Life and Times
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is an English food personality and writer who seems to embody many of the food trends that were popular at the turn of the 21st century. In fact, for him, food at times seems more “political” than it does seem to be about food itself.
He is very anti-McDonald’s — he dedicated an entire column in the Observer magazine in March 2006 railing against the fast food company. He will not let his children eat white bread, and equates giving a soft drink such as Coke to a child with giving them a pack of cigarettes. He is very anti-supermarket, and lays the blame for the lack of seasonal food squarely on their shoulders.
Rounding up the requisite trends, he is also a Green Party supporter, against GM (Genetically Modified) crops, and anti-imported food.
Some people say his world is best seen as a brand of escapism. Essentially a hobby farmer from the English gentry, he acknowledges that critics say he gives a “pretty rose-tinted view of life in the country”, because he’s supported by an income that doesn’t come from farming. Out in the country where he lives and admonishes city folk from in messianic tones, he drives a Land Rover (a very expensive car), and speaks with a posh public school accent. His view of how people should live is somewhat elitist, lecturing people about spending more money on the food they buy, which presumes they have the disposable income as he does to have that choice. The foundation of this food philosophy is organic-food: he even raises his own pigs and chickens on his hobby farm. He doesn’t slaughter pigs himself, thought: he pays an abattoir to do that for him. He named one of his breeding pigs after Delia Smith, the British cooking personality.
Sometimes his material goes beyond escapism to what some people might see as the bizarre. In his 1997 “Cook on the Wild Side” television series, he showed people how to cook roadkill. In an episode during one of his later series on TV, he caused an investigation by the Independent Television Commission (ITC, now subsumed by Oftel) when he cooked up the placenta from a woman named Rosie Clear after she gave birth to her daughter Indi-Mo. He fried the afterbirth up with garlic and shallots, flambéed it, then puréed it into a pâté and served it with focaccia bread to a gathering of her friends and family (the technical term for this is “placentophagy.”)
Some wags have remarked that people watch him now just out of a macabre sense of interest to see what he’ll eat next, and certainly, some have classed him not just as a “foodie” but a “foodie-wierdie.”
He is also afraid of spiders and doesn’t believe in washing his hair more than once or twice a week.
Hugh’s wife’s name is Marie. She is from the “Ile de Ré”, an island just off the east coast of France opposite La Rochelle (halfway between Nantes in the north and Bordeaux in the south. She and Hugh got married in France. She worked for the BBC World Service, but gave it up when they bought the farm. The couple has a son named Oscar (born March 1999) and a son named Freddie (born March 2003), a friend’s daughter they are looking after, named Chloe (born 1997 in the Congo, brought on board in 2005), and a daughter named Louisa, born 2009. The couple like holidaying in Scotland and on Ile de Ré in France.
Hugh runs courses at his farm, and sells books and videos from his web site, as well as food products (though all of the food products are made third party and marketed under the River Cottage brand. ) He is also the co-owner of a television production company called “Keo Films.”
Chronology of his life
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was born in London on 14 January 1965 with the full name of “Hugh Christopher Edmund Fearnley-Whittingstall.” His parents had married three years before, on 14 July 1962, with a marquee reception in Jane’s parent’s gardens where sausage rolls, cucumber sandwiches, egg-and-cress sandwiches, cakes and strawberries and cream were washed down with tea and champagne.
His parents had two children, him and his sister, Sophy. They grew up in Gloucestershire and had a privileged childhood which included riding horses. Her sister went to the exclusive Cheltenham Ladies College in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and became a financial journalist. Hugh was sent to a boarding prep school, and then was educated at Eton, as his father and grandfather had been. At the age of fifteen, he taught himself how to make ice cream from the Constance Spry Cookery Book.
For university, Hugh studied philosophy and psychology at St Peter’s College, Oxford. He then went to southern Africa to travel through game reserves to see if he’d like to do conservation work. At the age of twenty-four, however, he returned to England, and got himself a job at River Café in London, where Jamie Oliver also worked. For an interview, the owners, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, had him make a lemon tart. They asked him to start the next day as a pastry and pudding sous-chef, but then after eight months, they asked him to leave, as he was such a messy cook. While there, though, he learned to be a fan of offal.
After leaving the River Café, he went to Provence, France, and did some cooking for Quentin Crewe, the food writer, and then got himself work as a journalist writing about food and restaurants. He wrote for publications such as Punch magazine, the Evening Standard and the Sunday Times.
