Rebecca Williamson went to Holmsted Manor in the West Sussex countryside of England to train for humanitarian work, not knowing that 10 years later, she’d have her own line of chutneys named after the manor. Today, this Le Cordon Bleu graduate has built Holmsted Fines chutneys — in green tomato, peach, balsamic red onion and apple jalapeno flavors — to have a national and soon-to-be international presence. After a lot of perseverance, patience and a humanitarian bent that gives her perspective and motivation, Rebecca’s brand is thriving with Holmsted Fines recently being named one of Southern Living‘s 2017 Best Southern Made Products. We are delighted to introduce today’s FACE of Birmingham, Rebecca Williamson!
Where did you grow up and, if not from Birmingham, what brought you here?
I grew up in Dalton, Georgia, and after graduating Auburn University, I moved to Birmingham since I had family here, because my father is from Birmingham.
Tell us a bit about your professional journey. How did Holmsted Fines come about?
After working in Birmingham, I had the desire to get out and try something new. I ended up at Holmsted Manor in England to do a training course for humanitarian work through the organization called Youth With A Mission. I fell in love with England and especially London, and decided to pursue a culinary degree at Le Cordon Bleu in London, hoping that I could intertwine my passion for food and humanitarian work. But it was not until a little over a decade later that I created Holmsted Fines, after years of making green tomato chutney for friends, because I could not find it in the U.S. and it had been a staple in my refrigerator in England for years. I knew how versatile chutney was, and I knew that once people tried it, they too would always keep it on hand.
Why chutneys? For those of us who might not be as familiar with chutney and its uses, let us in on the brilliance of this humble condiment.
Chutneys are way more versatile than other condiments. It can go super savory on meat, cheeses and vegetables, but our peach chutney can be used with cookie recipes, cheese cake and even in a cocktail. Proper chutneys are low in sugar and mainly fruit-based, making them healthy condiments to put with everything.
What is your favorite chutney recipe?
Using chutneys in dressings is my favorite way to use them, because I am prone to eat a lot of vegetable dishes and mixing the different types of chutneys into the dressing is the best.
What is a way of using chutney that people might shy away from, but that is delicious and worth trying?
A cocktail! On our website, we have an amazing recipe called “The Jacque.” It has bourbon and ginger beer, and it will make you rethink chutney altogether!
What advice would you give women who want to begin their own business or develop a brand as you have done?
I would tell them that success does not come overnight, and they need to be willing to put in a lot of hours and set small goals to reach and achieve them step by step.
Tell us about your Committed to Give initiative and why it is important to you.
After my experience doing humanitarian work, I knew that I had to keep that component in my professional life as well. When things get hard, and they often are, I refocus my perspective and think about those less fortunate who I am helping with each jar of chutney sold. International Justice Mission (IJM), which aims to rescue human-trafficking victims and stop human trafficking around the world, has been a big focus for me, and I have been involved with them on several different levels. What they are doing is truly amazing and life-changing for so many people. I will be participating in Dressember for the month of December. I will dress every day to raise awareness and raise money to combat human trafficking. Thousands of women across the U.S. and abroad will be participating and raising awareness and money for IJM. It really is an amazing group!
And more recently, I started getting involved in No Kid Hungry campaign, which focuses on stopping childhood hunger in the U.S. As a mother of three, I am heartbroken about the numbers of children in the U.S. who are affected by hunger. I plan to get involved in the organization on a deeper level than just financial, because teaching people how to cook and how to cook healthy will impact families across the U.S. in such a positive way. Our products were also created so that busy moms and dads could put together a healthy meal by adding one condiment, chutney, to an easily cooked chicken, pork, beef or fish and have a healthy and flavorful meal.
What is most challenging about your job?
Teaching people to try and experiment with chutney, since it is a newer condiment for so many people. So building a base of chutney users has been challenging. Although, chutney is not a new condiment — it has actually been recorded as the oldest condiment!
What is most rewarding?
Seeing people try something new and love it, and buy it again and find new ways to use and cook with it. And therefore, knowing that with each new sell, I am able to contribute to ending human trafficking and childhood hunger.
What’s on the horizon for you and Holmsted Fines?
With our fourth flavor, apple jalapeno, out this summer, I will be expanding into the restaurant service industry and starting to export chutney abroad.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Slow down and enjoy life and family. As a small business owner and mother of three, I am constantly on the go, and I wish I had developed the attitude of taking one day at a time at a younger age.
What are your three must-have style staples?
A cross-body purse, leather jacket and a cozy, oversized sweater
What are you most proud of?
I am proud that I am still moving along. There have been many days where I am just so overwhelmed, wanting to quit and having lots of setbacks, but I have not allowed them to stop me.
What is your favorite thing about Birmingham?
I love that Birmingham has become such a great foodie city, and the diversity is growing here day by day!
How do you like to spend your free time?
I like to run, read and practice yoga. I’m trying to cultivate a calmer, more patient person.
Any guilty pleasures?
Macaroon with a good cup of coffee
Favorite local eatery?
What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I have dyslexia, but I have not allowed it to stop me from pursuing my dreams.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions from others in your industry, because their good and bad experiences will be so valuable. And I ask a LOT of questions.
Aside from faith, family and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Bread, cheese and kombucha!
Thank you, Rebecca! Learn more about Holmsted Fines and purchase your own chutneys at holmstedfines.com.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for today’s beautiful photography of Rebecca.