||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2013)|
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in 2009
14 January 1965
|Occupation||celebrity chef, television personality, journalist, food writer|
|Known for||River Cottage|
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (born 14 January 1965) is a British celebrity chef, television personality, journalist, food writer and "real food" campaigner, known for his back-to-basics philosophy. Fearnley-Whittingstall is best known for hosting the River Cottage series on the United Kingdom (UK)'s television broadcaster, Channel 4, in which audiences observe his efforts to become a self-reliant, downshifted farmer in rural England — Fearnley-Whittingstall feeds himself, his family and friends with locally produced and sourced fruits, vegetables, fish, eggs and meat.
Born in London, UK, to gardener and writer, Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, and father, Robert Fearnley-Whittingstall, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was brought up in Devon, UK. He was educated at both Eton College and St Peter's College, Oxford, and read philosophy and psychology.
After graduating from university, Fearnley-Whittingstall, following a temporary relocation to Africa, began a career in conservation work. He then spent a brief period as a sous-chef at River Café in London; however, Fearnley-Whittingstall has since revealed that "being messy" and "lacking discipline" made him unsuitable for working in the River Café kitchen, but that he regards it as a period that helped shape his current career.
Cook on the Wild Side
Fearnley-Whittingstall's initial television exposure was on Cook on the Wild Side, an exploration of earthy cuisine; the show depicted the celebrity chef's habit of "picking up roadkill and eating the hedgerows [...]" and consequently "earned him his nickname of Hugh Fearlessly-Eatsitall."
Fearnley-Whittingstall's next series was TV Dinners, in which he notoriously flambéed and puréed a human placenta to then serve as pâté during one episode — the pâté was "much enjoyed by the baby's family and friends."
In 1997, Fearnley-Whittingstall moved into River Cottage, a former game-keeper's lodge on the grounds of Slape Manor in Netherbury, Dorset, UK, which he had previously used as a weekend and holiday home. The lodge became the setting for three Channel 4 series: Escape to River Cottage, Return to River Cottage and River Cottage Forever, all directed by Garry John Hughes. Through his experiences while filming for these programmes, in which he had to produce everything himself in the style of the 1970s series, The Good Life, he has become an ardent supporter of the organic movement.
Treats from the Edwardian Country House
In 2002, Fearnley-Whittingstall presented the six-episode series, Treats from the Edwardian Country House.
Beyond River Cottage
In 2004, five years after the third River Cottage series had ended, Beyond River Cottage followed Fearnley-Whittingstall's progress as he set up a new business, River Cottage H.Q., on a 44-acre (180,000 m2) property close to Dottery (near Bridport), Dorset, together with his family. Underpinning Fearnley-Whittingstall new enterprise is the selling of the produce cultivated on his property at the local marketplace and audience bear witness to the host's experiences as a produce seller, while also intermittently receiving the recipe lessons traditionally seen on food shows. The series concludes with a Christmas special in which a feast is brought together, consisting of "Hugh's own fattened geese and ducks" as "the centrepiece for the feast – a ten bird roast of medieval origin."
The View from River Cottage
In 2005, a series called The View from River Cottage was produced using extracts from the four previous series, accompanied by newly recorded narration. In the first episode of the series, Fearnley-Whittingstall rearranges his cottage garden, explaining to the viewer, "Now I like flowers as much as the next man, but there's no room for passengers in this garden – the rule is: if it doesn't put something on my plate, I'm afraid it's gotta go." This was followed by The River Cottage Road Trip special that consisted of two newly produced one-hour instalments.
The River Cottage Treatment
During 2006, Fearnley-Whittingstall moved River Cottage HQ from the original barn near Bridport, to its new premises, Park Farm, a 66-acre (270,000 m2) farm near Uplyme on the West Dorset/East Devon border. A new series called The River Cottage Treatment was filmed there and was broadcast on Channel 4 in November 2006. This premise of this series involved guests described as "urban-dwellers, fast food lovers and convenient food-mongers" to spend a week with the host on the new property, whereby the guests are required to undertake the farm duties that have been adopted by Fearnley-Whittingstall to consume food according to the River Cottage philosophy. — at the time that the series commenced, Fearnley-Whittingstall had been living according to this philosophy for a decade. In the introduction to the first episode, Fearnley-Whittingstall explains:
Some people think that this local, seasonal, organic approach to food is just for the privileged few; but I think it's relevant to everybody and I am ready to put my passion and principles to the test — by inviting a bunch of fast food addicts, ready-meal junkies and convenience-obsessed non-cooks to join me here on the farm, cooking and eating on my terms.