During this time, he rented on weekends a cottage in West Dorset called “River Cottage.” In 1997, he purchased a nearby dairy farm just outside of Bridport from a farmer who couldn’t make a go of it just on farming income alone. Hugh later expanded the property to 44 acres. He borrowed the name of “River Cottage” and transferred it to the farm. He talked Channel 4 into doing a television cooking series of him at the cottage (aka farm.) By 2002, he had moved to live full-time at the farm, and sold his house in London. In 2005, October, he taught at Ballymaloe Cookery School, a prominent cooking school in Ireland. His subject was how to process a pig carcass into meats.
In 2006, he continued to write for the Guardian’s “Observer” magazine, and he auctioned off his boat “Sea Fox” which had been featured in spring 2006 episodes of his series. He donated the money from the boat sale to the “Rural Revival” charity. In the same year Hugh, Jamie Oliver and Marco-Pierre White helped Prince Charles establish the Mutton Renaissance Club, with the first inaugural meeting held at the Ritz in London on 2 February 2006.
His parents have lived in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire in the Cotswolds since approximately 1984. His mother, Jane, studied landscape gardening, and became a writer. She has published seven books on gardening and won two gold medals at the Chelsea Flower show. She started writing a column called “Body and Soul” for the Times in November 2005, when she was 66. She also wrote a book called the “The Good Granny Guide.” She buys Hugh’s children white bread, because Hugh doesn’t allow them to eat it at home. His father, Robert, worked in advertising, but then gave it up and moved to the country when Hugh was five. Robert eventually went back to advertising, still working in 2005 at the age of 70 as a creative director.
- 1997. Cook on the Wild Side
- 1998. TV Dinners (Channel 4)
- Tales from River Cottage
- 1999. Escape to River Cottage (Channel 4)
- 2000. Return to River Cottage (Channel 4)
- 2002. River Cottage Forever (Channel 4)
- 2004. Beyond River Cottage (October. Channel 4)
- 2005. The View from River Cottage (compilation from previous series)
Books by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
- Cuisine Bonne Marché
- The River Cottage Cookbook
- The River Cottage Year
- 2004. The River Cottage Meat Book (Hodder. June 2004)
- 2005. The River Cottage Family Cookbook (Hodder and Stoughton: October 2005)
- 2006. Hugh Fearlessly Eats All: Dispatches from the Gastronomic Frontline (Bloomsbury: October 2006)
Literature & Lore
“Sometimes it’s the cooking and eating of human placenta, sometimes it’s the sudden killing of a cute fluffy or feathery creature, but last night it was the presenter sticking his hand deep into a cow’s vagina, right up to the armpit (we saw something similar in series one), to determine if a bovine pregnancy was under way (I refused to be startled, however, and even began gaily whistling “A Womb with a View” as he did so.)” — Lewis-Smith, Victor. Taking us for a rural ride (Fearnley-Whittingstall). London: Evening Standard. 22 October 2004.
“When we were feeding our children, we were much more happy-go-lucky than today’s mums. We had never heard of E-numbers, and the evils of fruit being sprayed with insecticide or packed by dirty hands. Our children worry about these things, perhaps too much, so that their children become picky eaters. Just accept the way your daughter-in-law is, and be thankful you don’t have to feed your grandchildren on a daily basis.” — Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall (Hugh’s mother). Happy Families column. In The Times. London. 1 December 2005.
Barber, Lynn. You can take the man out of the country… (Fearnley-Whittingstall). London: The Observer. Sunday, 14 March 2004.
Barton, Robin. Travel: Me and my kit (Fearnley-Whittingstall). London: The Independent. 15 April 2001.
Fearnley-Whittingstall, Hugh & Sarah Raven. How we met. London: Independent. Sunday, 4 December 2005.
Jones, Liz. Shambolic Hugh adopts a serious role. (Fearnley-Whittingstall). London: Evening Standard. 3 October 2005.
Lewis-Smith, Victor. Taking us for a rural ride (Fearnley-Whittingstall). London: Evening Standard. 22 October 2004.
Gillespie, Liza-Jane. From gardening to good grannies. In South Cotswolds News. Gloucestershire Gazette. 7 October 2005.
Stacey, Caroline. How do Look? (Fearnley-Whittingstall). London: The Independent. 7 June 2003.
Turner, Janice. Britain’s favourite granny (Fearnley-Whittingstall). London: Times. 26 November 2005.