In celebration of Gourmet Goat’s success at the BBC Food and Farming best street food award 2016, Borough Market blogger Ed Smith talks to co-founder Nadia Stokes
I first met Nadia and Nick Stokes on a grey, wet day in 2014 in Borough Market’s Winchester Walk car park, as they were preparing slow-cooked kid goat to go in pitta or alongside wheatberry salad boxes.
Roll forward 18 months or so, and whilst in some ways everything remains the same (the weather, the goat), in fact, a great deal has changed—not least the fact that their food is now award-winning. Indeed I was delighted last night when their business, Gourmet Goat, was named best street food at the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards.
Nick and Nadia were, on that first meeting, a slightly nervous-looking couple undergoing a taste test for a pitch as a Borough Market hot food vendor. The husband and wife team had both recently traded their jobs (as teacher and City lawyer respectively) for a shot at doing something they could be passionate about.
After they’d fed the Market team, Nick popped into the Cannon & Cannon warehouse unit and offered up some leftovers. I still vividly remember my first forkful of rich, tangy, juicy, goat meat, a cooling tsatsiki and a remarkable, flavourful, warm wheatberry salad, with salty, sweet and sour pops of capers and tomato—the kind of taste only achieved when love is a core ingredient. I also remember thinking that if they weren’t trading soon, then the tasting panel doesn’t know their apples from their pears.
Of course the panel did (does)… and soon Gourmet Goat was up and running: originally in a spot outside Brindisa on Stoney Street, then in The Green Market with the many other hot food traders, and now in a shiny unit on Rochester Walk.
Slow cooked meat
Queue up and you can choose from slow cooked kid goat meat or kid goat kofta wrapped in Greek pitta; kofta served with the aforementioned wheatberry salad, tsatsiki and other seasonal vegetables; in winter, a kid goat stifado (stew) served with giant couscous and gratings of anari, a hard cheese made from the whey of haloumi; and, if you’re lucky enough to get there before they run out, kid goat offal sausages. I suspect those sausages will be even harder to get your hands on after the Food Programme award show is aired this weekend.
“I’m really chuffed, actually,” said Nadia early this morning—tired after a night celebrating, but already back at their stand preparing for the day’s Market trading.
“Of course you hope people will like your food, but I didn’t really expect this sort of accolade. I guess I thought it would be too much of a stretch of people’s imagination for kid goat to be worthy of an award.”
In fact, the passion Nick and Nadia have for promoting ethically sourced kid goat meat is (I would guess) at the heart of why they won.
It’s interesting, I felt, that in these days of social media hyped, ‘dude’ and fashion-conscious street food, that the other two finalists chosen by the awards team also promote undervalued produce—a stall serving traditional pyclets in Derbyshire, and a champion of shellfish sourced from local, sustainable sources.
“It felt very well thought through”, says Nadia. “The other finalists are doing extraordinary things with local ingredients. They’re great people doing great things and we were proud to just be among them. Really, we just want to do kid goat justice—for many it’ll be their first taste of the meat.” She tells me.
By my reckoning, though, their food is worth seeking out because of the whole package: the accompaniments served alongside allow the goat to sing, but are delicious on their own accord too. “Yes, goat is the start but we do put a great deal of effort into the side dishes. Everything that we do has a certain sweetness, plus the sourness of lemon. These are flavours of my heritage and it’s something I enjoy personally with kid goat.”
Difficult and draining
From Borough Market car park to national awards in 18 months all sounds very easy doesn’t it? But I know from experience that running a street food business is a difficult, draining thing. Nadia agrees: “It’s very physical. It’s brutal setting up, running and taking down a street food stall. And of course then there are the days when it’s raining and snowing and that’s really tough. I think there was a lot of naivety at the start as to what it would entail and how people would react. We were confident and had support of family. But I didn’t realise how personal the food was until I served it. I remember the first customer—a woman—and how anxious I was as I waited for her reaction. It’s still the same now. Generally, customers really like it, and I love the interaction we have as street food sellers, the conversation and immediate response. But on the flip side, there’s always the possibility that people don’t even want to try it, let alone enjoy it!”
The thing is, 99 per cent of people do love it.
For me, Gourmet Goat’s hot food has been a revelation. I’ve said numerous times over the past year and a half that it’s one of my favourite street food options (and I eat a lot on the go…). So like Nadia, I’m really chuffed that the BBC Awards panel agree.
Do check them out.