On television program River Cottage Australia, what you see is what you get. It’s a real farm, with real animals, and host Paul West is on site seven days a week, digging beds, feeding and watering the stock, bringing up a family and cooking up a storm with produce picked straight from the garden – even when the cameras aren’t rolling. “I’m sure a lot of people think that I fly in on a private plane, and in between takes I’m sitting on a banana chair, drinking cocktails,” he says with a grin. “But I really do look after this place – food production is a lifestyle.”
Paul, who hails from Murrurundi in the Hunter region, NSW, was an inspired choice to host the first Australian version of the hugely popular, long-running UK series founded and fronted by chef and ‘real food’ campaigner, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He worked at fruiterers, markets, on farms, in community gardens and at permaculture organisations before completing his chef’s apprenticeship and wielding the pots in an impressive array of kitchens, including Melbourne’s Vue De Monde. Always passionate about fresh produce, he and his partner Alicia moved to Tasmania three years ago to chase the dream that River Cottage embodies. When Paul heard they were casting for the Australian version of the show, he threw his hat in the ring.
“I’ve never lived anywhere where everything grows so vigorously. They say the soil’s so fertile here that it could grow babies!” ~ Paul
A short while later, Paul had scored the job and the couple were settling into the countryside around Tilba, a beautiful green corner of the NSW south coast. The first season of the show saw Paul begin the massive job of transforming this 20-acre former dairy property – tackling weeds, digging beds and acquiring animals – into a proper working farm. The show is about to air it's fourth season and Paul and Alicia are adding parenthood to the mix with their son, Otto having just turned one. Along the way there were reminders that this lifestyle is a warts-and-all experience, the most confrontational of which was the on-screen transfer of Big Boy the pig from paddock to pot. “It’s difficult to be present and involved in the process of taking an animal’s life, especially the first time,” says Paul. “You’re totally aware that an animal lost its life for that meat, so you’re much more resourceful and respectful of it.”
Unsurprisingly, that episode generated the strongest feedback of any; perhaps surprisingly, it was overwhelmingly positive. The story set the tone of the series’ beliefs and ethics, with the focus on the second and third seasons taking the farm beyond a hobbyist’s level. “Now it’s actually about making it a working farm,” explains Paul. In the fourth season he’ll be taking produce to market and giving the whole enterprise a more commercial edge. That said, we’ll still see lots of Paul in the kitchen, producing amazing meals plucked more or less straight from the fields. “It’s the ultimate expression of food – cultivating it, then cooking and sharing it with members of your community. It’s one of life’s true pleasures – for me, anyway!”
“My food philosophy is about taking advantage of nature’s bounty and preserving produce to enjoy both now and later. Fill your pantry with pots of summer gold – fruits, jams, relishes and tomatoes – to liven up winter fare.” ~ Paul
“If I have a surplus of produce, I cook as much as I can, take it to market or preserve it. Failing that, it either gets composted or fed back to the livestock. It’s never wasted – nothing goes in the bin.” ~ Paul
Paul has shared a selection of River Cottage recipes with us, click below for
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