RNLI and me: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, celebrity chef, talks about his relationship with the RNLI.
RNLI and me: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Photo: River Cottage

A lot of your work seems to be intertwined with the sea – why is that?

I’ve long had a fascination with the ocean, and with the amazing foodstuffs that can be foraged at its margins or hauled up from its depths. And of course I’m lucky enough to live very close to the beautiful Jurassic Coast.

But perhaps the greatest reason is that, whether you’re an environmentalist or a foodie, marine conservation and the management of our fish stocks are among the most important issues to face us today. We have to think very carefully about the fish we buy. And if we want to bequeath a better world to our children, we must take a long hard look at the way we treat the ocean.

European politicians voted to end fish discards – is that mission accomplished for you?

No, but it’s a major marine milestone! The Fish Fight campaign proved that consumers care passionately about their fish and that they are prepared to raise their voices to get things changed. Thanks to them and pressure from a swathe of NGOs, a series of measures that will eventually amount to a ban on discards are being phased in.

Of course, politics and policy are never simple – only time will tell if these measures will be effectively and fairly implemented and lead to lasting stock recovery. And there’s more to do: unsustainable fishing practices continue to threaten the ecology of every ocean on this planet.

Many of our supporters created delicious fundraising dishes for The RNLI Fish Supper in October – what’s your idea of a great fish dish to share?

I’m a huge fan of line-caught mackerel and I love it cooked (whole or fillets) on a base of roasted new potatoes with onions, lemons and bay leaves – it’s a fantastic, aromatic, comforting one-pot dish.

What first-hand experience have you had with volunteer lifesavers?

About 4 years ago, I was out fishing with my son, Oscar, off Sidmouth when our small boat became wedged on submerged rocks. We were unable to free her and so I called the local independent lifeboat crew. Their response was fantastic. A crew member swam out to us to attach a line, and they set us loose in no time.

It’s wonderful to know that there are dedicated teams of volunteers – whether they are independent or RNLI crews – around the coast ready at any time to tackle incidents like this, to stop sticky situations turning into disasters.

You’re a man of many hats – what’s your current big project?

I always like to keep my irons in a few different fires, as it were! But a lot of my attention at the moment is focused on the problem of waste. Not just food waste – although of course that is an issue close to my heart – but the material waste we generate across all areas of our lives.

We have become very much a ‘chuck-it-out’ society and there are some pretty shocking truths that must be faced in this area. But luckily there some very neat and achievable solutions too.

Hugh's favourite things

Utensil: Potato ricer

'I picked it up years ago at a second-hand shop. It does the job a treat – fluffy, lump-free mash every time.'

Gadget: Juicer

‘I find the juicer can take care of excess fruit and veg such as apples, carrots, beetroot, rhubarb and kale – so nothing goes to waste.’

Snack: Hot Fish Sandwich

‘A great way to cook fillets and undervalued fish such as dab, pouting or whiting. Just lightly coat them in seasoned flour, fry till golden and ram them into a soft bun.’

About Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

The River Cottage series of cookery books and TV programmes earned Hugh a huge following. His uncompromising commitment to ethically produced food has also driven campaigns such as Fish Fight.

About RNLI Fish Supper

RNLI Fish Supper is a new fundraising campaign, which ran for the first time this month. RNLI volunteers, supporters and celebrity chefs including Allegra McEvedy and Mark Hix got involved, cooking up delicious fish dishes - with the aim of raising funds to support the lifeboat crews who often have to skip supper when the pager goes. Search #RNLIFishSupper for more details.

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