AFTER studying fine art, Claire never expected to own a successful vegetarian restaurant in Ilminster. But she always seemed to end up in catering and now loves running her own business, F.east.

Claire Wellman, 43, Owner of F.east in Ilminster, began her career cooking in Brighton and Bath, while studying for her fine art degree, at first to pay her way through university.

She explained: “I’ve only ever cooked professionally in vegetarian places. In Brighton, I cooked in Terre A Terre. At the time, they were just in a bus station and it was just a café – nothing like it is now. Terre A Terre is amazing now.

“It was all a complete accident really because I was just working there while I was at university doing fine art painting.

“I then left Brighton and moved to Bath to finish my degree and I worked for Rachel Demuth and she had Demuths at the time. Then I stayed there and managed the restaurant for three more years and ended up doing a bit of cooking. I learnt most of my cooking skills from Demuths.”

Claire then worked for The Railway Café at Lopenhead, where she started as a gardener and then ended up cooking when the railway carriage opened as a café.

In September 2008, Claire decided to open her own restaurant in Ilminster. She found a property on East Street and decided to name her business after its location, so Food East Street became F.east.

Somerset County Gazette:

World Food

Claire explained: “F.east is all about good food. Vegetarian dishes used to have a bad press, but lately, vegetarianism has become really popular. When I opened up in Ilminster people thought it would never work – but now I have proved everyone wrong.

“My ethos has always been that I am just cooking good food, that is also meat free. You don’t have to have meat in a meal for it to taste delicious.

“My menu focuses on world foods – I have travelled a lot over the years, to Sri lanka, Mexico and so on. When I worked for Rachael that’s what she did, so we would run the restaurant while she went off travelling.

“When I started travelling, I realised that this was the best way to find new dishes – street food and that is amazing.”

Two years ago, Claire had to move premises and so went to look at a building in Rose Mills Industrial Estate, just off the main roundabout into Ilminster – and she fell in love with it. Once she had walked up those stairs, Claire knew that Mill House was the right place for the new F.east.

Somerset County Gazette:

New premises - Rose Mills Industrial Estate 

“This place is fantastic. It has lots of quirks, I mean you do come up a long track” Claire added. “But it is great here – we now have 70 seats, so it has expanded a lot.

“Since I’ve been here, a lot of other places have opened up. It has become a quirky and artisan type of place.

“It is so busy here now too. Yesterday, we had a few guys from Uruguay – we get people from all over the world because of the roundabout, its halfway if people are going to London.

“When I was at the old place, I tried to not mention that it was vegetarian but now I will tell anyone – as the whole food movement has changed. Now, 99% of our meals can be made vegan.”

At F.east they can cater for all dietary requirements and now have a qualified nutritionist who works at the restaurant too – so they can help find the right dish for any dietary sensitivities.

Claire’s favourite dish is the Courgetti dish with raw courgettes, raw pesto, salsa verde and slow roast tomatoes with cress and cashew nuts. She also loves the warm salad and the Malaysian coconut noodle dish.

Another popular choice at F.east is the Mexican Quesadillas, made with refried beans, spices and cheese (vegan cheese can be used as well).

Claire explained: “I love using herbs and toasted seeds. That is massive in vegetarian cooking.

“We get our herbs and flowers and so on from Manor Farm at Thornfalcon. I shop elsewhere as well to grab what I need.”

Somerset County Gazette:

Healthy cakes - for those with a sweet tooth 

Claire and her team make all the cakes in house too – from superfood brownies to low sugar cakes. Superfood brownies are a great option for a sweet tooth, but without all the sugars. They are made from dates, nuts, goji berries all blended with raw cocoa.

Claire added: “It is a tough game working in catering, it’s very busy, but it is great fun.”

To find out more, visit their Facebook page @feastmillhouse.