May 4th, 2022 Rooting for Real Farms

Rooting for Real Farms: Romy Gill and James Hull (The Story Pig)

Top chef Romy Gill was a judge on Master Chef so knows the benefits of cooking with high welfare pork sourced from farmers like James Hull. James’s herd of rare breed Tamworth pigs at The Story Pig, are free range so can wallow, run, graze and root just like their wild ancestors. James says, “Everyone should eat better meat and find out where it’s from so we definitely turn our noses up to factory farming!“

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Romy Gill grew up in West Bengal in India where her mother taught her how to prepare and cook Bengali dishes using traditional recipes and freshly ground spices, each one cooked over the exactly the right heat to release their flavours. Since moving to the UK in 1993 she has developed her own Anglo-Indian cuisine, often creating dishes using ingredients that are not available in India such as monkfish marinated in turmeric, and gurnard in coconut milk.

‘If you are an immigrant you take your heritage, you take your culture, you take your food, you take your language and you share that. As chefs we are always learning.’

When cooking pork for us, Romy used her favourite blend of fresh spices that give such vibrant flavour to her dishes. Known as Panch Phoron (five spices) cumin, fenugreek, brown mustard seeds, fennel and nigella seeds, these spices are usually roasted whole in oil or ghee before they are used in dishes such as curries, dhals, or pickles.

From 2013 until 2019 she ran her restaurant Romy’s Kitchen, first from her own house in Thornbury 14 miles outside Bristol then to another premises nearby. The restaurant was recommended in the Michelin Guide and reviews praised the informal surroundings, the sourcing of local ingredients and the creative, inspired dishes on the menu.

‘When I had the restaurant everything was local and very much seasonal. I wanted to give the customers a bit of my home, back to my roots, the way I grew up in India, the way my parents would cook.’

Ironically, it was her battle to open the restaurant that led to her to fame and success. For many months she couldn’t find a bank that would give her a loan until eventually NatWest decided to back her and she was featured later that year in a BBC News report about how entrepreneurial ideas were being squashed through lack of financial support.

This made her a media star overnight and she was awarded an MBE in 2016, appearing that year as a guest judge on Celebrity Master Chef in 2016, cooking alongside the Hairy Bikers and appearing in Ready Steady Cook.

She is the author of Zaika – Vegan Recipes from India, and regularly contributes to national and international publications, including The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. She was invited to speak at the 2018 MAD symposium in Copenhagen with presentations from chefs, farmers, academics, thinkers, and artists, then in February 2020 she was invited to cook for a teaching event at the James Beard Foundation in New York.

‘In India we don’t eat meat every day. When I was a child I ate mostly plant-based food. I want to show people you can cook with vegetables and it can taste much better than meat.’

‘The book is also in memory of my mum who passed away five months ago. The recipes are mostly dishes my parents would cook. So its quite an emotional book, in a beautiful way.’

Her next book On The Himalayan Trail: Recipes and Stories from Kashmir to Ladakh was published in Spring 2022. Kashmiri cuisine is influenced by Moghul, Persian, Afghan and Central Asian styles of cooking. Because of the conflict it is increasingly difficult to access Kashmir and Romy believes it’s more important than ever to share and preserve Kashmir’s distinctive traditional methods of cooking.

James Hull and Charlotte rear Tamworth pigs on their farm near Sherbourne in Dorset on open, green fields where the pigs can wallow, dig and exercise to their hearts’ content. The ancestry of Tamworths goes back to the original forest pigs that roamed in herds of ninety or more around England after the ice age. They have distinctive red coats that, along with a thick layer of fat, keep them warm and protect them from overheating in the summer.

‘We started in 2016 with two pigs, and now we’ve got over 350. Demand is outstripping supply at the moment.’

The word is spreading throughout the local area about the exceptional taste and magnificent fat covering of Story Pig’s outdoor, free range pork. Already the famous five star hotel The Newt is taking whole carcasses, and the Durslade Farm Shop, owned by the iconic Bruton gallery Hauser and Wirth, is selling products made from James Hull’s Tamworths.

Tamworth pigs thrive outdoors in wide spaces such as on the Hebrides where they eat bracken, which is toxic to most other animals, or on Knepp Estate where they range across hundreds of acres of re-wilded fields and woodlands. They produce meat marbled with fat that gives it the taste and texture that chefs crave along with the deep flavour that comes from a varied, foraged diet and from the muscles that have developed after a lifetime of rooting, playing and wallowing on spacious fields.

‘After trying lots of different breeds when we first started it was the Tamworth we stuck with because the flavour shines through.’

The Tamworth breed became world famous in 1998 when the Tamworth Two, Butch and her brother Sundance escaped from a lorry taking them to the abattoir. The news of their escape quickly went viral and soon more than 100 journalists from international media were following the story while the pigs were on the run, with both the journalists and the pigs hiding out in the woods and sneaking into peoples’ gardens.

Eventually they were recaptured and lived out the rest of their long lives at the Rare Breeds Centre courtesy of the Daily Mail which had done very well from running the story. Butch died aged 13 and Sundance a year later, which is a normal lifespan for a pig compared to the 6-7 months they would have lived for if they hadn’t escaped and become international celebrities.

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