Chef and Restaurateur Romy Gill of Romy’s Kitchen was born and brought up in West Bengal; “In a very small town Burnpur Steel Plant of IISCO township,” as she says. The food is she serves at Romy’s Kitchen tells a lot about her journey on how she grew up eating in a Punjabi family and Bengal.
In tête-à-tête with Restaurant India, Head Chef and Owner of Romy's Kitchen, Romy Gill shares about her struggles and how did she overcome the challenges as a woman restaurateur in the UK.
About Romy Gill's Culinary Journey
On the train journey from Burnpur to Punjab, my mom used to make food to be carried; we didn’t fly during those times. I relish those memories, the food I grew up eating. I moved to the UK at the age of 22; I was excited. But after a week, I started missing my family and friends and even food that I grew up eating. My husband saw a kind of stress and anxiety I had. I am very much British but I am an Indian. I have two traditions, but I always look back to my roots where I grew up.
How Romy’s Kitchen was Born
I started my journey from my kitchen and, hence, the name Romy’s Kitchen. Previously, I started with catering and doing the sources and stuff from my kitchen.
Opening in a small town Thornbury in England was my decision because I wanted to be with my daughters as they were very young then. So when I had the courage and found the right place to open the restaurant, I went ahead. When I found the right place, the planners didn’t give me planning. It took three and a half years, and it took nine months to finish it actually.
Being a woman and a brown person and being someone who has never worked in the industry, banks would not give me loans. There were three different things that came against me but we fought. Even, I sold the jewellery which my parents had gifted me. Not many husbands would support neither many women would take the risk but for me, I believed and still believe life had amazing opportunities. When one door is closed the other gets opened. You should never be afraid of asking people for support. You never know what they are going to say. Opening a restaurant gave me a lot of opportunities.
Bestsellers at Romy’s Kitchen
My favourite ingredient is panchphoran and tamarind. We poach the Octopus, marinate with tamarind and cook with panchphoran. It is one of the bestsellers at our restaurant.
Romy Gill on Getting an MBE
Whatever comes to you is according to your ability. It was my selfishness that I worked on myself. I wanted to be selfish within me. Back then I never knew what an MBE was and I never thought about it. When I got a letter from the Queen that I am receiving an MBE, my daughters were more excited. It happened because of the efforts of my team. Without a team you are nothing. The experience of a first Indian woman to open a restaurant in Britain and the first Indian woman chef to get an MBE proves anyone can do it if they have passion and supportive people.
Secret Recipe to Entrepreneurial Success
I don’t want to be anybody else. I want to be me. I think about my customers and how the food will taste. I make my staff taste the food before it goes to the customers’ tables. All my staff is British, because it’s where I am, in a very small town. I want to train people who want to work with me. I am not one of those people who would just crusade for a women-only staff.
What I am today is because of my husband and daughters. He is my backbone and helps me with everything. You had to have a person who really believes in you and my husband did. Besides, I am also a very strong-minded person. I don’t care what anyone else says. I do what I want, but not negatively.
It’s not about my food is better than yours. I love working with male chefs because they never say I am better than you. They might say among themselves but they really respect you as a chef. I find hard working with women as they have that tendency to say ‘I am better than you’, though not all women say so. Most of the times women don’t help each other; they are the worst enemies of each other.
Take on Modern Indian Food
My food is very traditional. If I am doing an Octopus or a Crab dish, it doesn’t mean that I am forgetting my roots. It’s just creating something. Indian spices are wonderful. We are so lucky to be in the country. Young generation should understand. Like one should eat flaxseed (alsi) only for two months and in winter. You should never take it in summer. Understand the spices and ingredients before you use them.