Paul West

TELE­VI­SION PRE­SEN­TER

Country Style - - CONTENTS -

Grow­ing up in NSW’S Mur­ru­rundi and how his tele­vi­sion role com­pletely changed his life.

The cooking show host and or­ganic gar­dener tells Kylie Walker how a last-minute ap­pli­ca­tion changed his life com­pletely.

It’s been a busy year so far for Paul West, the chatty, bearded host of tele­vi­sion show River Cottage Australia. He and part­ner Ali­cia Cor­dia wel­comed their son Otto at the end of Fe­bru­ary. His first book, The River Cottage Australia Cook­book (Blooms­bury, $45), was re­leased in April, and in May he was lined up to ap­pear at the Syd­ney Writ­ers’ Fes­ti­val. April also saw the launch of The River Cottage Australia Cooking School. The third se­ries of RCA is about to start on Fox­tel. And, of course, there’s the eight-hectare farm near the vil­lage of Cen­tral Tilba on the NSW south coast, where the show is filmed, and where Paul, 31, has spent the past two years learn­ing how to be a farmer. As he writes in the new book, there have been plenty of set­backs — plants dec­i­mated by wind, hail, birds and in­sects, not to men­tion es­cap­ing goats and foxes at­tack­ing his chick­ens. And lots of phys­i­cally de­mand­ing work. But it’s been worth it. “The show pretty much flipped my world on its head,” he says. “I was living in a lit­tle house about 40 min­utes out of Ho­bart and try­ing to grow my own veg­eta­bles, and pro­duce as much as I could for my­self, while work­ing as a chef. And then I heard they were cast­ing for River Cottage Australia. I filled out an ap­pli­ca­tion at the 11th hour, on the last day, and the rest is his­tory… I’m very hum­ble about be­ing a part of it, be­cause the show is about things I’m pas­sion­ate about. It’s about grow­ing food and cooking it, and shar­ing it with your fam­ily and friends, which is some­thing very close to my heart.” With the ar­rival of Otto, Paul and Ali­cia have moved to a more baby-friendly house. It’s only about 100 me­tres down the road from the farm though, so Paul doesn’t have much of a com­mute to work. Paul grew up in the small town of Mur­ru­rundi, in NSW’S Up­per Hunter Val­ley. “I left home when I was 17, when I fin­ished school, and moved to New­cas­tle, to what I thought was the big smoke. I went to uni­ver­sity to study busi­ness, but dropped out af­ter six months. It wasn’t for me. I did all kinds of jobs af­ter that — ev­ery­thing from plant­ing trees in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory to clean­ing navy boats on Syd­ney Har­bour.” At 21, while back­pack­ing around Australia, he had an en­counter that would change his life. Join­ing a scheme called Will­ing Work­ers on Or­ganic Farms (WWOOF), he ar­rived at a farm in Tas­ma­nia. “I stayed with a French­man called Giles, and he was great. He had an or­chard and a huge veg­etable gar­den. I’d never seen a way of life like that — pick­ing fruit from a tree and eat­ing it, pulling things from the ground and eat­ing them. I re­alised that I re­ally liked what he did, but I couldn’t grow things.” Af­ter more WWOOF-ING to build his gar­den­ing skills, he moved back to New­cas­tle and got in­volved in per­ma­cul­ture groups and com­mu­nity gar­dens. “And then I thought, ‘Now that I know how to grow stuff, I should learn how to cook it.’ So I took on a chef ’s ap­pren­tice­ship.” Cooking took him from New­cas­tle to Mel­bourne — where he met Ali­cia — and then to Ho­bart and, even­tu­ally, to our tele­vi­sion screens. “I feel blessed that I do this for a job,” he says. River Cottage Australia is on Fox­tel’s Life­style Food chan­nel from May 26. For more in­for­ma­tion on the cooking classes, visit ke­ofilms.com.au/cook

