Cook, farmer and gardener Julius Roberts answers the Random 19

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From city chef to Dorset farmer – meet the Instagram sensation who’s working to reconnect a modern audience with their food

Julius Roberts, at home in West Dorset

Julius Roberts is the newest farm-to-table chef on the block, having shot to social media fame as he documented a new life in the country. He studied sculpture in Brighton, and, as so many artists before him, he moved to London where he found it tough to make a living.
His grandmother had inspired his early fascination for food – she kept a detailed record of recipes, garden produce, hedgerow foraging and game from the local woods and fields. Knowing his love of food, Julius’ mother encouraged him to find work at a local café, which led him to a job as a chef at the then-new Noble Rot. ‘It was the biggest leap I’d ever made in my life,’ he told Tatler in 2022. ‘With no formal training, I went from washing dishes in a basic French bistro to cheffing in a busy restaurant. But I learnt so much, more than I ever could going to a cooking school.’
Julius looks back with positivity on the experience, but openly acknowledges that he didn’t enjoy the sheer pace of the frenetic restaurant kitchen, struggling to maintain a normal life through the long, lonely exhausting weeks. He left the restaurant in 2016 ‘pale and stressed to my core’, he told the Telegraph recently. ‘As fun as that job is, it is incredibly gruelling.’

All images: Elena Heatherwick

Back to the land
Even on a grim day, Julius’ tired brain couldn’t help but envy the people arriving at the kitchen door with their produce – the growers and suppliers looking healthy, relaxed and cheerful as they headed back to their outdoor life.
After he left Noble Rot, a chance conversation at a family-owned restaurant in Florence about the importance of the provenance of food, of farming and of the quality and welfare in our food chain led Julius to realise his need to connect with the land. He spent a year on a tiny budget, walking with his dog, foraging and enjoying the sheer freedom of a life lived on his own terms.
His first step to becoming a farmer was the spontaneous purchase of four pigs. ‘It was the middle of winter and I couldn’t grow veg,’ he says. ‘Chickens felt too easy … so I bought some pigs.’
His friends pushed him to record the London-boy-turned-man-of-the-land life on Instagram, and he swiftly began to build a following as his rare breed mangalitza piglets (Snap, Crackle, Pop and Albie) featured alongside his vegetable growing – and were soon followed by 17 goats, ‘sold to me by this wheeler-dealer farmer’, he says. ‘I had no idea what I was doing. I made a lot of mistakes. It’s like being a parent to 30 animals – it’s cold and snowing and you’re in charge of a baby that’s just been born.’
When Julius’ parents relocated from Suffolk to a Dorset farmhouse with 50 acres in 2022, he and his animals came too. He now has about 80 sheep as well as the flock of goats, a large vegetable patch – and more than half a million Instagram followers (with another 400,000 on TikTok). Last year he starred in his first TV series on Channel 5 ‘A Taste of the Country’, and his first cookbook The Farm Table has just been released by Ebury Press.
His recipes are simple, hearty dishes – the type he knows are popular with his followers. ‘Ultimately I’m just a home cook,’ he says. ‘I’m sure people look at me cooking in my greenhouse on a sunny day and think I have a charmed existence. But I’m no different from any farmer – the winter is dark and gloomy, the days are long, the weather’s out of my control and it can all take its toll.’
When he’s not recording videos or midwifing goats, Julius is busy transforming his agricultural land into a biodiverse habitat. He’s re-establishing the ancient system of meadows and hedgerows he can see in satellite images taken of the land before they were all scrubbed out to create the giant fields of modern agriculture.
Sometimes attacked online by those who believe he cannot love his animals if he eats them, Julius responds vigorously.
‘You have to love them more. It’s all about the way you choose to eat meat – little and rarely, for me. It’s a luxury. I don’t want a 1kg of chicken breasts for £4. I want one whole chicken which will feed my family for three days, if I use all of it properly.’

