Romy Gill is currently the chef in season. She's touted as the finest Indian chef in the UK, who has redefined delicious modern Indian food with contemporary, local, and sustainable British additions to classic dishes. She's also the first Indian woman to be awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II.
What’s more, she also makes her own range of chutneys, sauces, pickles, and spice mixes. Currently, she's working on her next book, On The Himalayan Trail, to be released in 2022. Here’s everything else this popular chef and author had to tell us.
How the pandemic changed it allThe pandemic has clearly changed what we eat, and how we cook. But Gill is a woman facing everything it has thrown our way, head on. "When we’re faced with a challenge, like we are now with this worldwide pandemic, it is all too easy to resign ourselves to feeling helpless,” she revealed during our conversation with her. “For the restaurant industry, it’s a truly challenging time. I have gone back to my roots and rediscovered local, seasonal, and sustainable produce. My work is now focused on writing, and a TV career. I had to change my attitude of working from home, to full-fledged working."
According to a recent survey, Market Recovery Monitor by CGA and AlixPartners, while many British pubs and bars have struggled during the pandemic, restaurants have been the worst hit. There are now 9.7 per cent fewer restaurants across Britain, and mid-market casual dining venues have decreased by 19.4 per cent. These statistics highlight a change that Gill has herself observed during the pandemic.
“People have started to cook more at home,” Gill says. “Many of those in the industry have had to change how they work, and what they offer, to ensure that they survive beyond lockdown. Some restaurants have turned to takeaways. There's a big shift.”
Breaking into the culinary world Gill’s journey as a chef has seen many ups and downs. As a Punjabi girl growing up in the small town of Burnpur, West Bengal, Gill learned how to cook from her mother. The food she cooks now is a true reflection of her origins, and utterly unique: She uses her knowledge of Indian spice profiles and the flavours of different Indian cuisines to transform locally sourced British produce, from fish to veggies, into dishes that are both modern Indian and modern British. But this isn’t the only aspect about Gill that highlights her entrepreneurial prowess.
After her move to the UK, Gill started out by hosting dinners and cooking classes. In September 2013, she finally got a loan to open up her restaurant, Romy’s Kitchen, in Thornbury, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. By 2016, Romy’s Kitchen and Gill herself were so popular that she was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. But her journey was anything but smooth.
“The restaurant business is highly dynamic,” she explains. “I was one the first few Indian women to open a restaurant in the UK. When I opened, I had to work harder as my restaurant was outside London. Hard work and determination led me to getting an MBE, TV shows, and now working on my second book.”
And what are her biggest takeaways from this journey? “I don't wait for opportunities,” she says. “I work hard and I keep going. Nothing has come my way easy, I have to work extra hard to be where I am today. I still keep working hard.”
Books, British television, and successFrom the BBC Good Food Show and Ready Steady Cook to Celebrity MasterChef and Food Network, Gill has given so many cooking demonstrations and TV appearances that she is pretty much known as the face of Indian food on British TV. Since she closed her restaurant in 2019, Gill has focused on these TV appearances and her writing. Her articles have appeared in leading publications from across the world. “I have been very grateful for all the opportunities that I receive. I always know I will have to work hundred times harder than anyone else. I won't get the same opportunity again,” Gill states.
In 2019, Gill published her first cookbook, Zaika: Vegan Recipes from India. Now, she’s working on her next book, which is slated for release in 2022. “I am a traveller and a food writer,” Gill explains. “I visit countries, meet the people, eat their food, and share their stories. Himalayan Trail is my love affair with old Bollywood films.”
Gill’s ingredients for success are simple, but send a crucial message to all women aspiring to break into the culinary industry: “Nothing is impossible,” she says. “Life is full of ups and downs, and there will be people who will use you and move up a ladder. But never give up just because one person was nasty to you.”
This is important because even though the gender equation in professional kitchens has changed, there is still a long way to go. “World kitchens are still dominated by men,” Gill says. “Boys club will always exist. I am hoping this will change. I am changing, and so are many wonderful women chefs who are changing the faces of the kitchens. I still think it will take time. TV is still dominated by men. But change is inevitable and slow.”