As a chef, food writer and cookery teacher, Tim Maddams has an acute ethical conscience, which makes his views on shooting all the more poignant, says Marcus Janssen.
Almost four years ago, Michel Roux Senior encouraged us at Fieldsports to seek out chefs who go out of their way to give game and venison the prominence that they deserve. “We are in danger of forgetting where our food comes from,” he told me, as he prepared a delicious partridge dish in his kitchen at The Waterside Inn, using a brace of birds that Mike Barnes had shot only the day before.
Since that day, we have featured more than a dozen chefs, all of whom have one thing in common: like Michel, they too recognise and celebrate the inextricable link between shooting, stalking or fishing, and the food on our tables, and are willing to do so in the face of increasingly vociferous anti-fieldsports sentiment. And of all of the chefs we have ever featured, perhaps none have a more well-informed and pragmatic view on issues of the countryside than Tim Maddams who, having worked very closely with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, has an ethos that is governed by an acute ethical conscience.
Yes, he cooks and eats game because he recognises the depth of flavour it brings to the table, but he also openly encourages those who are opposed to country sports to think about where their food comes from and to perhaps see things in a different light.
“I am a hunter. I shoot woodpigeons, pheasants, ducks, geese, rabbits, deer and the occasional squirrel, rook or partridge,” he writes in Game: The River Cottage Handbook No. 15. “I am also a committed ethical foodie. For me, hunting is not at odds with my ethical approach – on the contrary, it is a very important element of it.” We know that such beliefs are widely held by those who live in the countryside, but to find them so honestly and openly conveyed to the wider public, as he has done in this book, is rare.
“I believe that shooting and preparing game fosters a deep regard for animals that, for the most part, is lacking in today’s food culture,” he continues. “We have founded several generations who have no idea where their meat comes from, or the conditions in which it is reared. Eating game is one way to re-establish this connection, because inherent in game cookery is an understanding of the simple facts of life and death. It’s a pretty unusual person who can gut, skin, prepare and cook a whole animal without developing a healthy respect for it and an understanding of where it comes from and what it’s worth, more so if you’ve hunted and killed the creature yourself.”
Although one doesn’t develop such a deep understanding of these issues without a great deal of exposure to the realities of the countryside, Tim describes his childhood as that of a townie. “I actually grew up in Warminster in Wiltshire,” he explains. “But I have always been fascinated by the natural world, so I spent as much of my spare time as possible exploring the surrounding woods, fields and farms, and I soon discovered fishing and shooting. I also used to go beating on partridge and pheasant shoots in Wiltshire as a youngster. I got to see some lovely countryside. I remember stealing apples from an orchard and thinking – this isn’t too bad!”
But Tim’s first love is food, and with a desire to forge a career in the culinary world he moved from Wiltshire to London where he trained under such culinary luminaries as Fergus Henderson, Alastair Little, Marco Pierre White and Mark Hix, before ending up as the head of the VIP catering team for the Ferrari F1 team in Europe.
“The first year I worked in F1, I loved it,” he explains. “I had fantastic ingredients at my disposal, the facilities were incredible, I went to some great parties, and I travelled all over Europe. I also only worked for 16 weeks of the year, so to a young chef it was an exciting time. But the F1 circuit is also insanely impactful on the environment – it’s all about glamour and consumerism, which didn’t sit brilliantly with me. Looking back, I guess it made me think about my own ethical conscience which, in hindsight, is something that grows and evolves as you become more aware of the world around you.”
And so, with a nagging feeling of unease with the corporate world, Tim started to yearn for a return to his country roots. “There’s always a girl, isn’t there,” he jokes. “And I’m no different. I followed a girl (now his wife) to Devon.” Although he didn’t have a job lined up, he knew that he needed a change in direction.
As it happened, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was looking for a sous chef for his newly opened River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, so Tim sent in his CV. “I had always been a massive fan of Hugh’s,” he continues. “Like so many people, I was charmed by the first Escape to River Cottage TV series and how honest it was.” Suffice to say, the interview went well and within six months of starting, Tim was promoted to the position of head chef. Three years after that, Tim and Hugh opened the next River Cottage Canteen in Plymouth together.
During his time as head chef, Tim pioneered ethical, local, seasonal produce and became a key spokesperson in the arena of responsibly-sourced food. He launched a successful media career, regularly co-featuring in the River Cottage TV series, writing for a variety of food publications and acting as a central contributor to the Fish Fight campaign.
“I learnt a great deal from Hugh,” he says. “He is unquestionably the most ethically challenging chef in the country. The Fish Fight made me really think about where our food comes from; such big issues are outside the remit of your average chef, so I hadn’t given it a great deal of thought, to be honest. I have always been keen on locally sourced ingredients, but viability and sustainability are equally important.”
Which is one of the reasons why Tim believes we should all be using more game in our kitchens at home. “Game represents a well-informed, compassionate, intelligent way of eating that is often lacking in our lives today,” he adds. “Preparing, cooking and eating wild meat is one way to forge a closer link with, and deeper understanding of, the food on our plates.”
In The River Cottage Handbook No. 15, Tim explains in his own words why he thinks game is in fact a more ethical alternative to many other forms of meat, and also happily acknowledges that he derives a great deal of enjoyment from shooting.
“I celebrate the fact that I can, and often do, provide the meat that goes on my table,” he writes. “And I enjoy hunting on many levels. There is a deep and refreshing appreciation of the world around me when I go shooting, and a feeling of pride that comes with the ability to dispatch a woodpigeon or pheasant cleanly and efficiently when the chance comes my way. There can be little doubt that the act of killing animals for food does satisfy an ancient and emotional need within the hunter.”
But, of course, he also recognises that there will always be those who vehemently oppose shooting, and whose views won’t be changed. “Ultimately, it’s about making a choice. Either you choose to believe that shooting is unnecessary, unfair, barbaric, and no longer an acceptable thing to do in today’s day and age, or you look at it for what it is. You must look at the facts and also consider where the rest of your meat comes from. Unfortunately, the complete nonsense peddled by anti-shooting groups and some of the media does make it very difficult for people to differentiate fact from fiction.
“People who do shoot need to stop being so reactionary. We need to be more thoughtful about how we make our arguments and we must respect other people’s views. It is through education, debate and discourse that we will change people’s views, not by badgering those who, through no fault of their own, haven’t had the exposure to the countryside that we have. We’ve all got to get along in this world, so we, too, must accept that we may need to change certain aspects of our sports. For instance, you can’t go on a 300-bird day and only take a brace of pheasants home and say you aren’t part of a problem. Even if your freezer is full of pheasants, give some to friends. Or whip the breasts and legs off and pop them into a plastic bag. And the shoots themselves can be a part of the solution, too – they can take some of the revenue they get from paying Guns and put it towards making better use of the pheasants and partridges. We all need to take a long-term view on things.”