High-profile farmer Gareth Wyn Jones has leapt to the defence of a TV chef who’s been abused by online trolls over his plans to cook grey squirrels as part of a Christmas feast on his show.
Larger than life Chris Roberts, from Caernarfon, was subjected to a “bonkers backlash” after appealing for help to find 40 of the furry rodents to make squirrel empanadas – fire-baked turnovers – ahead of his new series, Bwyd Epic Chris 2, which starts on S4C on Thursday night (November 14).
The attacks on Chris have incensed Gareth Wyn Jones, who farms on the Carneddau uplands above Llanfairfechan and is a familiar face on television as a presenter and farming expert.
According to Gareth, he regularly barbecues and eats grey squirrels on his hill farm.
He said: “I back Chris 100 per cent. I’m a meat eater and the people who are giving him grief have got it very wrong. Squirrel meat is like any other wild food, eating them is like foraging for anything else.
“We have to remember they are a pest. On the farm if I have too many rats, crows or whatever, I have to deal with them. What the difference with squirrels? Their meat is a by-product so why waste it? It’s a fantastic wild food.”
Gareth, who has more than 25,000 followers on Facebook and more than 24,000 on Twitter, has been engaged in a heated online debate over eating squirrel meat since Chris Roberts’ Christmas menu plans went viral on social media platforms.
He added “I do barbecue squirrels on the farm. The meat is very gamey taste-wise and needs tenderising too.
“They are a very active animal and as a result there is very little fat. I sometimes boil them first or marinade them in a nice sauce.
“I know Chris well. He’s a top bloke and what he is doing is fantastic. He’s nailing it when it comes to promoting Welsh food and local produce. He’s doing things right by using a sustainable local product, something we should all be doing. He certainly has my backing.”
Chris has found an alternative butcher from Shropshire who has said he can supply the 40 grey squirrels he needs to cook alongside deer and wild ducks on an open fire but would prefer to find a Welsh butcher who’s able to supply local Welsh ones.
He is undaunted by the social media storm and has no plans to change his squirrel empanada recipe.
Chris said: “The backlash I’ve had is bonkers because I’ve been criticised by people who eat meat.
“It’s okay for them to buy intensively farmed chickens that only see the inside of a barn for the short duration of their lives so for them to abuse me for eating grey squirrels is just crazy.
“It’s a fact the grey squirrel virtually wiped out the red squirrel which is nearly extinct and they are being culled to protect the red squirrels. I’m not going out to catch the grey squirrels myself.
“I’m talking about eating grey squirrels that have been culled already; essentially they are a waste product which makes it sustainable and ethical.
“Anglesey has eradicated grey squirrels and the red squirrels are now thankfully thriving.
“The grey squirrels spread squirrel pox and they eat the food of the red squirrels – they are being culled to protect biodiversity in the local eco-systems in our woodlands. I’m making use of something that’s been killed already.
He added: “What’s more it’s really healthy and tasty meat, in terms of taste it’s like a cross between a chicken and a rabbit.
“The meat will taste of the life it has lived and these grey squirrels have a great diet.
“For the Christmas feast, I’m going to be making empanadas like the gauchos in Patagonia in South America – the only difference is that I will be making them with the meat of the grey squirrel.
“In the series, we are going to be celebrating local produce which we don’t do enough of in Wales.
“We need to spread the word, share the love and shout out, loud and proud that we have the best food in the world.”
Chris cooks meat Gaucho-style over open fires and using the whole animal.
He added: “For the Christmas special, as well as the squirrel empanadas, I’ll be cooking three whole venison and wild ducks. I’ll be building a frame and using Welsh hardwood, mostly oak, from Snowdonia as fuel. Basically, the meat is cooked against a wall of fire.
“I cooked a whole cow for the first series and that took more than 24 hours. The deer are not much bigger than a sheep so it will take a fair bit less but still more than 12 hours I expect.
“The whole idea of the series is to showcase Welsh ingredients and a different style of cooking. I really enjoyed filming this second series although we haven’t yet filmed the Christmas special.
“We filmed a wide variety of recipes from sea food including Menai prawns and lobster down on Dinas Dinlle beach.
“I also cooked some Welsh mutton dishes inspired by a visit to several London restaurants that only cook on open fires and built a tandoor oven out of terracotta flower pots which had a lot to do with my local Indian take-away in Caernarfon.”