I’ve always been a huge fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall ever since I saw the first series of Escape to River Cottage back in 1999. The idea of leaving the rat race behind always seemed like a wonderful dream to me and perhaps subconsciously led to the title of this blog!
Well yesterday evening marked the start of our third Abergavenny Food Festival since we “escaped” and we celebrated in style by watching him being interviewed on the subject of “A Life In Food” in front of a packed Borough Theatre.
Amazingly enough Debbie and I even managed to get front row seats in the middle directly in front of him and also got him to sign his new book “Much More Veg” afterwards!
The session included Hugh extolling the benefits of roasted Brussels sprouts, abhorring takeaway coffee cups and packaging that can’t be recycled, the benefits of having 4 children to aid with a runner bean glut, getting fired from River Cafe for being too messy, his first TV job (as producer) on the BBC QED show “Maggot Mogul” which followed the exploits of a maggot farmer supplying fisherfolk using discarded chicken byproducts of intensive farming.
It was really on the latter topic that Hugh got quite passionate about not eating chicken or pork raised under such regimes. Although he’s not vegetarian himself yet I suspect from listening to him that this is his sense of direction. His first “veggie” book “Veg Every day” is the number one best seller in the UK of that genre.
Eventually they opened up to audience questions so I asked him why he went from a very small beginning at the original River Cottage small holding to a 60 acre farm where he operates his cookery school at River Cottage HQ. He answered saying essentially that it was the ideal size to keep some animals, grow loads of vegetables and host up to 30 people a day enjoying the events they run there.
When he came to sign the book for us he thanked me for asking the question and was delighted when I asked about his first book “Cuisine Bon Marche” and asked if I had a copy to which I answered in the negative alas. As I’m writing this blog I’ve just ordered it second hand for £3.15 including P&P!
My impression of Hugh was that essentially what you see on TV is actually him in real life. He seemed to be wearing slip-on cowboy boots which I’d not seen since the 1970’s with crumpled trousers and t-shirt. All the while drinking a pint of beer both during the interview and after the show when signing the book.
He was older (naturally) and wiser I think about the eating of animals and answered one question from the audience by saying that he could give up fishing, but not cooking if he had to choose. I believe he is a genuine campaigner and frankly a thoroughly nice chap and we had a great time in his company!