Movers and shakers: Tim Wilson

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A farmer from Levisham on the North Yorkshire moors, Wilson might seem an improbable inclusion in a list like this. But he‘s been a distinctive and influential London presence since the early days of Borough Market, when foodies converged on his Ginger Pig stall to buy pork from rare-breed Gloucester Old Spot and copper-coated Tamworth pigs. The shop in Moxon Street followed when the Howard de Walden Estate, which owns most of Marylebone, decided it wanted a traditional butcher in its ersatz urban village. Wilson was named Best Producer by Observer Food Monthly earlier this year and supplies many of London‘s best restaurants, including the River Café and the recently opened steakhouse Hawksmoor, which serves 28-day-aged beef from his longhorn cattle.

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  • Time Out What’s the secret of your success?

    I really don’t know. I think I was in the right place at the right time, to be honest. I was rearing all these old-fashioned animals and having to kill them and find a market for the meat, and London turned out to be that market. But what we did we did well. Before we had this shop, I remember restaurants ringing me up and asking for two sirloins and I would drive down from North Yorkshire with them at 10pm, then drive back home again. Madness.

    Do other farmers up in Yorkshire respect what you do, or is there a feeling that you’re just producing fancy food for southerners?

    When I first told my local bank manager that I wanted to open a shop in London he said, ‘That’s a bit of a daft idea.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Well, you’re a farmer in Yorkshire.’ So we switched to a London bank who knew nothing about farming but lots about retail! Being in control of the market has made the business work. More and more farmers are coming round to it. A friend of mine is about to start selling his own milk. He’s going to buy some old milk floats and bottling equipment. Even the head of Waitrose has said that milk is too cheap. If we’re not careful, in five years’ time all our milk will be imported. Forcing down the price of everything means farmers can’t compete, and that’s when all the bad practices come in. We have 1,000 pigs, 3,000 sheep and 400 cattle. To look after them properly it takes 3,000 acres. The first rule of farming always used to be ‘one cow, one acre’. We stick to that.

    Do you think people are less ignorant about food now than they were, say, five years ago?

    Definitely. When we first opened it was difficult persuading people to buy shoulders of pork and lamb. We’ve worked hard to educate people. But my big idea for this shop still hasn’t worked. I wanted to have a big glass-fronted cold room and two butchers’ blocks, like I had in my farm shop. There, if you wanted a pork chop, you’d ask and the butcher would dress it and cut it for you. But I realised I needed counters so people could actually see the cuts of meat. We’ve lost the knowledge of what to ask for, though it’s coming back.

    Where do you go from here?

    We’ve now got three farms in Yorkshire and we’ve just taken a 25-year lease on a Duchy farm. What we haven’t got yet is an abattoir, so we’ll have one put in there in a situation where customers can come and see it. How animals are killed is part of eating meat. If you want to eat meat, you should understand the whole concept.

    What about another London shop?

    We’re looking at opening one in a place with more families. We could open two or three shops in London and they wouldn’t impinge on each other. In Yorkshire I have to drive 12 miles to buy a pint of milk. But people come in here asking for something and I’ll say, ‘We haven’t got it here, but we have in Borough Market.’ They’ll say, ‘Oh, we never go down there, we’ve never been there.’ And yet they’ve lived here all their lives! The Ginger Pig, Borough Market, SE1; and 8-10 Moxon St, W1 (020 7935 7788).

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