James Whetlor first got into goat-minding when he needed to deal with an overgrown backyard. The goats were a form of “land management”. At the time, he was a chef at the River Cottage in Dorset, and a few of the goats ended up on the menu. Noticing how popular the goat was, James sought to explore this niche in the market. He founded his store Cabrito and he hasn’t looked back.
James also recognised there was a serious issue in the dairy goat industry where the billy goats were being euthanised at birth. To cut down this waste, he works with farmers to raise the billy goats and sell them to the restaurant trade and the wider public.
James pioneered the Goatober movement in the UK and Europe in 2016. He was inspired by Erin Fairbanks and Anne Saxelby at Heritage Foods USA in Brooklyn who started the annual celebration of goat in 2011 as they also wanted to end the practice of euthanising young male goats that the dairy industry had no use for. The Goatober campaign aims to put a goat dish on restaurant menus and to encourage people to try cooking goat at home themselves, for all or part of October.
The Dorset-based chef recently won a James Beard Award for his book, Goat: Cooking and Eating. He is in Trinidad for the launch of GoatoberTT which takes place today (Wednesday 26) and will also lead several teaching and cooking events. We managed to get this interview with him, exclusively for Propa Eats.
How surprised were you to hear of the interest in Goatober in Trinidad and Tobago?
JW: We have had such a great response to the idea wherever we have gone that for it to turn up in T&T didn’t surprise me as much as it delighted me! I’m so thrilled that a food culture that prizes goat and has its own history and skills with it is keen to get involved. It feels like it gives credibility to the Goatober project.
You are set to come here to teach and get to understand the industry here but what are you looking forward to the most?
JW: I hope to learn as much as I teach! Food and cooking, goat in particular of course, is what I do and I am looking forward to taking some ideas home, especially the famous roti!
In the time since you started your goat quest what’s been your biggest lesson?
JW: Hmmm, good question. There have been so many. From the learning about the farming side to running a small business and importance of things like cash flow, to the history of humans and goats that I go into in the book, Goat: Cooking and Eating. In growing Goatober I think the biggest lesson is not to feel ownership of the idea and let people who are enthusiastic pick it up and run with it.
Where has Goatober taken you? And where do you expect to go next?
JW: All over the place! I was in Australia back in late February. I’ve done a bit of work in France, The Netherlands and Belgium as we try to change the goat dairy farming industry in Europe. I have done events in Ireland, Italy, Spain and we have made connections in the US and work with Heritage Food who are based in Brooklyn, so I’ve been out there a few times. I am busy!
Tell us about your involvement in Farm Africa.
JW: Farm Africa has been working in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia for over 20 years, and has worked with over 11,000 women. The project requires that each recipient of the ‘goat package’ must pass on three goats to another woman once their herd has grown, turning the recipients of the goats into ambassadors for the system. It has had a transformative effect on the health of the population, the environment and the culture of the area. I love the project. It shows just how amazing goats are.
What would you say to people who doubt the potential of goat?
JW: Look around the world at all the amazing cuisines that have goat as a central ingredient. Obviously the Caribbean, but India, China, Central America, Southern USA, Central Africa. That a big chunk of the globe and a lot of people! Goat plays a central role in so many fantastic dishes it is impossible to doubt it.
Thank you James, we hope you enjoy your time in Trinidad.
JW: You’re welcome, I’m very excited!
By Franka Philip