While chef Paul West hasn’t worked in a commercial kitchen for seven years, he is dining out on life.
Reticent to label himself a ‘celebrity chef’, the man who tasted fame via the still-popular River Cottage series on the ABC is returning to Canberra on Sunday, 2 August to give the ACT a masterclass in what gets his taste buds talking.
While rescuing his five and three-year-old boys from falling off the couch at home, Paul told Region Media he has settled into life on the NSW South Coast, swapping the farm life at River Cottage at Tilba for the “best of both worlds” at Bermagui.
“We live in this social media, celebrity chef, TV cooking competition age where people think that to feed a family, you’ve got to be a MasterChef.
“I like to give people the opportunity to cook technique-driven and produce-driven recipes that they can take and easily implement into their home life for the benefit of themselves and their families,” he said.
“I like to think of myself as the antithesis of the MasterChef-type of character where you’re being judged, where the food you cook has to go levels beyond in order to win that competition.
“My focus is putting food on a family table and when you do that, you want it to be economical financially, you want it to be nourishing and you want it to be relatively simple to prepare.
“I don’t do great Instagram-worthy food. I like to keep it pretty simple,” he said.
Following the theme of his second book, The Edible Garden, that hit the shelves in September last year, Paul likes to use the tough cuts of meat that can be slow-cooked in broths made from beef or chicken bones. And lots of roast veggies, he says.
“Roast veggies are a staple for us, along with lots of fruits and grains and backyard eggs. When you’ve got two kids, those days of labouriously preparing an elaborate feast in the kitchen all day are kind of gone.”
Instead, his days now revolve around school drop-offs and pick-ups, in between the occasional road trips to film TV shows like Back Roads and Catalyst with the ABC.
He harbours absolutely no desire to open his own restaurant and prefers to use the skills he honed on River Cottage as a chef, father and husband.
“I just like my skills as a tool for educating people on how to prepare nutrient-dense food at home for their families, and how to connect with the benefit of cooking as an extension of growing your own food for the nourishment of, not just your body, but your mind and your soul,” Paul says.
“I think food and the production of it, whether it be in a garden or buying it off people you know from small farms is a fundamentally human condition, so to be able to use that platform that I have to assist in educating people is a real privilege.”
After leaving Tilba for work in Melbourne, Paul and his family (and the equally popular dog, Digger) returned to the South Coast for the ‘good life’ in a small community. This time, Bermagui. He says the people of Bermagui have embraced him and his family at a time when the community really came together during the summer’s bushfires.
In return, he’s embraced the town, which has all the essentials while remaining largely in its own little bubble.
“It’s a sensational and very strong community here. It’s such an outlier as the northern-most village of the Bega Valley shire. We’ve got hardware and the post office and groceries and all these amazing little things for a little village of 2000 people.
“Most people tend to live their lives here and they don’t have to travel for work. They can just be living and breathing in Bermagui and everyone who lives here, loves it.”
In Canberra, Paul West will present two public masterclasses at the Ginninderry display village on Sunday, 2 August. Each masterclass is limited to 14 people. To enter, head to the Ginninderry Community Facebook post, tag the person you would invite and say why you’d like to join Paul. Entries close at 8:00 pm on Sunday, 26 July.