Meet The Maker: With Lauren Heath Of Dining Devon

Hi Lauren, can you tell us a bit more about Dining Devon?

Dining Devon is a blog covering all things food and drink, such as foodie events, overnight stays, and local produce in Devon. The blog was founded in 2011 by Chris Gower, and originally named Eating Exeter.

At the beginning of 2016, Chris gave a Twitter shout-out for another team member, as the opportunities for the blog were growing.

I had never written professionally for anything before, but while writing a blog post about a meal I had enjoyed at the beginning of that year, I found it came naturally, and have never looked back.

I quickly became co-editor, and we revised our name to Dining Devon. Then, about 3 years ago, Sue Stoneman joined as a blogger – giving us a well-rounded team with varying food, drink, and writing experience.

I manage most of the social media and content creation now, and it can be all-consuming at times… but it’s my passion!

We’re proud to have won a LUXlife Award for the blog in both 2019 and 2020, and we had the opportunity to chat with BBC Radio Devon about it last year.

Can you tell us a bit more about you? 

I have done every role from cleaning, to cooking, serving behind the bar, organising events, and more. Hospitality, food, and customer service are all in my blood!

I started my career in the hospitality industry during my teens, by taking part-time roles in pubs. Through this, I met my husband, who is a chef. We progressed to live-in roles, culminating in managing an 11 bedroom hotel in my early twenties.

We chose to leave it at that point and settle down. My husband is still a chef, but thankfully no longer doing unsociable hours.

I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a 3-year stint writing reviews for Crumbs Magazine Devon, and I’ve been a South West hospitality judge for various awards bodies for the last few years – so I get to try my fair share of venues!

By day, I work full-time for an ed-tech company, so do all the blog stuff in my spare time.

Devon food and drink is a huge part of my and my husband’s lives, and now part of my 10-year-old son’s life too. In particular, he’s passionate about seafood, seaweed, and unusual pasta!

Do you have any favourite dishes? 

I love all types of dishes, but I most like to be fed hearty and flavoursome food. My desert island dish would be a Beef Wellington!

And I had the most wonderful lamb dish from The Dartmoor Shepherd at The Angel – Taste of Devon restaurant in Dartmouth. You could taste the quality and earthiness of the land that their well-reared meat is grazed on.

What are you passionate about? 

I have met many hospitality business owners and producers over the years, and their hard work and dedication is inspiring – it makes me passionate about sharing their stories.

This past year in particular, I have been on a Devon Wine Mission – creating an online vineyard map and directory.

It turns out there are no less than 22 vineyards in Devon… who knew?! I may have tried a few of them along the way. It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it!

A positive side of the pandemic is that many of these family-owned businesses have been forced to become more visible online, which benefits us as customers. I highly recommend volunteering for the vineyards’ harvest times in September and October too, when you can enjoy a sociable day out with food and drink in return for your efforts. 

Which other local restaurants do you like to eat out at? 

The blog takes me all over the county, so it’s hard to pick a favourite, and we don’t often get to make a repeat visit. There are so many great places, just not enough time!

I love finding simple venues with wonderful views – Shoreline is a great example. There, you can enjoy a delicious handmade pizza with your family in a comfortable and unfussy environment with a panoramic view. All for a great price.

I’d also recommend The Bear and Blacksmith near Kingsbridge for their hyper-local ethos – they have their own fishing boats and farm! They offer a mix of pub classics and gastropub dishes, which should satisfy any group of diners.

And I love The Pig at Combe. I’ve been to various events, as well as their normal dining experience, and with their kitchen garden, 25-mile menu ethos, plus slick service, it’s perfect for all occasions.

One venue I’m looking forward to seeing is Michael Caines’ new eatery in Exmouth – Mickeys Beach Bar and Cafe – which will be opening soon. It will be a more casual affair from the Michelin-starred chef, and it’s right on the beachfront, so will benefit from Exmouth’s amazing sunset views!

It’ll be interesting to see if the offering and pricing are right, but it could be fantastic!

When you’re not writing about food and drink, how do you like to spend your time?

We’re very outdoorsy, so love to explore every ounce of coastline that Devon has to offer – along with plenty of inland bits too, especially anywhere with a good forest and river.

Also, a hobby of mine since mid-2020 is sea swimming (yes, even in the winter!), and this has been great for my sanity.

I love finding nice coffee spots or farm shops on our travels too.

These are uneasy and uncertain times. How have you seen businesses respond to COVID-19? 

As soon as lockdown was announced last year, we were astounded by the entrepreneurial spirit of so many businesses.

Overnight, many switched to offering takeaways, and even pop-up local produce shops, so they could still operate and keep the local supply chain going.

We have enjoyed a variety of restaurant takeaways and meal-kits, and I think some businesses have found a new business model for the future – even if they just keep a slimmed-down version of it running alongside their normal dine-in service. 

For us, we upped our social media game once again, compiling round-up blog posts, and sharing Instagram Stories and highlights for people to find later.

How can we as a community support a local business?

Shout about great businesses on social media! It’s free to do and can make all the difference. Yes, social media is a really noisy place, but a few shares of some great coffee, cake, bit of fresh produce, or meal out, can go a long way.

And if you normally buy something at the supermarket, perhaps try your local farm shop for meat and vegetables next time?
Similarly, if you’re happy to pay a bit more for good quality produce, why not try a Devon wine too?

Lastly, what else would you like to say to those not in the industry? 

In terms of COVID-19, fingers crossed we are finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

Also, and I can’t say this enough, be kind! Hospitality businesses have been given rules to follow by the government, and we must be patient with them.

These business owners are not working every hour of the day just for the profit. It’s what they love, it’s their passion, and right now they are on their knees from being closed for so long.

However, it is we as customers who need to be responsible and follow the rules – dining out safely until we come through the other side of the pandemic. This will help keep the hospitality businesses intact and trading for the foreseeable future – not just the next
6 months.

Interview By Kelly Widley

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