and I took it in July 2020, just at the end of lockdown #1! I loved doing all of the catering jobs, but now I have my own space I can stay clearly on the path that I have in my mind for Herbs and Wild, develop the flavours and foods that I love and hear directly from my customers what they think about it.

 

Tom: It's amazing that you've been able to go from idea through to running your own space, I'd love to hear what you think are the main drivers for you ability to grow the brand? What did you find really worked for you?

Hannah: Instagram has got to have been then main driver. I was moving around a bit with venues with the Supper Club, so it was hard to build a name within one specific community or area of London but being able to spread the word through my social media was key. I'm also a big believer in collaborations between complimentary businesses, the venues I partnered with were always great in helping to promote. I worked quite a bit with Gambledown Farm in Hampshire as well as a few spots in London. I also did a little bit of food box delivery with Gambledown, their produce alongside my recipes, baked goods and pestos which I loved, despite all of the admin!

 

Herbs and Wild with Sociovino team


Tom: What would you say really inspires your cooking then?

Hannah: It's the seasons first and foremost. Right since childhood that's always been the number one priority for me. At the café, because of the nature of the service and the type of food people expect, it's fun to get really creative within those boundaries. People come looking for a sandwich or a sausage roll, but we have a lot of fun putting our stamp on these classics, and almost setting these boundaries allows us to be more creative within them! At home, I tend to follow my cravings a bit, you know seeing something on instagram or reading something in a cookbook and just really wanting to try it!

Tom: So tell me what makes you tick outside of work, how do you spend your free time?

Hannah: Honestly, I love nothing more than sitting down to read a cookbook and getting ideas for recipes and dishes. Gather and Time by Gill Meller are personal faves which really resonate still. I'd like to say I get out and forage a lot too, but sadly I don't have much time for that at the moment! Outside of work I like to cook different cuisines too, I get bored of the same thing quite quickly so I'm often trying out Asian dishes or something from far afield. Cooking for the café I'm always cooking in big batches and it sort of takes away the romance of the act a bit, so at home I take a lot of pleasure in the details and really crafting a dish on a small scale.

 

Tom: So what does the future hold for Hannah and Herbs & Wild? What have you got on the horizon for the next couple of years? 

Hannah: My big focus for 2022 is getting the café into a strong place, making the business model really tight so that we can potentially roll out into other sites. It's been such a learning curve, I'm just starting to get my head around how to make money in a low margin business, especially when we don't sell a lot of alcohol which is often a saviour for lots of places (sadly it's not really bottomless brunch territory around here!). I'd love for us to start hosting more events here, out seating area is inside a large permanent tipi structure which is really quirky and a great space for events, so that's going to be a goal too. Hoping to collaborate with some local chefs for some larger events in the area and then down the line a cookbook is something I would love to do. It would involve me being a lot less involved in the café as they are no mean feat! I'm also going to expand the community aspect of the business too, introducing some community foraging walks and classes which should be really cool.

Tom: Love the sound of that! Can you book us in for the wild garlic walk?!

Hannah: Absolutely, it's in a couple of weeks so come on down!!

Tom: We'll be there! Hannah moving to wine, I'd love to hear about your relationship with our beloved grape juice?

Hannah: Well I had a glass of wine last night after a run and it absolutely knocked me out!! Haha! More seriously though I have had a little bit of formal training as part of the course I did at Ballymaloe which was my first experience of learning how to taste. My parents were never shy about giving us a taste as kids, so I grew up with it in the house and it's always something I've enjoyed especially with my food. I guess I'd say that I'm quite confident in my tastes, like I know what I like but I'm always open to trying new things. I don't claim to know loads, but I don't find not knowing to be intimidating, always happy to ask and learn and try new things. I've explored the English wine route quite a bit, I'd definitely say that's an interest of mine. We worked with a few English wineries when I was at the Ethicurean and since then I've visited Tillingham in Kent and have used their wines for a London Supper Club. A sommelier friend who know runs his own company was always on hand with tips and pairing advice too and of course, there's Sociovino ;). My go to wine would have to be a minerally white, something like an Albariño or from grapes grown on volcanic soils. I try to avoid New World wines if I can, I just think there's so much good stuff closer to home that why go further!

Tom: And what about a wine memory, is there one moment in time you can remember that wine really sticks out for you? 

Hannah: Yes so when I was much younger I used to have a real sweet tooth, much more than I do now, and I vividly remember the first time my Dad poured me a bit of Sauternes to try (Bordeaux's famous dessert wine made from Noble Rot affected grapes). We had it alongside fresh apricots, just sat outside a restaurant on our summer holidays in France and it was just so delicious, how the luscious nectar of the Sauternes wrapped so perfectly around these bright, fresh apricots. It's stuck with me to this day!

 

Hannah's spring Lamb Skewers are served on a bed of freekeh and topped with brown butter tzatziki.

Tom: I mean it's not a bad place to start your wine journey, in Sauternes! Finally, Hannah, I would love to hear about anywhere you've eaten lately that's really wowed you, anywhere you'd recommend?

Nat: In Yes definitely, first up would have to be Osip which is a restaurant in the foodie town of Bruton not too far from me. I ate there last year just before they got a star and it was one of the best meals I've ever eaten. Just the best quality, farm-to-table cooking. They've actually just opened another, slightly more casual site also in Bruton which is called the Old Pharmacy and worth a visit. Another spot that I can't wait to try - and have on good word is amazing - is Holm, from the team behind Salon and Levan in London - that will be my next spot. Otherwise, more towards Bath, I love what they do at Landrace which started as a sourdough bakery and now has a restaurant upstairs too which is great. Finally I'd say Castle Farm in Medford, just outside Bath. An understated little place but really amazing food, a cool supper club that sells out so far in advance, and the chef makes the best curries!

Hannah thank you so much, it's been lovely chatting to you. Can't wait for all our subscribers to try your amazing food and hear your story. Very keen to try some of these restaurant tips in the South West too...

We're excited to partner with Hannah for the third instalment of our Seasonal Wine Subscription - a passionate, seasonal chef who highlights the best of British.

You can order our Seasonal Wine Subscription from now, and sample Hannah's cooking via the two recipes in the box. Each recipe is paired with a wine in the case.

 

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