Hugh Christopher Edmund Fearnley-Whittingstall (born 14 January 1965) is an English celebrity chef, television personality, journalist, food writer and campaigner on food and environmental issues, known for his back-to-basics philosophy.[1][2]

Fearnley-Whittingstall is best known for hosting the River Cottage series on the UK television channel Channel 4, in which audiences observe his efforts to become a self-reliant, downshifted farmer in rural England — Fearnley-Whittingstall feeds himself, his family and friends with locally produced and sourced fruits, vegetables, fish, eggs and meat. Fearnley-Whittingstall has also become a well-known campaigner on issues related to food production and the environment, such as fisheries management and animal welfare.

Early life

Born in Hampstead, London to gardener and writer, Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, and father, Robert Fearnley-Whittingstall, Fearnley-Whittingstall was brought up in Gloucestershire. He was educated at Summer Fields School,[3] Eton College and St Peter's College, Oxford, where he read philosophy and psychology.[4]

Early career

After a temporary relocation to Africa, where Fearnley-Whittingstall was considering a career in wildlife conservation, he returned to England and became a sous-chef at the River Café in London. However, he has since revealed that "being messy" and "lacking discipline" made him unsuitable for working in the River Café kitchen, but that he regards his time there as a period that helped shape his current career.[5]

Following his time at the River Café, Fearnley-Whittingstall commenced freelance journalism and was published in Punch, the Evening Standard and The Sunday Times.[6]

Television shows

Cook on the Wild Side

Fearnley-Whittingstall's initial television exposure was on Cook on the Wild Side, an exploration of earthy cuisine; the show depicted the celebrity chef's habit of "picking up roadkill and eating the hedgerows", which consequently "earned him his nickname of Hugh Fearlessly-Eatsitall."[6]

TV Dinners

Fearnley-Whittingstall's next series was TV Dinners, in which he notoriously flambéed and puréed a human placenta to then serve as pâté during one episode[7] — the pâté was "much enjoyed by the baby's family and friends."[6]

Treats from the Edwardian Country House

In 2002 he presented the six-episode series, Treats from the Edwardian Country House.[8]

Big Blue UK

In August 2015, alongside Lindsey Chapman, he hosted a series of five daily programmes on BBC One, linked to three evening programmes Big Blue Live. The series concentrated on marine wildlife around the UK coast.[9]

River Cottage

In 1997, Fearnley-Whittingstall moved into River Cottage, a former game-keeper's lodge on the grounds of Slape Manor in Netherbury, Dorset, UK, which he had previously used as a weekend and holiday home. The lodge became the setting for three Channel 4 series: Escape to River Cottage, Return to River Cottage and River Cottage Forever, all directed by Garry John Hughes. Through his experiences while filming for these programmes, in which he had to produce everything himself in the style of the 1970s series, The Good Life, he has become an ardent supporter of the organic movement.[citation needed]

Beyond River Cottage

In 2004, Beyond River Cottage followed Fearnley-Whittingstall's progress as he set up a new business, River Cottage H.Q., on a 44-acre (180,000 m2) property close to Dottery (near Bridport), Dorset, together with his family.[10] Underpinning his new enterprise is the selling of the produce cultivated on his property at the local marketplace and audience bear witness to the host's experiences as a produce seller, while also intermittently receiving the recipe lessons traditionally seen on food shows. The series concludes with a Christmas special in which a feast is brought together, consisting of "Hugh's own fattened geese and ducks" as "the centrepiece for the feast – a ten bird roast of mediaeval origin."[11]

The View from River Cottage

In 2005, a series called The View from River Cottage was produced using extracts from the four previous series, accompanied by newly recorded narration. In the first episode, Fearnley-Whittingstall rearranges his cottage garden, explaining "Now I like flowers as much as the next man, but there's no room for passengers in this garden – the rule is: if it doesn't put something on my plate, I'm afraid it's gotta go."[12] This was followed by The River Cottage Road Trip special that consisted of two newly produced one-hour instalments.[13]

