Julius Robert's cuisine is simple and down-to-earth. In winter there are hearty meals such as soups and stews, spring is full of fresh flavors, followed by light summer cuisine made from home-grown ingredients to autumnal feel-good cuisine. Everything that the land around Dorset in the southwest of England has to offer. In his cookbook “On Cooking and Living in the Country” there are not only over 100 recipes, Roberts also talks about the tough everyday life on the farm. The English press already sees him as a new Jamie Oliver. Stern spoke to him about why he would always choose farm life and what his four pigs have taught him.
Mr. Roberts, your life as a farmer began with four hairy pigs. What made you decide to leave the city, give up your job as a chef and settle in the country?
I cooked in a restaurant in London for two and a half years. The work was inspiring and intense, the hours brutal. I quickly realized that this wasn't a permanent lifestyle for me. Then I noticed our suppliers who came to our restaurant every day with their products. Their boxes were full of tomatoes, artichokes, one had a whole lamb on his shoulder. The fish was still bent stiff because it had been freshly caught the night before. It was their stories that inspired me to become a farmer too. And her looks! (laughs)
What did the men look like?
Healthy, tanned from life outside. Her life seemed very beautiful to me. Not like mine, I was a sick, gray cook who had to drink ten cups of coffee a day - just to survive. And then I suddenly thought, I want to be one of them too.
Have you ever regretted becoming a farmer?
I love it. I could talk to you for hours about my animals, my sheep, goats and chickens and my farming methods. It's a hard life, but my heart is full. Maybe I wouldn't start again in winter...
Because it was too cold?
Because you can't grow anything. The ground is too hard to dig up vegetables.
Why did you get pigs and not start with chickens, for example?
Chickens are way too easy, and everyone keeps chickens. In London we processed Mangalitzas, this ancient breed of pig that is truly amazing. And that's how my journey began. The pigs taught me so much, they were a wonderful way to start this new life.
What did you learn from the pigs?
That they are not only intelligent, but also individuals. Each animal has its own character, its own preferences. One pig could be playful, the other funny. They say dogs look up at you, cats look down at you, but a pig looks you straight in the eyes.
That sounds poetic.
They are my soulmates. I gave them all my attention, took care of them. At the same time, I was sad because I knew that they would end up at the butcher at some point.
Has this changed your attitude towards meat consumption?
Yes, huge. The experience of taking the animals to the slaughterhouse was very hard for me. I now question meat consumption. We should care more about the animals we eat and ensure they have the best possible life. Because then we spend a lot of time thinking about death. Death is hard. We should be aware of this and therefore we should eat less meat. Less is more. Quality not quantity. When you care for an animal the way I do, it's a much slower process. They eat much better food. There are fewer of them in a larger area, and they are part of nature. This means they are more expensive. And because it's getting more expensive, we're eating less of them. And when we eat less, we save so we can buy better meat. And then the animals have a better life.
Can you imagine becoming a vegetarian?
I eat mostly vegetarian, but I don't see anything wrong with eating meat as long as it's done respectfully and in moderation. It is much more important to me that people eat good meat than to live a completely vegetarian life. It's easier to get people to eat less meat than to get them to stop eating meat altogether.
You wrote a cookbook that's all about the season. What is so important to you about it?
There are two things I learned in the restaurant world. The first is the quality of the ingredients. If you buy a tomato in the supermarket now, it will taste terrible - compared to a tomato in the summer. The winter tomato has no taste, it consists only of water. While a summer tomato is full of flavor, it was able to grow with the warmth and sun. A winter tomato also requires a lot of energy to ripen - and in comparison it still costs too little. To me, seasonality means that we eat food in its best state. This is healthier and also better for the environment. Another aspect is clever seasoning. With salt, pepper, herbs and spices you can get the most out of a food.
Do you have an example of this?
Burrata, for example. First you try a piece of it. Pure. Then you try the next piece with a really good, flaky salt on it, and suddenly it will taste different. The difference is huge. Then a new piece with a little more salt and a few drops of lemon juice. The acid rounds off the fat, the salt enhances the taste. Then you take some olive oil and you have this other dimension. Finally some basil. Burrata is actually a simple thing, if you season it right, it tastes fantastic. Seasoning doesn't just mean pouring salt on food.
Is there a food you're craving now in the winter?
Oh yes, anyone who eats seasonally like me will know this. For example, I won't touch tomatoes until June next year. That's a long time, I can't wait. Then I'm really excited: asparagus, zucchini, peas, broad beans. The season is pretty short, but I make the most of the window.
In your book you write about how winter is particularly hard for you as a farmer. What are the challenges?
It is very cold. It's very wet. It's very miserable. The days are very short. You spend a lot of time in the dark, which is quite difficult. And my animals need a lot of help this time of year. I spend a lot of time feeding them, making sure they are warm. It's so cold at the moment that the water troughs are frozen. So we have to thaw the water. All animals are pregnant. I help animals survive. Winter is harsh.
Nothing grows in the fields either. What do you eat this time of year?
I often make really dark green soups with chicken broth and pureed spinach and kale. I love that. I eat that a lot now. What else? Chocolate mousse. My secret vice. I always need a piece of chocolate.
Probably very few people in Germany or Great Britain eat seasonally. When I go to the supermarket today, I still find blueberries and strawberries. What do you think of it?
We've come so far away. The season affects my whole day, my whole life, what jobs I do, what I eat. Most people only notice the seasons by what jacket they wear or whether they leave the house with an umbrella. This is a very sad thing. I'm obviously very privileged to be able to live like this, but a lot of people aren't interested in it at all.
Is it because of consumer convenience?
Of course it's convenient if I can buy everything in the supermarket around the clock. But if you want to live in a healthy world, you have to change a few things. This is not so hard. When we see the labels in the supermarkets and the products come from Kenya or Mexico, for example, we know that they have come a long way and used a lot of resources to be in our store. While black cabbage is grown in this country and tastes delicious.
If you had to describe country life in one word, what would it be?
Do you have a favorite dish?
I love eggs. My chickens lay five, sometimes ten, eggs every day. When I've been traveling for weeks, the first thing I eat is a piece of really good toast from the local bakery, with lots of butter and an egg on top. This is a simple but very beautiful dish that I associate with my home.
Many people are already comparing you to Jamie Oliver? Curse or blessing?
I feel pretty honored. Jamie Oliver is a legend. He did amazing things in England, like banishing junk food from school canteens. And he pushed through the introduction of a sugar tax so that children don't eat so much sugar. He's a good guy who worked really hard. I've watched his TV shows all the time and would love to follow in his footsteps to improve the way people eat today just like he did.
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