From a busy kitchen to a rural farm, Paul West had his work cut out for him at River Cottage – and the challenges aren’t over yet
While Paul West’s confidence as small-scale farmer as well as a TV presenter has grown in leaps and bounds since the first season of River Cottage Australia, it’s not all roses for the chef from the Upper Hunter. The biggest hurdle for Paul, as we’ll see in the upcoming season, has been the demands put on the farm by the steadily increasing number of animals.
“Managing an ever-growing brood of livestock with minimal infrastructure has been the biggest challenge,” he explains. “It’s all good to buy livestock and get them there, and have these grand plans about how easy it’s going to be... It’s been a pain sometimes. Taking care of stray flocks can be quite an ordeal.”
As well as Digger the clover-loving dog, Bessie the cow, Ron the rooster and 50 chooks to take care of, sows Dolly and Pinky add to the large number of free-range animals. (You may recall they were pregnant at the end of season two.) Plus the giddy goats make a bid for freedom that has Paul laughing, if a little exasperated: “If it happens again… goat’s on the menu!”
You’ll also notice that Paul doesn’t name his animals anymore. “The ones who have names have been with me since season one,” he explains, adding that the emotional attachment to Big Boy the pig in season one made the charismatic ‘charmer’ – chef-farmer – rethink his approach. “I’ve realised that you name your pets, not your food.”
Paul faces these obstacles head on, with a host of unique and talented people in the area to guide him.
“Every day is a school day,” he says to the inspirational 86-year-old Jean, who helps him recycle fallen trees to build an enclosure for the drove of wayward piglets – another unexpected challenge. In return for his help, Paul makes a mouth-watering dessert from Jean’s ‘lemonade’ orchard.
Bartering is a way of life in Central Tilba, and it’s something Paul has embraced. With a glut of delicious winter veggies at his disposal, he swaps his River Cottage haul for bread and meat or maybe “a meal and a couple of beers at the pub”.