The River Cottage Treatment

During 2006, Fearnley-Whittingstall moved River Cottage HQ from the original barn near Bridport, to its new premises, Park Farm, a 66-acre (270,000 m2) farm near Uplyme on the West Dorset/East Devon border.[14] A new series called The River Cottage Treatment was filmed there and was broadcast on Channel 4 in November 2006.[15] This premise of this series involved guests described as "urban-dwellers, fast food lovers and convenient food-mongers" to spend a week with the host on the new property, the guests being required to undertake farm duties and to eat according to the River Cottage philosophy.[16] — at the time that the series commenced, Fearnley-Whittingstall had been living according to this philosophy for a decade. In the introduction to the first episode, Fearnley-Whittingstall explains:

Some people think that this local, seasonal, organic approach to food is just for the privileged few; but I think it's relevant to everybody and I am ready to put my passion and principles to the test — by inviting a bunch of fast food addicts, ready-meal junkies and convenience-obsessed non-cooks to join me here on the farm, cooking and eating on my terms.[17]

River Cottage: Gone Fishing

In 2007, Fearnley-Whittingstall presented, River Cottage: Gone Fishing, a short series that is the concept's tenth overall, in which he examines some of the lesser-known fish to be caught around the British Isles.[18] Fearnley-Whittingstall opens the series with the statement: "And if we want to keep eating fish, we need to be more responsible in the way that we catch it and more adventurous in the food we choose to cook."[19]

River Cottage seasonal specials

From 2008, Fearnley-Whittingstall filmed magazine-style food programmes, produced at River Cottage HQ, based on the seasonal themes. He explains in the opening episode of the spring series:

I soon found out that, that one of the greatest rewards [of moving to River Cottage] is an incredible feeling of living in tune with the seasons. It isn't just that the food tastes better—it's that life is altogether sweeter. Unfortunately, now that so much of what we eat comes wrapped in plastic from the supermarket, most of us have forgotten what seasonality looks, smells and tastes like.[20]

River Cottage Spring ran from 28 May 2008 to 25 June 2008 on Channel 4 and in one of the episodes, Fearnley-Whittingstall demonstrates his "holistic" approach to cooking by slaughtering, preparing and cooking the entirety of a lamb.[21]

In late 2008, River Cottage Autumn was broadcast from 16 October to 6 November 2008. In one of the autumnal episodes, Fearnley-Whittingstall, together with his friend, John, embarks on a mission to catch crustaceans at a nearby beach with the use of pots. The pair seek to catch prawns, crabs and lobsters, in addition to the blue velvet swimming crab that is commonly found at the particular coastal location where they are based.[22]

On 19 October 2009, a new series of four episodes aired on Channel 4: River Cottage – Winter's on the Way. Fearnley-Whittingstall opened the series with:

Winter may be the season of chilly winds and stormy seas, but it's also a time that should be filled with heartwarming pleasures. Because this is the season where we like to keep our toes cozy and indulge our tastebuds. As the nights draw in and the landscape transforms around us, there's a whole new set of ingredients to play with. So I'll be bringing the year to an end with a very warm welcome with the very best that winter has to offer.[23]

In one of the episodes from the winter series, Fearnley-Whittingstall captures, prepares and cooks rabbits that he finds on his property and introduces viewers to a root called "salsify"—according to the host, salsify was popular during the Victorian era.[24]

River Cottage Every Day

In September 2010, a new series of River Cottage episodes, entitled River Cottage Every Day, commenced. The series encourages viewers to cook from scratch more frequently and is accompanied by a book of the same name. In the opening episode, Fearnley-Whittingstall explained that the series "is all about the food that I like to cook for family and friends" and covers topics such as "thrifty meat dishes" and homemade bread.[25]

