Romy Gill
Romy Gill

SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) – Romy Gill, owner of the popular UK restaurant Romy’s Kitchen, has been honored with the Order of the British Empire for being the first Indian chef in the UK to both own her own restaurant and run the kitchen.

The award is given to those with “a significant achievement or outstanding service to the community,” and sees her join the likes of Jamie Oliver, Paul Heathcote, and Clare Smyth. This year she shares the honor with rockstar Rod Stewart, astronaut Tim Peake, and Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton.

She received a letter from the Queen weeks before she opened it, thinking it was just another bill, having no idea that inside the envelope was the news she’d be knighted by the Queen of England.

“For a woman [chef] to get the award!” she said. “I don’t think for a minute I ever thought that this was going to happen to me.”

Romy’s Kitchen serves modernized West Bengali dishes to the people of Thornbury, and every day, people file in and order the crowd-pleasing chicken makhani until it sells out. Gill spends countless hours each day preparing the dish, and several more hours over the fryer preparing pieces of fish for amritsari gurnard, a spicy fried fish that comes with fermented beets and pickled onions. And there’s no doubt that she employs some of the best chefs to cook in her (likely) spotless kitchen along with carrying out regular food safety audits to ensure that her customers get to relish healthy and hygienic meals, returning with a full belly and a happy heart.

Gill’s mission? She just wants to cook food that makes you feel good – and it may not be the same way her mother cooked for her, but who’s to tell her that her matar paneer isn’t real?

“How my mom would cook a dish versus how another person’s mom would cook something is completely different,” she said.

Gill's Chile-Paneer Roll
Gill’s Chile-Paneer Roll

Growing up, Gill capitalized on any chance she could find to eat at a friends house. Born to Punjabi parents in Bengal, the food in her house growing up was very much centric to the traditions of Northern India.

“Any excuse I had, I’d go to my friends place to eat, and then go home and eat, too,” she said.

She flocked to England 22 years ago with the dreams of opening her own restaurant, and was faced with a harsh reality: The scene was predominately run by men, and the Indian food wasn’t that great. With her own motivation, and a little help from her friends and family, she set out to change the precedent.

Though she possessed no formal training, Gill began seeking out local chefs asking if she could cook in their kitchen for free. She approached cooking schools in the area and asked if she could come teach students how to prepare Indian food. Gill eventually opened a catering company, in 2013, the doors of her restaurant opened.

Gill's amritsari gurnard.
Gill’s amritsari gurnard.

“I think I’d still be at home, without a restaurant, if I never stopped asking,” Gill said. “You have to be passionate about something and really believe in it to make it happen, especially when you’re self-taught.”

“If I’ve given a little bit of hope to other women who have been wanting to dohat I did from scratch,” she says, “I think my work is done.”