A tribute to Reg Johnson, Johnson and Swarbrick Goosnargh
PUBLISHED: 15:56 11 January 2016 | UPDATED: 13:07 19 January 2016
We pay tribute to the famous Lancashire poultry farmer who made his Goosnargh duck and corn-fed chicken renowned around the world
Reg Johnson was a man who needed little introduction. For decades the Goosnargh geese, ducks and corn-fed chicken he reared with step-brother Bud Swarbrick at Swainson Farm in Goosnargh have been at the top of the shopping list for many chefs. Top names like Michel Roux Junior, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey and Raymond Blanc loved his produce and top restaurants and hotels clamour to have it on their menus. is no doubt the work of Reg and Bud played a strong role in the revival of Lancashire food and produce.
Together, they have won enough awards to fill one of their barns. One of them was being named ‘Food Heroes of the Year’ in the Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards in 2010. At the time Reg said: ‘We’re absolutely elated as you can imagine. Events, like this, that support local producers are very good.
‘It all stemmed from Paul Heathcote who was the person who first started pushing local produce. He was doing it way before London caught on. Then Nigel Haworth picked it up and together they helped to support people like us.’
It was tragic news, then, when Reg died of a heart attack in November. Tributes have poured in from celebrated chefs, including friend Paul.
The pair first met in 1987 after the chef challenged him to produce a bird that rivaled Poulet de Bresse and Poulet des Landes.
He said: ‘I’ve known Reg since 1987 when I left Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and went to work as executive head chef at Broughton Park in Preston. He became more of a friend than a supplier. We started this conversation about creating a corn-fed British chicken to rival the French. ‘Over the course of three decades, Reg and his family business have become the very best contact for every well known chef in Great Britain who prides themselves in cooking with the very best produce.
‘Reg’s fame transcended his home village of Goosnargh. His appearances on countless TV programmes and in magazines and newspapers, both locally and nationally, are testament to his skill as a farmer as much as his passion to sell everybody a Goosnargh bird.’
Paul had been filming a programme with Reg just a few weeks before his death. It is a time he will always remember.
He said: ‘We were filming at the farm where we once discussed the Goosnargh chicken. We sat with mugs of tea talking about the old days like it was yesterday. I have lost a good friend. He will be missed, not only by me, but by all of those chefs that he proudly served.
‘His family is very involved in the business and that will be his legacy – he just handed it to them sooner than any of us expected. God bless Reg, rest in peace.’
Other top name chefs paid tribute. Southport-born Marcus Wareing, chef patron of the two Michelin-starred restaurant Marcus, in Knightsbridge, described Reg as ‘a lovely, lovely man. Northcote’s Nigel Haworth said he will miss him and remember him each time he enjoyed a drink of Goosnargh Gold and head chef Aled Williams also paid tribute saying: ‘So sad to hear about Reg. I will miss having a chat with him every week.’ Social media was also flooded with kind words and memories of Reg from many people working around the world in the food industry.
One thing we all know, is that our county has lost a proud Lancastrian, a man that did so much for our region and a true gentleman.