What motivated you to become vegetarian, and what led you to stop?
It was the early 90s – the advent of animal rights activists going undercover in factory farms – I saw a documentary uncovering the gruesome conditions at some of them and from then on I refused to eat meat. My mother was pretty good to accommodate my vegetarianism as at the time, with three children to feed and a tight budget, there was no room to be picky.
That same year, my dad took me rabbit hunting – I do wonder to this day of it was for the purpose of exorcising the vegetarian in me! I was animal mad and he enticed me by letting me handle the pack of ferrets, so I could see for myself where my food came from and how it was treated. I was then comfortable eating meat again – on these terms – and ate the rabbits we hunted, but I still refused to eat shop bought meat. I’d only eat it what I had seen had lived a nice life. I suppose that food ethos has stuck with me.
Other than during your vegetarian years, has game always featured on your plate?
My father started out as a scrap metal merchant, so we always had the local farmers in our yard. They’d trade a sack of potatoes and a brace or two of pheasants for a scrap part for their tractor. I guess until my vegetarianism, I’d never really considered what type of animal I was eating – I think we have all been guilty of this. Game became a feature in my own kitchen when I became a single parent in my mid-twenties and started clay pigeon shooting. I had a shotgun and a small parcel of land with pigeons and rabbits, so I learned how to harvest and prepare wild game. A shotgun shell cost me 25p and my neighbour grew veg, so I was able to make really wholesome meals for myself and my son for very little.
These days, people are more concerned than ever about the ethical, environmental and health implications of what they eat. How does game stand up to this scrutiny?
Through my job as an environmental consultant to food manufacturers, I see first-hand the welfare and environmental impacts of intensive food production. This is one of my motivations to eat game, especially wild venison. Deer numbers are at an all-time high and their management is crucial to our ecosystem. Wild game is also much healthier than farmed meats, being lower in fat and higher in protein and essential vitamins and minerals.
Do you follow recipes to the letter or add your own variations?
I'm a busy working mum, and meal planning is not my strong point. I hate food waste so often make meals using leftovers – it’s made for some pretty interesting dishes. I’ve also learnt to be creative when I can’t find all the ingredients required by a recipe. I’ve made recipes simple, so the main focus is the game meat, and they can easily be adapted.
What would be your number one piece of advice to anyone wanting to improve their culinary skills?
I highly recommend a game butchery course. I’m doing one with José Souto in London. I’m a big believer in using the whole animal. I hate to see people merely breasting out birds or only using the best cut of venison. Some of my best dishes use the trimmings or offal.
What is your all-time favourite game dish?
Game surprisingly works really well with salad. I love creating new combinations with fresh fruit, such as figs and pears, and layering them on rested, rare-cooked game.
What feedback have you received about the book so far?
I’ve been amazed at the support from all corners of the globe – from the USA to Australia. The beauty of game is that it’s international: what works with our UK species of deer in the UK will also work with species in other countries.
What do you hope to achieve by launching a cookbook?
I heard that there is a surplus of game in the UK and at the same time read that we are importing chickens from Brazil. It didn’t make sense to me: I felt game was underappreciated and misunderstood. I wanted to bring it into a modern space and promote its ethical, environmental, social and health benefits. I'd also like to get more people thinking about what’s on their plates and how it got there.
Who is this cookbook aimed at?
Everyone: from seasoned hunters to people who have never seen a pheasant or deer. One thing I didn’t want to do was try to convince people to become hunters. The book includes a directory of where to buy game and have it delivered, wherever you live.
Which recipe took the most tweaking to perfect and why?
Probably the rabbit stew. It’s a very personal dish as it’s pretty much where it all began. My mum’s been such a great supporter and inspiration to me, and it was important to get as close as possible to how she made it. I wanted to retain the simplicity of my humble roots, but make it interesting enough for people to want to cook again.
There are a lot of cookbooks out there, what makes yours different?
Not that many are game cookbooks, and most of those have been written by professional chefs. Mine’s more raw and honest – it’s so much more than just a cookbook, and deals with ethical meat consumption, conservation, the environment and reducing waste, without being preachy.
Describe yourself in five words.
Passionate. Pioneering. Strong. Creative. Hungry (in both senses of the word!).
Tell us something interesting or surprising about you.
In 2016 I took part in a documentary for TLC with British glamour model and TV star Jodie Marsh, who is a devout lifelong vegetarian and was vehemently opposed to hunting. I managed to change her mind and she became a vocal supporter of my field-to-fork lifestyle.
Game & Gatherings, £30