He's known around the globe as the founder of River Cottage, after he moved into a former game-keeper's lodge in Dorset in 1997. A series of River Cottage television shows and books followed, along with a move in 2004 to River Cottage H.Q., the rural base for a new, bigger business. Throughout it all, he's become known for his passion for local, seasonal produce and sustainability. But did you know he's scared of sharks and spiders?
With Hugh coming to SBS in River Cottage Australia (starts July 3), here are six things you might not know about this celebrity chef and champion of honest food.
1. He once donned a suit made entirely out of vegetables
The image was part of a shoot for an article appearing in The Guardian, in which Fearnley-Whittingstall extolled the various virtues of vegetables. While he adamantly claims he’s not a vegetarian and never will be, he wants to persuade people to eat more vegetables and less meat, because “vegetables are the foods that do us the most good, and our planet the least harm.”
2. His tastes are… diverse
He’s been known to feast on delights such as road kill and human placenta. In 1998, Fearley-Whittingstall ruffled feathers at the BBC when he flambéed, puréed and served placenta påté with a family during a segment on his Channel 4 show, TV Dinners. While the mother and the father in the family enjoyed the dish, complainants after the show aired referred to it as “cannibalism.” His response? “If I wasn’t getting a number of complaints I would consider I wasn’t doing my job.”
3. He despises McDonalds, supermarkets and coca cola
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has never and will never forge a partnership with big supermarket chains, and has publicly called on the government to implement measures to impede supermarkets’ quantifiable environmental and social damage.
In an article for The Guardian in 2006, Fearnley-Whittingstall called McDonalds a “huge ugly lump of global corporate muscle,” taking a no-holds-barred approach to the fast food chain. He also perceives handing a child a can of coke to be just as bad as giving them a packet of cigarettes.
4. He once owned a breeding pig, Delia Smith, named after the British cooking personality
Delia the pig has unfortunately long-since passed away, but according to Fearnley-Whittingstall, “her DNA is alive in well in west Dorset and east Devon”.
5. He’s terrified of spiders and sharks
In his book, Hugh Fearlessly Eats It All: Dispatches from the Gastronomic Front Line, he admits his fear of sharks is only surpassed by his phobia of spiders. Luckily there aren’t too many of the former in the English countryside.
6. He once broke down in tears at the sight of battery-farmed chickens
His documentary series Hugh’s Chicken Run was widely influential – immediately after the series was broadcast in the UK, sales of free range chickens hiked by 35 per cent, and sales of non-free range poultry fell by 7 per cent.