River Cottage: Gone Fishing
In 2007, Fearnley-Whittingstall presented, River Cottage: Gone Fishing, a short series that is the concept's tenth overall, in which he examines some of the lesser-known fish to be caught around the British Isles. Fearnley-Whittingstall opens the series with the statement: "And if we want to keep eating fish, we need to be more responsible in the way that we catch it and more adventurous in the food we choose to cook."
River Cottage seasonal specials
Commencing in 2008, Fearnley-Whittingstall filmed magazine-style food programmes, produced at River Cottage HQ, that were based on the seasonal themes. He explains in the opening episode of the spring series, the season that Fearnley-Whittingstall began with:
I soon found out that, that one of the greatest rewards [of moving to River Cottage] is an incredible feeling of living in tunes with the seasons. It isn't just that the food tastes better—it's that life is altogether sweeter. Unfortunately, now that so much of what we eat comes wrapped in plastic from the supermarket, most of us have forgotten what seasonality looks, smells and tastes like.
River Cottage Spring ran from 28 May 2008 to 25 June 2008 on Channel 4 and in one of the episodes, Fearnley-Whittingstall demonstrates his "holistic" approach to cooking by slaughtering, preparing and cooking the entirety of a lamb.
In late-2008, River Cottage Autumn was broadcast from 16 October to 6 November 2008. In one of the autumnal episodes, Fearnley-Whittingstall, together with his friend, John, embarks on a mission to catch crustaceans at a nearby beach with the use of pots. The pair seek to catch prawns, crabs and lobsters, in addition to the blue velvet swimming crab that is commonly found at the particular coastal location where they are based.
On 19 October 2009, a new series, consisting of four episodes, aired on Channel 4 and was entitled, River Cottage – Winter's on the Way. Fearnley-Whittingstall opened the series with the following introduction:
Winter may be the season of chilly winds and stormy seas, but it's also a time that should be filled with heartwarming pleasures. Because this is the season where we like to keep our toes cozy and indulge our tastebuds. As the nights draw in and the landscape transforms around us, there's a whole new set of ingredients to play with. So I'll be bringing the year to an end with a very warm welcome with the very best that winter has to offer.
In one of the episodes from the winter series, Fearnley-Whittingstall captures, prepares and cooks rabbits that he finds on his property and introduces viewers to a root called "salsify"—according to the host, salsify was popular during the Victorian era but has since declined in popularity.
River Cottage Everyday
In September 2010, a new series of River Cottage episodes, entitled River Cottage Everyday, commenced. The series encourages viewers to cook from scratch more frequently and is accompanied by a book of the same name. In the opening episode, Fearnley-Whittingstall explained that the series "is all about the food that I like to cook for family and friends" and proceeds to cover topics such as "thrifty meat dishes" and homemade bread in subsequent episodes.
River Cottage: Veg Every Day
In Autumn 2011, a new series, River Cottage: Veg Every Day, was launched and is based on Fearnley-Whittingstall's developed awareness regarding the problematic way in which meat is produced and consumed in the modern era. During the series, the food activist addresses the challenge that he defines in the series' first episode: "A whole summer without flesh." Fearnley-Whittingstall explains further: "In the weeks ahead, I'll be expanding my vegetable horizons, seeking out new flavours and textures, and cooking up a whole raft of vegetable dishes with the same excitement and gusto that I've always bestowed on meat and fish." By the fifth episode of the series, Fearnley-Whittingstall states to his audience:
And certainly I'd say that a life without meat is no deprivation. My food is as tasty and satisfying as ever; and even though I'm no longer cooking my own home-reared meat and self-caught fish, I still feel fully connected to the land and the seasons. And I can't complain about energy levels—I may even have shed a pound or two ... but, all in all, I'm feeling pretty good.
