Talking food with MasterChef finalist Marianne Lumb
MasterChef finalist Marianne Lumb began her classical training in restaurants, including the Michelin starred Gravetye Manor. From 2000 she worked as a private chef in the UK, Mediterranean, America and Australia, where she gained extensive knowledge of the local, seasonal food.
In September 2013, Marianne took the leap of faith and opened a 14 cover restaurant in Notting Hill with a team of three. The following month Marianne was crowned “London Restaurant Festival Chef of the Year 2013”. The team grew, and in 2014 “Restaurant Marianne” was the highest new entry in London at no. 48 in the Sunday Times Top 100, one of only two women head chefs in the top 50. In 2015 it was rated no. 19 on the same list. (no. 8 in the UK for service)
The restaurant continues to evolve, offering tasting menus that highlight the most beautiful, seasonal produce.
Luxury Lifestyle Magazine food editor Natasha Heard had the chance to sit down with Marianne and discuss her background, culinary philosophy and why she decided to open Marianne, reported to be London’s smallest fine dining eatery.
Marianne is one of the smallest fine dining restaurants in the UK, what challenges and advantages do you believe come from owning such a small restaurant?
There are certainly many upsides… the most important thing for me is that we can really keep an eye on the quality of everything. I love the fact that each and every customer gets attentive service. Also, my team is small and we are like a family really. Financially my start up costs are a lot less than other London restaurants obviously, so the risk was a lot less.
The downsides are that as a small restaurant you can be vulnerable very quickly… For instance if you have a member of staff off sick, in the early days this was traumatic. Now we have grown and we have procedures in place and a very committed team thank goodness. In a larger restaurant you wouldn’t be as vulnerable if you were short staffed. It is difficult to manage suppliers with minimum orders also – we are ordering daily for just 14 covers, but again we have learnt to work around this. My suppliers have been supportive to me. Storage and space is limited which is frustrating. We have to be incredibly organised. We would really like to make our own bread but we simply do not have the space at the moment. We are looking for ways around this though. Also, we simply cannot seat everyone we want too. Once, we had to turn away The Foo Fighters!! All in all I love having a small restaurant and the upsides by far outweigh the downsides.
How was it setting up with a team of just three staff?
It was really tough. If I’m honest I am still haunted by the first 18 months. They were wonderful, exhilarating but terrifying all at the same time. Had I not had an amazing support network like I do (my business partner and his team) and customers, we definitely wouldn’t still be open! I remember being so tired I could barely string a sentence together. It pushed me completely to my limit… really tested my tenacity. During the first three months I tore a muscle in my leg jogging and had to cook on crutches… not ideal!! Also, as I didn’t come straight from a restaurant, I didn’t have a team to bring with me, so that took time to happen and fall into place.
Did you always know you wanted to be a chef? Was there anything or anyone in particular that encouraged you to do so?
I always loved cooking, but it was never really an option as I was encouraged by my parents to do an academic degree. And also, women didn’t really become chefs 20 years ago, it was home economics or nutrition really. I spent a lot of my childhood cooking at home, but it was following a ski season in Austria that I fell in love with cooking, so I went back home and started peeling potatoes in a local restaurant.
At what point did you decide to open your own restaurant?
It was after a horse-riding accident when I broke my collarbone. For the first time in my life I couldn’t cook and was forced to take time out of the kitchen. I realised how much it meant to me and how much I had put into it. I had to open a restaurant – my cooking deserved it.
And how did you come up with concept?
It wasn’t always the plan to have a tiny restaurant. We found the site after looking at hundreds that were not right. It was the first site that felt right, and then the concept fell into place after that. It coincidentally fits in well with my private chef background.
What is your favourite dish to cook from your menu?
I have to say I never tire of our hand rolled truffled linguine… cheese, pasta and truffles, what’s not to like? If there is ever any left in the pan, it never goes to waste!
Have you found it hard being a woman in the food industry?
Yes and no. I think as a woman you can have a huge advantage as you stand out more… I do believe my cooking, as a woman, is different to men’s sometimes more robust and masculine flavours. Setting up a restaurant is tough. People only took me seriously when they knew I had a strong business partner! Who is male!
What advice would you give to any women looking to set up their own restaurant?
Talk to as many restaurateurs as possible. The London restaurant scene is very supportive. Make sure you have a strong, supportive business partner and ideally a strong team behind you (although this took time for me to develop). Try to avoid paying those ridiculous premiums on restaurant sites, as you never get that money back. Finally, I believe if you cook with passion, love and integrity at the right price, your restaurant will succeed and they will come!
Address: Marianne, 104a Chepstow Road, London W2 5QS / 020 3675 7750