Romy Gill, head chef, Romy's Kitchen, Bristol

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th September 2014

Romy Gill opened her own restaurant, Romy's Kitchen, back in September last year. Since she is also the head chef of the restaurant, this makes her the first female Indian chef owner in the UK, a title she is proud of.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Romy wants to use her ambition for food to take her further in the industry. Born in Burnpur, West Bengal, near Calcutta, she developed her passion for cooking shortly after emigrating to the UK. Romy felt that she was “pining for proper home cooking” after she moved, and decided to get more involved in catering. Starting with dinner parties with friends, hosting cookery classes, and eventually starting her own range of chutneys, sauces, pickles and spice mixes.

Off the Menu                                                          Starters: Paneer marinated in ginger, garlic, cream, dried fenugreek leaves and 5 spice mix.                                                                            Mains: Rogan Josh- Kashmiri Style Boneless British lamb cooked with saffron, yoghurt, ginger powder, and spices. Signature Dishes: Chicken in Pomegranate Paste-Chicken cooked with fresh pomegranate, desiccated coconut, white poppy seeds, Nigella seeds, Spices.                                                                                                            Top 5 Ingredients                                                Indian 5 spice mix                                               Onions                                                 Gloucestershire Milk                                               Red Kashmiri Chillis                                          Rapeseed oil

It's nearly been a year since opening Romy's Kitchen, how has it been for you as an experience?

Well, both being the first female Indian chef owner in the UK and opening my own restaurant has actually been quite daunting and quite challenging because with opening your own restaurant, you have to do so much hard work, but I am always up for a challenge. I have found though since starting the venture that other chefs appreciate what I do and helps me along the way. I find with any chefs that have been in the industry a long time, any advice they give you, you have to take on board.

I find it surprising that you are the first ever female Indian chef-owner in the country, how has that been for you?

It's interesting because I did not actually know until a journalist came to my restaurant and told me that I was actually the first female Indian chef owner, he said that I should be very proud of myself. I'm not going to stop there though, I am aiming to get my first Michelin star too!

Where did you work professionally before opening Romy's Kitchen?

I worked in a lot of different kitchens and I started my business from my own home, doing event catering, going to quite large cookery schools when they invited me to do sessions, and then I went on to do more restaurants, and started working in kitchens all over. I've been to New York, Abu Dhabi and India to cook.

Could you tell us a bit about what you have on the menu at the moment?

Mungbean
Mungbean

The menu at Romy's is not a curry house menu; we are not a curry house, and you will never find a menu quite like ours in any curry house in the country. The menu is influenced from my own upbringing, and also by feedback given from customers and visitors to my restaurant, something which I take very seriously.

I also keep in mind children, as I like to keep the restaurant family friendly, I want to be able to welcome all people from every generation to my restaurant. If you take a look at our menu, you will see that you will not find most of the dishes on any other curry house menu in the country, each dish is unique.

You famously advocate replacing ghee butter with rapeseed oil in your dishes; why is this?

Tandoori Chicken
Tandoori Chicken

Yes, growing up in India my parents would use a lot of mustard oil, which is quite similar to rapeseed oil; its low in cholesterol, lets the flavours come out, and I find that it's just a better alternative.

Could you tell us a bit about your chicken in pomegranate paste dish, where did you get the inspiration from?

That was for my daughters really. I was just preparing food in my own kitchen for my daughters, and I was just tearing some chicken apart when one of my daughters, who love pomegranate, suggested I combine the two. My friend from Iran said that that was a good idea, and suggested using pomegranate molasses. So what I usually do for that dish is I shred the chicken, similar to how you would for a roast dinner, I then get fresh pomegranates and grind them into a paste. I've found it to be very popular as it appeals to all ages, particularly to children.

What local ingredients do you use? Have you built good relationships with your local suppliers?

Crabcakes
Crabcakes

Absolutely, I knew my butcher from the chef's forum, and he always supplied me with great quality meat; the fish I get from Devon and the also the Thornbury Castle hotel; they are really helpful to me as they get their fish in and I collect it from them, so I don't have to be up at half past five to receive the order.

Also the vegetables, no matter what I want they will try and get it for me. Even if it’s quite a niche Indian ingredient, they will try their best to source it for me. I also use milk and yoghurt from a local supplier in Gloucestershire. Once you have tasted it, you will never want anything else. It’s just that good! You have to have a good supplier relationship in order to be successful.

How has your Indian upbringing and heritage influenced your cooking?

I was very lucky in my upbringing. My parents are from northern India and my dad worked in a steel plant in east India, so people from all over India often visited us, which brought many different cooking styles into our house. I am grateful to my mum and dad for introducing me to different kinds of food from around the country, rather than only foods native to the Punjabi state. I am really proud of my heritage, and all of my culinary knowledge is really down to my parents.

Romy Gill
Romy Gill

Why do you think Indian dishes are so popular in this country?

I think in recent years people have generally become a bit more adventurous with their food, with there being more media coverage related to food like on television, and people are also a bit more well-travelled; they are more willing to try different things. I am seeing quite a wide range of people come into my restaurant, even 80/90-year-old customers are coming to try my food. Years ago English food was very straight forward, however I think more people are getting used to different flavours and tastes, we also have a great multi-cultural community in this country which allows people to experience different foods. Personally my restaurant is not about being a normal curry house though, it’s about different Indian-influenced flavours.

Do you find it a challenge using British ingredients to cook Indian cuisine?

Aubergine
Aubergine

Not really, you can get all the same or similar ingredients, for example, butternut squash; the English and Indian variations look different, but they essentially taste the same. I am always trying out new ideas with different ingredients, sometimes it does work and sometimes it doesn’t. I always test out new dishes on my customers to for feedback. It’s not going to make me any poorer to give them a bit extra to try, and it gives me a good idea of weather the dish works.

All photography by Kirstie Young.

Words by James Euinton.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th September 2014

Romy Gill, head chef, Romy's Kitchen, Bristol