River Cottage Australia

Lifestyle's local version of River Cottage is about as good as it gets, and its host is a TV find.

2013-06-23_1725It may come as a shock to some but I’m not overly familiar with the joys of River Cottage.

While I’ve seen portions of the UK lifestyle show fleetingly, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall hasn’t really been on my radar in the same way as, say, Kevin McCloud in Grand Designs.

So I’m not really in a position to make comparative statements about the new Foxtel series, River Cottage Australia. But I am in a position to give my thoughts on the local show as a stand-alone hour of entertainment.

And I’m pleased to say the results are sparkling.

This episode cleverly passes the baton from Fearnley-Whittingstall to local host, Tassie chef Paul West. Like Grand Designs Australia, this is the first international adaptation anywhere in the world, by ITV Australia.

First-time host West is more hard yakka than his UK counterpart, younger, hipper and easy on the eye. He is a straight-shooter with his narration yet still brings plenty of knowledge to his storytelling. West is a bit of a find, really…

Fearnley-Whittingstall travels from Sydney to Tilba on the southern NSW coast. The River Cottage Australia house is a 1930s weatherboard home on a former dairy farm, on rolling green hills in the shadow of Gulaga Mountain. In HD, it almost looks like something out of Babe. Bloody spectacular.

The two hosts meet and begin to add elements to the farm. Two chickens are placed into their new coop, adding some native trees and generally beginning the lessons of self-sustaining and local produce. Such organic messages are, after all, what this show is all about.

Fearnley-Whittingstall is genuinely engaged by how the point of differences the Australian surrounds provide. West has to educate him on whipper snippers (he calls them “strimmers”), there are vegetables he’s never cooked with before, he calls a zucchini something else, and he’s taken aback by the strength of the winds.

But the show really makes its local mark when the duo meet the indigenous Yuin people, whose approach to self-sustenance on the land leaves the Brits for dead. Fearnley-Whittingstall learns about the multi-faceted powers in some of our native flora for food, medicine and more. Local Dreamtime stories are linked directly to the landscape.

They go fishing for octopus in local rivers (West nervously follows the Indigenous method of catching them with his bare hands). And there’s a delicious feast for all the cast at the end of the episode.

This episode doesn’t put a foot wrong. It’s informative, entertaining and visually enticing. While Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will only be appearing in the season premiere and finale, viewers will be in the very-capable hands of Paul West for the series duration.

Move over Grand Designs Australia. River Cottage has been given a true blue twist without taking anything away from the heart of the show.

River Cottage Australia premieres 8:30pm Thursday on LifeStyle.

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