River Cottage: Veg Every Day

In Autumn 2011, a new series, River Cottage: Veg Every Day, was launched and is based on Fearnley-Whittingstall's developed awareness regarding the problematic way in which meat is produced and consumed in the modern era. During the series, the food activist addresses the challenge that he defines in the series' first episode: "A whole summer without flesh." Fearnley-Whittingstall explains further: "In the weeks ahead, I'll be expanding my vegetable horizons, seeking out new flavours and textures, and cooking up a whole raft of vegetable dishes with the same excitement and gusto that I've always bestowed on meat and fish."[26][27] By the fifth episode of the series, Fearnley-Whittingstall states to his audience:

And certainly I'd say that a life without meat is no deprivation. My food is as tasty and satisfying as ever; and even though I'm no longer cooking my own home-reared meat and self-caught fish, I still feel fully connected to the land and the seasons. And I can't complain about energy levels—I may even have shed a pound or two ... but, all in all, I'm feeling pretty good.[28]

River Cottage: Three Good Things

A new series of River Cottage, entitled Three Good Things, aired on Channel 4 in December 2012. Accompanied by a cookbook, the series is based on the notion that a great meal can be prepared from gathering three good ingredients—in the first episode, Fearnley-Whittingstall uses beetroot, egg and anchovies to make an open sandwich.[29][30] Fearnley-Whittingstall also competes against guest chefs in each episode and viewers are also invited to challenge the television host with a superior recipe—audience participants are required to upload a video of their meal preparation process onto a River Cottage online community and winners are selected each week, with the overall winner, chosen by Fearnley-Whittingstall at the end of the season, wins a prize worth ₤2,000.[31]

Hugh's War on Waste

In November 2015 Hugh presented Hugh's War on Waste on BBC1, campaigning against waste by food producers, retailers and consumers.[32]

Guest appearances

Fearnley-Whittingstall appeared on the first series of Channel 4's The F Word in 2005, advising Gordon Ramsay on the rearing of turkeys at Ramsay's London home; the turkeys are eaten in the last episode of the series. Further appearances on The F-Word in 2006 and 2007 involved Fearnley-Whittingstall advising Ramsay on the rearing of pigs and lambs, respectively; again, the consumption of the livestock occurs in the last episodes of the series.

At the start of 2008, Fearnley-Whittingstall – along with fellow celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Ramsay – was featured in Channel 4's Big Food Fight season; his contribution to the season was Hugh's Chicken Run, which was shown over three consecutive nights. Fearnley-Whittingstall created three chicken farms in Axminster (one intensive, one commercial free-range and the third, a community farm project staffed by volunteers), culminating in a "Chicken Out!" campaign to encourage the eating of free-range chicken. In 2008, based on the success of the project, further discussion occurred among Channel 4 executives regarding the filming of another season.[33]

Fearnley-Whittingstall then became a permanent team captain, opposing a different guest captain each week, on a food-based panel game, The Big Food Fight, which began on Channel 4 on 8 September 2009; this is not to be confused with the earlier project of the same name. He was a guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs on 31 July 2009.

In 2010, Fearnley-Whittingstall made an appearance on the BBC One comedy panel show, Would I Lie to You? — host, Rob Brydon, awarded him the "Liar of the Week" prize.

In September 2012, Fearnley-Whittingstall made an appearance on The One Show.

Fearnley-Whittingstall also appeared on BBC Two's satirical music panel show, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, on an episode recorded in 2008; airing was delayed until 19 January 2011, due to the scandals surrounding Russell Brand that led to his resignation from the BBC.


Fearnley-Whittingstall published Cuisine Bon Marché in 1994. Fearnley-Whittingstall wrote the cookbooks, The River Cottage Year, The River Cottage Fish Book, The River Cottage Cookbook (winner of the Andre Simon Food Book of the Year Award, the Guild of Food Writers’ Michael Smith Award, and the Glenfiddich Trophy and Food Book of the Year) and The River Cottage Meat Book (the last two books with photographs by Simon Wheeler).[34][35] His most recent book, published on 29 March 2011, is River Cottage Every Day.[36]

He has written articles for The Guardian and The Observer since 2001. A collection of his short articles was published in October 2006 under the title Hugh Fearlessly Eats It All: Dispatches from the Gastronomic Frontline. He edited The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions, written by Kenji Kawakami.


