The name of River Cottage has become synonymous with that of Hugh Fernley-Wittingstall as the chef has achieved celebrity status in his promotion of seasonal, ethically produced food. I had the privilege of visiting HQ – wasn’t quite what I had expected!
The original River Cottage – in so far as there was one from what I can glean – is now Lower Hewood Farm where I stayed for my first early sorties ‘down south’ courtesy of Alexa de Ferranti, current owner, artist and art entrepreneur. As the business grew then so a place was required which was better able to be customised than was possible at the large thatched house and tight location of Lower Hewood.
Thus River Cottage moved slightly further south to just outside Axminster. The first thing that hits you is the enormous car park. This is now a much visited site with a very big stream of people passing through, largely to be trained by the resident chefs in Fernley-Wittingstall style. The chefs based here provide the teaching resource and provide for regular supper evenings. Just glancing into the training facility was awesome. Immaculately clothed in pristine white outfits, a group of the resident chefs were de-inking squid (!!) whilst others were busy in the unbelievably equipped, spotless kitchen areas teaching those who had paid for the privilege of being there.
It seemed a world away from the experiences of the likes Trill Farm never mind Tinker’s Bubble and Little Brympton. And, in truth it would be very easy to be critical and more than a little cynical. The whole purpose of the River Cottage farm is to provide produce for use in the training kitchens, and to an extent, the suppers. It is tailored and bespoke production so that the trainees can go and ‘pick their own’, so to speak. River Cottage Farm doesn’t even apparently supply the much vaunted Fernley-Wittingstall restaurants or River Cottage Canteen chain.
Does that matter? I would venture to suggest not, we live in a very pluralistic world and if this sort of facility is what brings some people to buying good, ethically produced food then so be it. If may not be for me – though I was delighted to be there and more than blown away by the kitchens – the end surely justifies the means. More people eating proper food is the same outcome I look for, they are just different means to the same result. Don’t knock it, long may it convert!
In the limited time I had at River Cottage HQ, a comprehensive set of images wasn’t possible. I did though meet some of the residents along with some of the garden staff!
For more on River Cottage see the Cottage website
For more on Lower Hewood see my earlier post
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC!]