It was around the end of September when we visited chef Lily Joan Roberts and got a glimpse into her world. Her passion for cooking started at an early age and especially her connection with nature is remarkable. Today, she’s running the kitchen at Bar d’Henri in Antwerp and has her own catering firm called Relish. We’d like to introduce you to a very special lady.
Lowno: When did this passion for cooking and creating start?
Lily: Hmm, must have been in my mother’s womb. (laughs)
My entire family is passionately into cooking. My grandparents have a small house in the south of France, in the middle of a nature reserve, so respect for the environment has been part of my upbringing for a long time.
Because of the limited access to stores or supermarkets, I quickly learned which products were available during the different seasons. Next to learning about food, I also gained knowledge about the power and medicinal application of herbs and plants. It greatly influenced the way I want to present my food.
Lowno: What else is important when dealing with flavours ?
Lily: For me, combining flavours is an incredible source of happiness, health and a way of connection with yourself and others around you. It’s the love triangle of your surroundings, the environment and your body which fascinates me so much. And it’s not just about making delicious food, but there’s so much more. It’s about what connects everyone in the world in their own unique way.
Lowno: You did a foreign internship at “BocaValdivia” (Ecuador). How was that experience?
Lily: I deliberately did not take chef training because I didn’t want to be bound by rules. I’d rather learn and absorb through experience. In BocaValdivia, situated at the coast but also right on the edge of the jungle, it was a daily mission to head out and create dishes with products we found in nature.
It was a very educational experience since it meant cooking at a very high level, but with recognisable and everyday ingredients. I was triggered by that daily improvisation. The typical Haute Cuisine scared me because I’m not one to do the same thing over and over again.
Lowno: What are your daily activities at Relish?
Lily: Catering, but only when a story can be told. I love co-ops and prefer working on a personal level. You’ll never find the same menu twice when I’m in charge.
I worked with a lady in Versailles for example. We created the menu in such a way that, throughout the courses, the story of how they met, unfolded. I like including emotion and nostalgia as an ingredient into my dishes and I feel people appreciate that.
On the other hand, I also organize my own events, each with its own pronounced theme. Usually, I devise a menu based on my own drawings. I make these during my nature walks and based on those illustrations, I create a 4 or 5 course meal.
You can find me in Bar d’Henri, a plant based vegan restaurant situated “op ‘t Zuid” in Antwerp. I originally was brought in as a consultant and the idea was to train someone for the first three months and then leave the project. But now, a year and a half has passed and I’m co-manager and running the kitchen.
I’m glad that outside of my daily assignments, I can still focus on my personal projects. As I said earlier, I’m not made to stay locked up between four walls. The events provide enough variety so that I can continue in Bar d’Henri with new inspiration.
Lowno: How do you pair your dishes with beverages?
Lily: I really like cooperating with a bartender to come up with cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages. It’s very interesting to go back and forth with flavours and see how they can be an addition to the dishes. Fermentation is something I’m fascinated by and I like experimenting with kefir and kombucha. I even have a small laboratory at home with bottles full of home brewed concoctions.
My favourite combination at the moment is kombucha with ginger, lemon grass and vervain. The spicy touches with the refreshing citrus are a perfect mix.
I often make flavoured waters with herbs and tea, to subtly introduce the flavours. Sometimes I also add fermented juice to add some intensity. Just recently I made a great recipe of fermented forest fruits, lime and mint.
It’s important your cocktail doesn’t overpower the dish and remains a supporting element. And it’s also interesting to introduce a cocktail as an intermittent dish or to introduce your next dish with a liquid link.
Lowno: Do you drink alcohol?
Lily: Haha, not really no. Only for some occasions. I don’t like being drunk, although being tipsy once in a while can be quite fun. When I’m out dancing I really like feeling the music and the best way to do that is without alcohol. I also like being able to remember everything the day after! (laughs)
Lowno: What do you expect from alcohol-free cocktails?
Lily: Actually, something has really changed since you let me try Seedlip two years ago. True alcohol-free cocktails add an extra layer of complexity, something a fruity mocktail can’t do. It really changed my perception. Fermented beverages can also provide that dept.
Lowno: So where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Lily: I’ve got a binder full of ideas and future projects, but for now, it’s important I keep doing what feels right.
Lowno: We’re very curious. Thank you for your time and good luck!