Romy Gill became the first ever female Indian chef and restaurant owner in the UK, renowned for creating dishes inspired by her West Bengali heritage with a nod to British influence.
As we head into celebrating Diwali from the 24th October this year, we gain insight with Romy on why food holds a special place during the festivities and sharing her experiences of being a cook.
We’ve also teamed up with Romy Gill on creating a variety of decadent recipes that she would cook up during Diwali over on our Recipes, Tips and Blogs Page. From delicious savoury dishes such as the traditional Moong Bean Dal to sweet treats including the tantalizing good Orange and Cocoa Cake…you wouldn’t want to read these on an empty stomach!
We’re celebrating Diwali from 24th October this year, why does the festival hold a special place to you and the food that is associated with it?
Diwali has always held a very special place in my life. As a child, we didn’t have phones and other gadgets we’re used to now, they were a form of entertainment as well as times of religious significance. I also loved Diwali as a child for another reason: making miniature mud houses, known as gharonda, and decorating them. On the eve of Diwali we would make these gharonda with mud bricks, plastering them with mud, and, once dry, we would decorate them with idols of gods and goddesses. The finishing touches would be divyas and khilone: edible sugar sweets crafted into the shape of animals, which were one of the biggest highlights of the festival for us as children.
During Diwali, what is your favourite dish to enjoy?
My mum used to make so many sweet dishes for Diwali. My favourites were jalebi– deep-fried flour-based snacks coated in sugar syrup – and besan burfi, which is essentially a gram flour fudge flavoured with cardamom.
You became the first ever female Indian chef and restaurant owner in the UK, is this something you want to raise more awareness of for upcoming female chefs from different heritage backgrounds?
I wanted to share the food that I grew up eating. If you want anything in your life, never give up, find a way that you will be able to achieve. Supporting your family is very important. One thing I have always said is that if you help someone with whole heart, you’ll feel positive about yourself and that’s better than expecting the help back.. Find a mentor who will help and guide you in hospitality.
Within your cooking you like to combine your heritage with British influence, why so?
As a Punjabi born in West Bengal, I grew up in a family where the emphasis was on education and respecting others – and living in an India that was not divided, we celebrated the festivals of all different religions. Since moving to the UK and opening my restaurant, for me it was always about supporting the local producers and cooking and combining the produce from here. Opening a restaurant and learning from other chefs is very important. I have had such good advice from many chefs and food writers.
What are the top 3 things you can’t live without in the kitchen?
- Good knives
- A good store cupboard full of ingredients
- Maldon Salt!
When taking a break from cooking, what are your favourite things to do?
I love running, walking with my friends and reading.
Your current favourite cooking book?
My favourite books at the moment is Notes from Small Kitchen Island by Debora Robertson and Cooking by Jeremy Lee.
What is one piece of advice would you give to someone learning to cook?
Cooking is all about learning. Learning about food from different cultures is a way of connecting with others. Food has the power of sharing. Understand the spices what each does to the food, mind and body.
Still Want to Learn More About Diwali?
Browse around our blog to understand what Diwali is, from the reason behind the ‘Festival of Lights’ and the food that is typically enjoyed and loved by many around the world.
Wishing you an abundance of joy, health and happiness this Diwali, from the Maldon Salt Team.