The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - TV Guide - - Close Up - – Deb­bie Schipp

It’s early March in pic­turesque ru­ral Cen­tral Tilba on the NSW south coast and, de­spite meet­ing only days ago, River Cot­tage founder, celebrity chef and sus­tain­able-farm­ing cam­paigner Hugh Fearn­ley-Whit­tingstall and his rookie Aussie River Cot­tage re­cruit Paul West are get­ting along fa­mously.

They are, you could say, like two (sus­tain­ably grown) peas in a pod.

About 15 years ago Fearn­leyWhit­tingstall quit Lon­don for the coun­try, set up in a gamekeeper’s house called River Cot­tage and made an art form of sus­tain­able, tasty, self-suf­fi­ciency, cre­at­ing a swag of tele­vi­sion se­ries along the way.

Now the River Cot­tage ex­per­i­ment is be­ing re­peated in Aus­tralia, with West at the helm.

West, 29, has no tele­vi­sion ex­pe­ri­ence but, like Fearn­ley-Whit­tingstall, he opted out of high-level cheff­ing and chose a ru­ral ex­is­tence with sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture and a love of food at its core.

Fearn­ley-Whit­tingstall says it was this that made West the ob­vi­ous choice as the keeper of Aus­tralia’s River Cot­tage, which has been es­tab­lished on 10ha in the rolling hills around Cen­tral Tilba. The first crops are now in and the first an­i­mals are tak­ing up res­i­dence un­der West’s – and the cam­eras’ – watch­ful eyes.

Over din­ner, cooked with lo­cal pro­duce at a prop­erty ad­join­ing the River Cot­tage Aus­tralia farm, Fearn­ley-Whit­tingstall says West, “picked him­self for the role”.

“For me the ab­so­lute no-brainer with Paul was the sparkle, the twin­kle in his eye,” he says.

“And now I’m work­ing with him, I’m see­ing him talk­ing to other peo­ple and he’s to­tally en­gaged.

“It re­minds me so much of the early days of the first River Cot­tage 15 years ago – putting feel­ers out, find­ing out about the lo­cals, get­ting con­nected with the sto­ries around here and the food prove­nance around here.

“The thing I have en­joyed the most is see­ing how rapidly Paul has con­nected and is hun­gry for the con­nec­tions of the area. He wants to put down roots here – I re­mem­ber that feel­ing with the orig­i­nal River Cot­tage in Dorset 15 years ago.”

West, a long-time River Cot­tage fan, ap­pears in his el­e­ment. A chef who un­til this gig had his own dreams of es­tab­lish­ing a farm gar­den at his home in ru­ral Tas­ma­nia, West has worked in “just about ev­ery as­pect of food pro­duc­tion”.

“I’ve done whole­sale, re­tail, high-end fine din­ing, cafes, plant­ing food, and for me the best part about it is the grow­ing of it and the shar­ing of it,” he says.

But he ad­mits to be­ing a lit­tle starstruck meet­ing Fearn­ley-Whit­tingstall.

“You spend all of this time watch­ing some­one – it’s so strange to be then work­ing be­side them,” he says.

Fearn­ley-Whit­tingstall ap­pears in the first episode of the Aus­tralian se­ries, hand­ing over the reins to West.

“The dilemma for me (shoot­ing that first episode) is here is a guy with so much prom­ise and pas­sion and affin­ity with the land, and gen­uine cook­ing abil­ity and will­ing­ness to learn, that even af­ter three or four days I thought: ‘I just need to let this guy go and do his thing’.

“I feel right here in this com­mu­nity that it is to­tally the right mo­ment for Paul, just like it was for me in Dorset 15 years ago.”

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