River Cottage: Three Good Things
A new series of River Cottage, entitled Three Good Things, aired on Channel 4 in December 2012. Accompanied by a cookbook, the series is based on the notion that a great meal can be prepared from gathering three good ingredients—in the first episode, Fearnley-Whittingstall uses beetroot, egg and anchovies to make an open sandwich. Fearnley-Whittingstall also competes against guest chefs in each episode and viewers are also invited to challenge the television host with a superior recipe—audience participants are required to upload a video of their meal preparation process onto a River Cottage online community and winners are selected each week, with the overall winner, chosen by Fearnley-Whittingstall at the end of the season, wins a prize worth ₤2,000.
Fearnley-Whittingstall appeared on the first series of Channel 4's The F Word in 2005, advising Gordon Ramsay on the rearing of turkeys at Ramsay's London home; the turkeys are eaten in the last episode of the series. Further appearances on The F-Word in 2006 and 2007 involved Fearnley-Whittingstall advising Ramsay on the rearing of pigs and lambs, respectively; again, the consumption of the livestock occurs in the last episodes of the series.
At the start of 2008, Fearnley-Whittingstall – along with fellow celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Ramsay – was featured in Channel 4's Big Food Fight season; his contribution to the season was Hugh's Chicken Run, which was shown over three consecutive nights. Fearnley-Whittingstall created three chicken farms in Axminster (one intensive, one commercial free-range and the third, a community farm project staffed by volunteers), culminating in a "Chicken Out!" campaign to encourage the eating of free-range chicken. In 2008, based on the success of the project, further discussion occurred among Channel 4 executives regarding the filming of another season.
Fearnley-Whittingstall then became a permanent team captain, opposing a different guest captain each week, on a food-based panel game, The Big Food Fight, which began on Channel 4 on 8 September 2009; this is not to be confused with the earlier project of the same name. He was a guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs on 31 July 2009.
In September 2012, Fearnley-Whittingstall made an appearance on The One Show.
Fearnley-Whittingstall also appeared on BBC Two's satirical music panel show, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, on an episode recorded in 2008; airing was delayed until 19 January 2011, due to the scandals surrounding Russell Brand that led to his resignation from the BBC.
After his inaugural work in the area of journalism, Fearnley-Whittingstall then became a published author in 1994 when the Macmillan company published his Cuisine Bon Marché, a work that contains recipes and guidance on a wide range of food commonly found in British markets.
Fearnley-Whittingstall has also written the popular cookbooks, The River Cottage Year, The River Cottage Fish Book, The River Cottage Cookbook (winner of the Andre Simon Food Book of the Year Award, the Guild of Food Writers’ Michael Smith Award, and the Glenfiddich Trophy and Food Book of the Year) and The River Cottage Meat Book (the last two books included photography by Simon Wheeler); the latter details his philosophy of organic husbandry, while also covering many aspects of selecting, preparing and cooking meat. His most recent book, published on 29 March 2011, is River Cottage Every Day.
Fearnley-Whittingstall has written articles for The Guardian and The Observer since 2001. A collection of his short articles was published in October 2006 under the title Hugh Fearlessly Eats It All: Dispatches from the Gastronomic Frontline. He also edited the The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions, written by Kenji Kawakami.
Fish Fight campaign
As of July 2012, Fearnley-Whittingstall continues to film for a Channel 4 series, Hugh's Fish Fight; the series explores sustainable fishing and the origin of fish products – he has filmed in locations such as Thailand and Antarctica. From Tuesday, 11 January 2011, the series was broadcast in three parts, on subsequent nights, on Channel 4, and was part of Channel 4's "Big Fish Fight" season. The Fish Fight campaign has benefitted from the use of social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter, as well as its own website, and prior to the airing of the programme, the campaign had received 13,000 signatures – as of July 2012, the campaign's website claims to have received over 700,000 signatures.
Chicken Out! campaign
Fearnley-Whittingstall has presented three one-hour shows detailing how commercial breeds of broiler chickens are reared for their meat in just 39 days – this time period is compared to slow-growing breeds that live for at least 75 days in more humane and natural surroundings. Fearnley-Whittingstall is currently trying to encourage people to become more aware of food production issues through his "Chicken Out" campaign.
