W Y N D H A M H O U S E P O U L T R Y
Lee Mullet Stoney Street, Borough Market
Nick & Chris Frederick Temple Farm, Roydon, Essex
The answer to the oft asked riddle 'which came first the chicken or the egg?' is undeniably the chicken when talking to Lee Mullet of Wyndham House Poultry. His shop facing the market in Stoney Street sells a remarkably wide range of poultry and game including 'Label Anglais' chickens from Temple Farm in Essex, organic chickens from Springfield Farm in Hertfordshire, Barbary and Gressingham ducks, bronze turkeys for Christmas, and grouse, woodcock, partridges, pigeons, snipe and teal.
The market was a lifeline for Lee. After working for 20 years in the intensive chicken farming business he decided there had to be a better way to raise chickens. His path crossed with Chris Fredericks of Temple Farm who was wholesaling seasonal turkeys and experimenting with a continental breed of chicken. Chris and Lee worked together on the 'Label Anglais' and started in Borough on a stall down the Middle Road. On their first weekend they took £120. Today Lee has shops in Chelsea and Pumlico in addition to the Stoney Street shop he opened in 2002. Lee says: 'Borough has been critical and has provided the platform for expanding reach and availability. We try to provide an education to our customers about quality produced chicken. We started with whole 'Label Anglais', but ever mindful of our customers' needs we now provide a broad range of everything poultry.'
For me, visiting Temple Farm turned out to be a trip down memory lane. My family lived a short drive away from their farm, in a part of Hertfordshire where, as in this corner of Essex, the Green Belt round London is still rigorously upheld. I pray that despite the need for new homes it may ever remain so. The countryside isn't spectacular nor even especially pretty, but pleasant and intimate, with small hills, secret pockets of woodland, and delightful place-names (Ugley, Mark Tey, Stanstead Abbots).
The farm isn't spectacular either but must surely come pretty close to chicken heaven. The birds are extremely free-range, with large fields in which to roam, peck for worms, or simply sit sunning themselves. To an outside observer like myself there seemed an awful lot of them, but by commercial standards there are very few: the Fredericks keep 25,000, split into hen-houses holding 800-900 each, in comparison to 50,000-100,000 on commercial farms. The condition of the land is maintained by moving the houses around the field and to a fresh field every year. Also, as slow-growing breeds, the chickens they rear enjoy not only an excellent standard of life but considerably more of it than usual having the same growth rate as sixty years ago, and are sold at 14 weeks. Ninety-nine percent of birds for table in Britain are Ross Cobs, who reach slaughter-weight in six weeks.
Most of them are an old-fashioned, chestnut-coloured breed called Cornish Red; the rest are a slightly more commercial, bigger-breasted white Cornish Red cross. Both are unique to Temple Farm in this country. Ironically, Chris and Nick found the Cornish breed on the Continent: this was an influence on the name 'Label Anglais', but the main reason was simply that it sounds more interesting than 'English Chicken' (though 'Cornish Chicken' has a certain ring). The white crosses are sold as 'Special Reserves'.
The full-bred Cornish reds or 'Label Anglais' birds have a pronounced, distinctive flavour and firm but exceptionally succulent flesh with a layer of golden fat under the breast which gives a deliciously crisp skin. Gordon Ramsay uses them in most of his restaurants, while Heston Blumenthal favours Special Reserves at his famously experimental restaurant, The Fat Duck at Bray — where lucky Chris was going for lunch the next day.
Like most others (all others, if one goes back far enough), Temple Farm was originally mixed. Nick and Chris' father started out with arable crops, sheep, ordinary farmyard hens and turkeys. Rearing bronze turkeys for Christmas, mainly Kellys, was the Fredericks' first specialty, the bronze variety was long out of fashion (because people were thought to prefer their turkeys with perfectly white skin). After forty-odd years of experience with turkeys (not that he is as old as this suggests, since he was only ten when his father started keeping them), Chris understands them better than chickens and, it seemed to me, rather prefers them: 'They'll follow a car if it comes, or a photographer, whereas chickens just run away!' I didn't see the turkeys because, like geese, they're seasons and I visited the farm before the chicks had arrived. As you can see, however, by the time George took his photographs, they were very much in evidence.
Clearly Lee and Chris are doing something right, staff at the shops has increased from three to 35. And as for which came first, if you now walk down the Middle Road you can find eggs as well as chickens, and sizzling hot chicken burger straight from the griddle-plate on Lee's market stall where it all began, (if you don't know how to find it, just follow the delicious smell).