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Ricky Williams, managing director of Boxcar Butcher and Grill and Boxcar Baker and Deli, on his relationship with food

Interview: Ellie Costigan
Image: Emily Kelly

1. I’m originally from Durban, South Africa. I got into the hospitality industry when I left school—at first just to make money, but after a while I started to find my love of food and wine. I ended up managing a restaurant, but decided I wanted to move over to London. When I got here, it was like an entirely different industry. I had to start again. I went back to being a waiter and worked my way up through the ranks.

2. We’ve got regulars at Boxcar who’ve been with us pretty much from the beginning. We have a gentleman who comes in every Tuesday for his chicken. While he’s waiting we give him a coffee on the house.

3. If you push your finger into a cut of raw meat, if it’s spongy and bounces back, generally it’s quite commercial and more than likely going to be a bit tough. If it leaves a little bit of an indentation, that’s usually a sign of good quality. If you’ve got white fat, typically that’s a grain-fed piece of beef, whereas if you’ve got more creamy coloured fat, it’ll be grass-fed. You can tell just by looking at it. A couple of little tips and tricks!

4. It’s dealing with people that I enjoy more than anything else—talking to them, finding out more about them and giving them a great experience. That’s why I’ve stuck around.

5. To perfect the Boxcar burger, we broke down every single little part: the type of meat, its fat content, the ageing process. We decided on a sharp cheddar, so that you’re able to taste the cheese without overpowering the flavour of the meat, and a lightly toasted brioche bun to keep it all together. The tomatoes are semi-dried, so that they’re sweeter and more flavoursome. The bacon is cured in beer and treacle, and comes from a fantastic farm. We put it all together with burger sauce and our beetroot relish, for something a little different.

6. Food has become my life over the last couple of years. There’s a lot of eating out! I try to do as much market research as I can.

7. People often don’t know exactly where their food comes from. Part of what we do is to educate the customer. As part of our training procedures, our new staff do a shift down with the butcher. We’ve got a story to tell and we want them to be able to pass that on to customers.

8. Boxcar is all about premium produce. All of it is local or British as far as possible and is sourced ethically. We meet all of the farmers who supply us in person. One of them, Charles Ashbridge, is well-known in the meat market and a fantastic guy. He’s a third-generation farmer and bought his first cow at the age of six. The sheer love and pride he takes in his animals is shown in the quality of meat.

9. Staff welfare is important. I lead 40 individuals and I want to give them the best possible experience. I want this to not just be a place where they come to work, but to be fun and interesting, with team camaraderie. I try to lead by example and treat people how I want to be treated. The more you put into people, the more you’ll get out of them.