I WAS BORN in Muswell­brook — my birth­day is Jan­uary 27, I wasn’t born on Australia Day be­cause no-one does any­thing on a public hol­i­day! I grew up in Mur­ru­rundi, which back then had a pop­u­la­tion of 900. We were right on the edge of town, on a one-hectare block. I’ve got an older half-brother, Simon, who’s 14 years my se­nior — he left home when I was about two — and a sis­ter, Ni­cole, who is two years my ju­nior. Ni­cole and I squab­bled, as sib­lings do, but we got on and still do, to this day. And I was very protective of my lit­tle sis­ter. If I got up to mis­chief, it was with the other boys in town. We had the run of the town, pretty much — all the kids knew each other. We’d play footy, we’d go climb rocks out in the bush, we’d ex­plore old build­ings and shacks. I played rugby league for most >

of my child­hood and one sea­son in the un­der-18s for the Mur­ru­rundi Mav­er­icks — there’s not re­ally any other sport in the Hunter Val­ley. At least there wasn’t in those days. I had a cou­ple of dogs — Dig­g­ley, a cat­tle dog, was the best. I had him from when I was 10 un­til I left home, and we were great mates. Now I have Digger, he’s my con­stant com­pan­ion. He’s the first dog I’ve had since I left home — when you work as a chef, the hours mean you don’t re­ally get to have a dog. Mum and Dad had a busi­ness in town, so Nan — June Guy, my mum’s mum — al­ways got babysit­ting du­ties on school hol­i­days. I re­mem­ber, I’d hang out with my mates and come back, and there’d al­ways be a cake or a plate of jam drops that she’d made. Af­ter I started my own jour­ney in food, I tracked down all those old recipes. Un­for­tu­nately, she passed away be­fore I got to tell her of my ap­pre­ci­a­tion, but the recipes live on. I think ev­ery­one is a prod­uct of their en­vi­ron­ment. My mum and dad ran a shop where we had ev­ery­one com­ing in, from Kerry Packer to lo­cal blokes who wore stub­bies and thongs year round and lived in cor­ru­gated-iron lean-tos. We’d have mil­lion­aire land­hold­ers cov­ered in dirt from head to toe and if you looked at them you’d think they were some old farmer who didn’t have two bucks. So I had a very egal­i­tar­ian out­look on so­ci­ety. It taught me you’ve al­ways got to judge peo­ple on their char­ac­ter more than how they present them­selves to the world. My par­ents, John and Cathy, were hard­work­ing — and they still are. Un­stop­pable. Mum, in par­tic­u­lar, re­ally put a lot of ef­fort into com­mu­nity and sport-based stuff. Grow­ing up in the coun­try, the big­gest thing I took away is that you have to have time for ev­ery­one, and

“I’m glad my son is go­ing to grow up in the coun­try. I’m so ex­cited about that.”

you don’t judge peo­ple quickly. In a small com­mu­nity you’ve got to be a lit­tle bit more ac­cept­ing and un­der­stand­ing of peo­ple, whereas in a huge city you can align your­self with what­ever sub­cul­ture you like. In a small town, you have to have a bit of tol­er­ance for ev­ery­one. So I like to think I’ve got time for ev­ery­one. I love be­ing sur­rounded by the nat­u­ral world and, although I didn’t re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate it then, it’s some­thing I’m glad I had the ben­e­fit of grow­ing up with. Be­cause we backed on to the bush, of­ten I’d be out ex­plor­ing in the bush, all af­ter­noon un­til sun­set. Now, I live on eight hectares and I’m a two-minute drive from the beach. I’m glad I grew up in the coun­try and I’m glad my son is go­ing to grow up in the coun­try. I’m so ex­cited about that.

FROM FAR LEFT A pen­sive Paul, five, at home; aged seven, at Di­a­mond Beach; with his ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, Alan Guy, be­hind his par­ents’ shop.

BE­LOW “I’m six, on the ve­ran­dah at home.” RIGHT With Ni­cole on a camp­ing trip; happy sib­lings — “We got on, and still do.”

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