No kiddin': why eating goat is a baa-rilliant idea
It’s not quite midday and Nadia Stokes from Gourmet Goat has already turned away half a dozen customers. We’re in Borough Market on a cold spring day and she’s busy keeping the kid goat koftes turning on the grill, and conjuring up the Cypriot-influenced salads that have seen this small street food stand win multiple awards.
Wed 12 Apr 2017
“It’s about cooking village food, honest food,” explains co-founder Nadia. “It’s about cooking what I grew up with in Cyprus.”
What she grew up eating was lots of goat – a low cholesterol, low fat meat that’s loved around the Med but still massively misunderstood in the UK.
“The UK’s an immature market when it comes to goat and rose veal,” she says. “It’s incredibly versatile and ethically produced, but most people don’t know how to cook it.
Nadia’s grandmother, who is a big influence on Gourmet Goat’s home-cooked and honest ethos, used to cook entire goats in her clay oven in her garden. It was big enough to walk in and piles of wood used to heat it slowly over the course of the day. Trays of goat meat laden with rosemary and herbs from the mountains would go in for hours. Seasonal food, made with love, was at the heart of the family and the community, and that’s the approach Gourmet Goat carry on with.
“My grandmother passed away shortly before we did this. We are trying to preserve the food memories; everything I learnt from her and my love of cooking with her. Not so much the recipes per se but using goat and not wasting things.”
Male veal calves live the same length as time as free range lambs and Gourmet Goat only work with ethical farms.
Gourmet Goat use mature halloumi as a veggie option. "Real halloumi doesn't squeak," says Nadia.
Kid goat is essentially a by-product of the dairy industry and often deemed to be waste. Baby billy goats are often slaughtered at birth. Gourmet Goat work with ethical British farmers who rear them free range instead.
“We work with a select few dairy farmers who care about their herds. They care for the male goats as much as the dairy producing goats and raise them in an ethical and caring environment – it’s about addressing balance and we’re doing it in a traditional Mediterranean way,” she explains.
In Gourmet Goat’s hands, kid goat is rich and full of flavour – it’s more complex than lamb when cooked right and works brilliantly with oregano, thyme and lemon.
Gourmet Goat also cook with rose veal, another healthy meat that is ethically produced but misunderstood by most consumers.
“It’s not like the 80s with that awful footage of male calves in crates,” Nadia says. “Veal calves are another by-product of the dairy industry and they do go to waste. We use rose veal, which means the calves have been ethically raised and lived lives as long as most lambs. There’s no reason not to eat it if you eat lamb.”
After I’ve finished chatting to Nadia I wander off with a slow cooked rose veal wrap that is possibly the best thing I’ve bought at Borough Market for quite some time. It’s rich and soft, the flavour enhanced by Nadia’s homemade barbeque sauce and a million times more delightful than its cousin, the sloppy pulled pork.
It’s about addressing balance and we’re doing it in a traditional Mediterranean way
Having launched in 2014, Gourmet Goat nearly didn’t make it. There were times when the husband and wife team, who had given up successful careers in sensible professions like law, wondered what on earth they were doing. They catered every kind of event and every kind of festival in all weathers. They believed in their food, their story and their suppliers and hung on in there.
“We were so naïve when we launched, we just thought if we make great, ethical food, people will love it immediately,” says Nadia with a wry smile. “We didn’t know what the hell we were doing and we used to feel heartbroken when straight forward street food with no soul was selling elsewhere because what we’re cooking and selling is so personal to us.”
They could have made burgers. They could have changed their menu. They could have given up. But thank goodness they didn’t. Their following began to grow.
“At the time you just want to survive but our perseverance has paid off, I’m proud we stuck to our guns,” says Nadia.
The mighty rose veal wrap - so much better than pulled pork.
There's a lot more to kid goat than curry.
And now they really are going great guns. Nadia and Nick work the stall six days a week with help from one member of staff. They support their suppliers and other ethical companies and are constantly looking for ways to incorporate food that would otherwise be wasted into their seasonal menus.
“It’s about working in harmony with nature and working out what’s best for the land and not wasting anything. For example we use celery leaves in one of our salads, most people waste these but they’re so nutritious.”
Gourmet Goat have been so successful at Borough Market that they even moved to a less prominent spot so that they could concentrate on the quality of their food, rather than churning out wraps to the queues that would inevitably form round the corner. This hard-won popularity has seen Gourmet Goat pick up a whole range of awards (from Slow Food, BBC Good Food and many others), which have been life-changing for Nadia and Nick.
“Using goat and veal needs to be an ongoing discussion. The awards help shine a massive light on the issue,” she says. “While it’s far from being mainstream, people are curious about what we’re doing and we’re close to the point where people don’t ask about the meat, they just want to taste really good food.”
Building on this baa-rilliant momentum, Gourmet Goat will be opening a second venue in London this summer,
“Now we’ve got a really loyal following of people who love the food we want to do more in London and give back something to the city that’s supported us so much,” she explains. “It’s got to be in London as we’re really hands on and we want people to be eating goat and veal more regularly."