In January 2008, Fearnley-Whittingstall called on hospitality and food service operators to use less intensively farmed chicken:[37]

It's one thing to challenge individual consumers to give up intensively reared chicken but it's also an issue where anyone in the business of selling chicken has to take a stand... in some cases I know chefs, not naming names, at the very high-end sector who are not using free-range birds. Some of them are on the road to Michelin stars.[37]

In 2012, Fearnley-Whittingstall filmed for a Channel 4 series, Hugh's Fish Fight.[38] The series was broadcast in three parts on Channel 4.[39] The campaign's website claimed to have received over 700,000 signatures by 2012.[40]

In November 2015, he filmed Hugh's War on Waste [41] with the BBC and began a campaign to reduce consumer waste in the UK. The two programmes focused on food and clothing waste, both by supermarkets and by shoppers in their own homes.

Other projects

Fearnley-Whittingstall helped develop Stinger,[42] a nettle-flavoured ale, with the Hall & Woodhouse brewery.

Another Fearnley-Whittingstall project was the conversion of an old inn in Axminster to an organic produce shop and canteen[43] which opened in September 2007.

In 2009, Hugh became a patron of ChildHope UK, an international child protection charity working in Africa, Asia and South America.[44]

In 2009, 'The River Cottage Summer's Here' programme promoted the Landshare project that seeks to bring together people who wish to grow fruit and vegetables, but have no land, with landowners willing to donate spare land for cultivation. The online project was commissioned by Channel 4.[45]

Personal life

He is married with four children. [46][26] Fearnley-Whittingstall also runs the River Cottage Canteen and Deli in the centre of Axminster and, in 2011, launched a second River Cottage Canteen and Deli in Plymouth and a third in Winchester.[47] He supports the Green Party of England and Wales.[48]

In 2012, a barn at River Cottage was damaged by fire.[49][50]

Published works

Fearnley-Whittingstall has published the following books:

  • TV Dinners: In Search of Exciting Home Cooking, (1996)
  • A Cook on the Wild Side, (A Channel Four book) (1997)
  • The Best of TV Dinners, (1999)
  • The River Cottage Cookbook, (2001)
  • The River Cottage Year, (2003)
  • The River Cottage Meat Book, (2004)
  • Preserved, with Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton (2004)
  • The Real Good Life: A Practical Guide to a Healthy, Organic Lifestyle, with the Soil Association (2005)
  • Soup Kitchen, with Thomasina Miers, and Annabel Buckingham (2005)
  • The River Cottage Family Cookbook, with Fizz Carr (2005)
  • Hugh Fearlessly Eats it All: Dispatches from the Gastronomic Front line, (2006)
  • Little Book of Soup, with Thomasina Miers, Annabel Buckingham (2006)
  • The Taste of Britain, with Laura Mason, and Catherine Brown (2006)
  • The River Cottage Diary 2008, (2007)
  • The River Cottage Fish Book, with Nick Fisher (2007)
  • River Cottage Diary 2010, (2009)
  • River Cottage Every Day, (2009)
  • The River Cottage Bread Handbook, (US Version) with Daniel Stevens (2010)
  • The River Cottage Preserves Handbook, with Pam Corbin (2010)
  • River Cottage Veg Every Day! (2011)
  • Three Good Things on a Plate, (2012)
  • River Cottage Fruit Every Day! (2013)
  • River Cottage Light & Easy: Healthy Recipes for Every Day, (2014)
  • River Cottage Love Your Leftovers: Recipes for the resourceful cook, (2015)


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  34. ^ Fergus Byrne (10 March 2011). "Simon Wheeler". The Marshwood Vale Magazine. Marshwood Vale Magazine. Archived from the original on 19 February 2013. Retrieved 21 September 2012. 
  35. ^ Simon Wheeler (2012). "Simon Wheeler : About". Simon Wheeler Photography. Simon Wheeler. Retrieved 21 September 2012. 
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External links