Emily Raven from My Kingdom For A Horse. Image supplied.

Adaptability and resilience are key for anyone in hospitality—as Emily Raven, chef and owner of Adelaide’s My Kingdom for a Horse, knows all too well. By Rachel Smith

Take a quirky name, delicious local produce and a chef dedicated to making sure every customer gets their eggs just how they like them— and you’ve got success on a plate. And for Emily Raven from My Kingdom for a Horse, everything from planning menus to winning awards is decidedly a team effort.

Congratulations on winning three Restaurant & Catering awards this year—for Best Breakfast, Best Café Dining and Best Apprentice Chef of the Year! What do awards mean to you personally?

If you’d asked me that five or six years ago, it probably would’ve been a bit more about me and my ego! But now it’s recognition of what my team and I have achieved together. I’m like the conductor of the orchestra—I’ve brought this community of people together that are really good at what they do and love what they do, and I’m proud of that. Plus, you’re nothing without your front of house manager and your head chef and even your apprentices. 

How did you decide to name the business My Kingdom for a Horse?

It’s a quote from Shakespeare’s Richard III. Richard’s horse is killed on the battlefield and he laments, ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!’ He lost the battle; he couldn’t escape because he was disabled and he needed his horse to get away. But the quote is also a metaphor for a missed opportunity in modern life. For me, I had another business, and I won my first Restaurant and Catering award back in 2001. But I left the industry for a while, I did hospitality teaching and other things—and although people asked me to start a business with them, I wasn’t ready. So naming the cafe, that is my nod to those missed opportunities. This was ‘my kingdom for a horse’ moment. The name is also a bit kooky and memorable!

Inside the award-winning cafe.

How has My Kingdom for a Horse evolved over the years?

When I wrote the business plan back in 2014, I wanted to create an inner-city micro roastery and cafe in Adelaide, inspired by my years living in Melbourne. It was a mission getting council approval, but the business turned five this year! Ultimately, I wanted a cafe that had a casual atmosphere but that brought restaurant-style service and food quality—and we do that. We have an eat-in, 120-seat restaurant, an espresso bar we opened in June and a coffee subscription too. We also do weddings, parties… anything! 

What do you think sets you apart in Adelaide’s thriving food scene?

I think it’s the combination of all the things that we do, as well as giving customers choice, consistency and quality food. South Australia is a bit of a food bowl and we have access to amazing produce. I also think our location and our size helps, and the fact that we have quite a unique look—and we’re family-friendly, too. 

Your menu is mouth-watering. Is there a dish you can’t take off the menu in case there’d be riots?

The eggs benedict is one of them! And our version of Shakshuka eggs is another. The recipe came from an Israeli friend of mine and we slowly developed this dish—it’s incredibly popular; the sauce alone takes three days to cook. We’re also famous for our big falafel bowls with sauerkraut and pickled vegetables, and we do beautiful salads, pastas, crab cakes. We’re not reinventing the wheel, it’s just very tasty, honest food. 

How involved are you in menu creation?

I work with the other chefs in the kitchen on menus, but I take input from all our staff, whether they’re in the kitchen or front of house. It’s a joint effort and once I’m happy with the dish we get it portion-controlled, weighed and photographed. Then, as the financial controller, I hold everyone accountable [for getting it right]! That’s the fun bit.  

You obviously have a big passion for what you do…

I am somebody who likes solving problems—and in hospitality you need to be very adaptable. It’s hugely rewarding, working with people who see hospitality as a career, and also having the opportunity to mentor people. I also love the flexibility and the fact that I work for myself—if I want to take time off, I can, I just have to plan around it. 

What’s coming up for you in 2021?

We’re doing some rebranding and making storage changes in the kitchen, as the sort of food that people expect on the plate changes. I think customers are becoming more educated; they ask more questions about provenance of food, they want to know more, so everybody needs to care about that—from the chefs who write the menu to the front of house staff. And while it might be a bit delayed due to COVID, I’d really love to open another Kingdom in the future.