Romy Gill became the UK’s first Indian female chef / restaurant owner when she opened her restaurant, Romy’s Kitchen, near her home in Thornbury, South Gloucestershire in September 2013. Romy also has her own line of Indian sauces, pickles, spice mixes and chutneys. She has recently been shortlisted for an Asian Women of Achievement Award. She lives with her husband and two daughters.
“…I think there is definitely a chef Romy who has adapted to the environment and has become a bit more macho in the kitchen. But I have a really good team and they understand that soft, kind Romy is still underneath…”
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up in India’s West Bengal and from a young age I would cook with my mum and aunties. My dad was a great cook too and I was introduced to lots of different recipes and styles of cooking from different regions of India.
I was still very passionate about cooking though and craved traditional Indian cuisine. Following the births of my daughters I was keen to get back in shape and took up running and loved experimenting with lots of different Indian recipes.
I began hosting dinner parties for friends, later running cookery classes, which led to me launching my own range of sauces, pickles, chutneys and spice mixes.
How did your family influence your cooking and entrepreneurial skills?
Indian families love getting together and when I was growing up I remember lots of big family parties that usually centred around food. I would watch my mum and aunties cook and took a real interest in the food and all the different flavours and spices they were using.
My mum and dad are also extremely hard working and I have always known that if I really wanted something, I needed to work hard for it. They are both really inspiring and supportive.
My husband has also been a huge support to me, especially with looking after our daughters when I have been working at the restaurant.
Congratulations on your new restaurant. Please can you tell us how it is all going?
I can’t say it has been easy, it has been a very difficult eight months, a long journey getting my business up a running. I feel like I haven’t seen a lot of my family but I am starting to see the impact of my work now.
I know people travel miles to eat in my restaurant and it is really rewarding when I speak to customers and hear how much they have enjoyed my cooking.
The culture in most commercial kitchens is male dominated. How have you coped in this environment?
I think there is definitely a chef Romy who has adapted to the environment and has become a bit more macho in the kitchen. But I have a really good team and they understand that soft, kind Romy is still underneath.
I also have a mentor too, Chef Manjit Gill, who is fantastic. He told me that if I want my food to taste good, I have to be positive because negativity will reflect in my food. It’s the best piece of advice I have been given and I have taken that advice into other areas of my life.
What have been the challenges so far as you’ve established the business?
I think getting my business established financially was quite a challenge and also finding the right staff. I have an amazing team now but it took time. It makes all the difference working with great people who you care about and who care about you.
What practical help would you like to see for female entrepreneurs?
I think more financial support for females setting up small businesses would be good. I also really value having a mentor. I think one of the most important things to do when you are setting up a business is to take advice from people who have already done it. I have taken lots of tips and advice from other chefs, even on little things like getting the cutlery right.
What has been the most rewarding part of your job?
Cooking for my customers and coming out and meeting them every night. It’s lovely to hear from my staff that they look forward to seeing me as well.
You have been shortlisted for an Asian Women of Achievement Award, you are one of five women listed in the inaugural Bristol and Bath Business Awards in the ‘Woman of the Year’ category, and you are nominated in three categories in the Bristol Good Food Awards – what does this mean to you?
It is very important to me to be recognised, but also it is important for my amazing team and my family and for all those people who have supported me. It’s lovely to hear that you are doing things right and people are enjoying your food.
You are a passionate advocate of a healthy approach to food, which you demonstrate through your supporting nutritional education in schools. Why is sharing your knowledge so important to you?
I go into some schools and the children have never seen a mango or think that it comes from the fridge. I think it’s so important for children to know where there food comes from and how to have a healthy diet.
You were recently invited to cook with celebrity chef Atul Kochhar at a charity event – how did it go?
It was a fantastic experience. There were about 20 chefs there and it was a great atmosphere. Atul actually praised me for the way I set up on the day. We were offered help, but I wanted to do it all myself. He said, “I salute you – you won’t let us do anything – that is a mark of a good chef”. It’s great to have that kind of respect from another chef, especially someone as successful as Atul.
What is your favourite dish to cook?
Spicy crab – it reminds me of growing up in Bengal.
What would you say is the secret to being a good cook? Do you have tips you could give us?
I think getting the ingredients right and in season is so important. And like Chef Manjit Gill advised me, “You need to be positive and happy when you cook, because it shows in what you produce.”
How do you maintain a sense of work life balance when you’re juggling shifts in the restaurant with family commitments?
It has been challenging trying to get the right balance, but I am lucky because my daughters’ school is close to the restaurant so they always come and see me after school at the restaurant and we have a couple of hours together. I also spend every Sunday with my family.
How do you like to unwind after a busy day in the kitchen?
If it’s late and I have been in the kitchen I usually come home and watch crappy TV and catch up on emails. In general, I find running a great way to unwind.
What is next for you and Romy’s Kitchen?
I am currently working on my first cookbook which I am very excited about! I am also cooking for the Director General of the BBC as part of BBC at Bristol Food Connections in May – it’s a free, family-friendly festival, featuring affordable, achievable and inspirational cooking demonstrations.
In terms of the restaurant, and as a small business, I am really pleased with what I have achieved so far, getting to the eight month mark and I just hope people continue to enjoy my food and that we can go from strength to strength.