As part of the "Chicken Out" campaign, Fearnley-Whittingstall singled out Tesco as a major retailer of chickens that failed to conform to the standards laid down by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in its "Five Freedoms" concept. He consequently purchased a share in Tesco, so that he could take advantage of a procedure set out in 'section 338, Companies Act 2006' that entitles any shareholder of a company to table a resolution at a general meeting of a company, provided that the shareholder can garner a certain level of support from other shareholders. Fearnley-Whittingstall managed to find sufficient shareholders to support the tabling of a resolution at Tesco's AGM on 27 June 2008, which, if passed, would have committed Tesco, within a reasonable timeframe, to take appropriate measures to ensure that chickens purchased for sale were produced in systems capable of providing the "Five Freedoms". An insufficient number of shareholders voted in favour of the resolution for it to be passed.
In an interview in January 2008, Fearnley-Whittingstall extended the call to hospitality and food service operators:
It's one thing to challenge individual consumers to give up intensively reared chicken but it's also an issue where anyone in the business of selling chicken has to take a stand... in some cases I know chefs, not naming names, at the very high-end sector who are not using free-range birds. Some of them are on the road to Michelin stars.
Another Fearnley-Whittingstall project was the conversion of an old inn in Axminster to an organic produce shop and canteen which opened in September 2007.
In 2009, 'The River Cottage Summer's Here' programme promoted the Landshare project that seeks to bring together people who wish to grow fruit and vegetables, but have no land, with landowners willing to donate spare land for cultivation. The online project was commissioned by Channel 4.
He is married to Marie, a woman of French origin, and the couple parent four children: Chloe, Oscar, Freddy and Louisa (Chloe was adopted in 2005, following the death of her mother—BBC journalist, Kate Peyton—in Somalia). Fearnley-Whittingstall also runs the River Cottage Canteen and Deli in the centre of Axminster and, in 2011, launched a second River Cottage Canteen and Deli in Plymouth, UK.
Fire at River Cottage HQ
On 9 February 2012, a single-storey restored barn that was considered to be "the heart of River Cottage HQ" was significantly damaged by fire while Fearnley-Whittingstall was filming on a boat in the middle of the Southern Ocean for Hugh’s Fish Fight — the building was used for the cookery courses, celebrations and private functions. A UK newspaper reported at the time that: "Investigators are not treating the blaze as suspicious. Nobody was in the barn at the time and no people or animals were hurt." Upon finding out about the fire, Fearnley-Whittingstall stated in a satellite message:
I understand there's already a plan under way to set up a working field kitchen so we can continue to host our events, teach our courses and look after our guests in the coming months. I've no doubt the whole River Cottage team will be pulling together to make this happen and in due course we'll set about restoring our lovely Devon barn to its former glory.
- TV Dinners: In Search of Exciting Home Cooking, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (1996)
- A Cook on the Wild Side, (A Channel Four book) by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (1997)
- The Best of TV Dinners, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (1999)
- The River Cottage Cookbook, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2001)
- The River Cottage Year, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2003)
- The River Cottage Meat Book, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2004)
- Preserved, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nick Sandler, and Johnny Acton (2004)
- The Real Good Life: A Practical Guide to a Healthy, Organic Lifestyle, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Soil Association (2005)
- Soup Kitchen, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Thomasina Miers, and Annabel Buckingham (2005)
- The River Cottage Family Cookbook, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr (2005)
- Hugh Fearlessly Eats it All: Dispatches from the Gastronomic Front line, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2006)
- Little Book of Soup, by Thomasina Miers, Annabel Buckingham, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2006)
- The Taste of Britain, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Laura Mason, and Catherine Brown (2006)
- The River Cottage Diary 2008, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2007)
- The River Cottage Fish Book, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher (2007)
- River Cottage Diary 2010, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2009)
- River Cottage Every Day, by Fearnley-Whittingstall (2009)
- The River Cottage Bread Handbook, (US Version) by Daniel Stevens and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2010)
- The River Cottage Preserves Handbook, by Pam Corbin and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2010)
- River Cottage Veg Every Day!, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2011)
- Three Good Things on a Plate, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2012)
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- The River Cottage Website containing recipes, news and features
- Hugh's Fish Fight campaign website
- Chicken Out! campaign website
- The transcript of a live webchat
- The Village of Thorncombe in Dorset
- Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at the Internet Movie Database
- Channel 4 land share project