Why this Yorkshire Foodie is Making Wild Meat More Accessible
Making eating wild meat more accessible, Mel Phipps has created a range of delicious ready meals using UK-sourced wild game
Mel was brought up just outside Barnard Castle and has always had an interest in food. ‘We were encouraged to cook as children and my mother wasn’t an amazing cook, but she was very much a housewife so our childhood was saturated with food preparation and how to nourish yourself. She was a very good role model like that,’ Mel recalls. Even after moving to London to live the corporate life, Mel continued to develop her passion for food, hosting dinner parties for her friends and exploring the more theatrical side of food and cooking.
But the countryside was calling Mel back, and after 13 years in London, she moved her family to North Yorkshire. ‘I think there is tissue memory for the countryside and when you become an adult it’s very easy to feel comfortable there. I couldn’t have imagined raising my children anywhere else, and we’re very fortunate that work commitments allowed us to choose where we wanted to live,’ she explains.
Although she loves cooking and experimenting with new recipes, Mel also understood the daily grind of producing good quality food for your family. Plus, a fundamental for Mel, is knowing where her food is sourced, particularly meat and fish. When she was presented with a pair of pheasant breasts to cook early last year, she had a light- bulb moment. Why isn’t it easier to eat locally-sourced wild meat at home? That’s where her business began.
Understanding cooking, taste and nutrition, but with an appreciation for culinary shortcuts, Mel launched Girl Gone Wild ready meals. ‘I feel I’ve been in a very fortunate position to be made aware of the existence of game. When you live in an urban area or have a cosmopolitan life these country proteins don’t cross your mind. It’s mind-boggling that we have let these systems roll on, generating all this meat, and haven’t really addressed the fact that it doesn’t get eaten more widely. I felt I had seen an opportunity and it was the right place at the right time. Once the idea had hooked me it was very difficult to ignore it,’ she says.
Girl Gone Wild offers classic dishes such as curries, meatballs and bolognese, but with a wild twist. Working with a kitchen team to develop the range of prepared meals, Mel has sourced the finest ingredients which complement the UK-sourced wild meats. ‘In the launch range we wanted to make sure there was a balance between venison and pheasant, but also ensure great flavour profiles. We have a really nice kick in the pheasant Keralan curry, and a lovely creamy tarragon pheasant which is absolutely delicious,’ Mel explains.
As well as venison sausages with onion and pancetta gravy, the range includes venison bolognese and venison, chilli and fennel meatballs with puttanesca sauce. ‘We tried to get the balance between easy comfort and something different, and I think if you look at the ready meal or prepared meal offerings [already out there], a lot of them follow very similar recipes. In my view, it’s more fun to branch out and try different flavour profiles and I think that’s what people are enjoying.
‘In terms of sourcing recipes, sometimes they come from my personal file and other times I have worked in collaboration with the chef in the kitchen who has developed recipes for me. They have gone through many testings to make sure they are very much to my idea of absolute perfection and we worked very closely on that,’ Mel adds.
Mel wanted to ensure all the wild meat she was using was UK-sourced. ‘The pheasant is from our game dealer in North Yorkshire who is excellent and very progressive. We source the venison from Dundee – it’s red wild Scottish venison and they are accredited to the highest degree possible. We have been careful to choose supply partners who do things the right way,’ she explains.
Mel is passionate about the health benefits of the pheasant and wild venison used in her dishes too. They are a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Better still, these animals come from the British countryside and are free-to-roam, meaning high animal welfare.
The meat used in every batch-cooked, hand-finished ready meal is slow-cooked and carefully seasoned for extra tenderness – and Mel was thrilled to received two Great Taste Awards earlier this year. ‘I got two stars for the venison meatballs, which, as a complete newbie I hadn’t really realised the value. It’s quite rare for a prepared meal to be awarded that and I’m absolutely delighted,’ she says. ‘The feedback is really strong and what I love is when people are sampling at various trade events or consumer fairs and they haven’t tried game before, they are really pleasantly surprised. For me that conversion is really special. The most important thing is getting the flavour and taste right because the mission will fail if the food isn’t delicious.’
Planning for the future, Mel is already looking to add to her range. ‘This season we will be adding two to three new recipes in similar format, in that they will be cook-at-home from frozen, because we like the flexibility they give to people,’ she says. ‘There are plans to go into a second allied category which I can’t say too much about just now, but the lucky thing with the brand name is that there is a lot of scope. We are hopeful and ambitious to move the brand, at the right time, into areas of the market that make sense for the brand’s ethics which are very much wild, UK- and responsibly-sourced food.’
Favourite ready meal in the range?
That’s impossible because there’s a different meal for every mood and day of the week. However, I would probably sit with the Great Taste Award meatballs, they’re pretty difficult to top.
A local bar or restaurant you’d recommend?
For the pure escapism and experience of being somewhere which does things really well, it would be a cocktail at the picturesque Middleton Lodge.
Food guilty pleasure?
Probably cured meat. I’m a real carnivore so to me there is a real experience in having a gin and tonic with friends over charcuterie.
Drink of choice?
It depends on the day of the week. On a Friday night I would say a margarita, but on Monday it would be another cup of decaf Yorkshire tea.
Best thing about Yorkshire?
The independence. It’s a landscape which is hard to beat elsewhere in the country, but it’s also the people with such a strong sense of community and it’s a very entrepreneurial, friendly and hard- working county.