Julius with his lurcher, Loki

And so to the 19 random questions…

  1. What’s your relationship with Dorset?
    I am lucky enough to call Dorset home.
  2. The last film you watched?
    Living, with Bill Nighy. It’s a beautifully shot, old-school feeling film about a man coming to terms with a terminal illness, and working out how to spend his last days. It is so poignant, so moving – utterly brilliant. It brought me to tears.
  3. What would you like to tell 15 year-old you?
    Just enjoy it.
  4. Tell us about a sound or a smell that makes you happy?
    I love the sound of rain gently pattering against the first leaves of spring – when you’re standing in the woods, underneath the canopy, with the birds twinkling away and lambs baaing in the fields nearby.
  5. What was the last song you sang out loud in the car?
    Welcome To The Machine by Pink Floyd. At FULL volume. What a tune!
  6. What book did you read last year that stayed with you? What made you love it?
    The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin. It’s the most incredible novel, I’ve read it twice again since. Set in real time, so the pace is gripping, it’s a powerful story of a woman battling to survive a hard life. Her grit and determination are incredible. It blew me away – and I went and read four more of his novels immediately.
  7. The best biscuit for dunking?
    Bahlsen’s Pick Up!s – the dark chocolate ones, in a strong coffee.
  8. Your favourite quote?
    ‘Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’ It’s a Roald Dahl quote. Mum put it in our bathroom, so it’s one I read every single day. It reminds me to stop and notice the little things, those tiny sparks in life that deserve to be treasured.
  9. It’s Friday night – you have the house to yourself, and no work is allowed. What are you going to do?
    I’d run a very hot, deep bath and lie in it for hours with a podcast or audiobook on. Then I’d go and curl up by the fire with a great film, my dogs, a cold beer and something delicious.
  10. Top three most visited websites?
    Rotten Tomatoes. Car and Classic (I love looking at old cars and motorbikes). And Etsy – I’m always scouring for old plates and bowls!
  11. Chip Shop Chips or Home Baked Cake?
    Chip shop chips, doused in salt and vinegar with really good mayo on the beach with my fishing rod in the wind.
  12. Cats or dogs?
    DOGS ALL THE WAY!
  13. What would you most like to be remembered for?
    I’d love to have written an incredible song, movie or book … But in my own sphere of work, I’d love to have done something good for the planet. I’m passionate about the welfare of farm animals and if I could help their lives improve, I’d be very happy indeed. I’m a big believer that meat should be more of a luxury, and that we should be moving towards a system of quality not quantity – eat less meat and buy better quality when we do.
    That would improve their lives but also our own health, increase the land’s biodiversity and put more money into farmers’ pockets.
  14. What was the last gift you either gave someone, or received?
    I have just turned 31 and my parents came back from cycling across Turkey – they brought me a beautiful kilim rug that I absolutely love.
  15. Tell us about one of the best evenings you’ve had?
    I had a night in Moroco where we went into the central medina of Marrakech – one of the most vibrant, buzzy, chaotic and immersive cultures on the planet. The smoke of barbecues rising into the purple night sky, the smells of delicious cooking, clusters of people playing and singing together … we wandered from group to group listening to the music, drinking sweet mint tea and eating barbecued lamb at various stalls. It was so epic.
  16. What is your comfort meal?
    Chicken pie! I like it with plenty of smoked bacon, tarragon, mustard and tons of flaky, buttery pastry.
  17. What shop can you not pass by?
    My favourite local shops are Rise in Bridport, Felicity’s in Morcombelake and Millers Farm Shop near Axminster.
  18. What’s your most annoying trait?
    I’m very messy and chaotic.
  19. You have the power to pass one law, uncontested. What will you do with it?
    Nothing upsets me more than seeing a McDonalds bag or Coke bottle chucked out of someone’s car on the road. It is so disrespectful and it’s a sign of our society’s attitude towards the planet. I would pass a law that meant if you get caught doing that, the fine is so brutal no one would do it ever again. There’s a great law in fishing – if you fish illegally, all your gear gets taken away on the spot and you get landed with a massive fine. It’s such a great deterrent – and I want the same with littering.

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