Television: Cuisine sauvage

Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall is set to introduce some novel recipes which will challenge your palate - and the strength of your stomach. James Rampton manages to steer clear of the red toadstools

A roast-squirrel breast, sir, to go with your lightly-steamed hogweed shoots? Or perhaps a little fried sand-eel with lily salad, madam, washed down with a carafe of oak-leaf wine? No, this is not a long-lost Monty Python sketch, but a selection of dishes from A Cook on the Wild Side, a new travelogue-cum-cookery programme.

Over the next six weeks on Channel 4, writer-presenter Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall travels the length and breadth of Britain foraging through hedgerows, streams and burrows in search of lunch. His philosophy is: if it moves - or rustles - cook the damn thing. A disillusioned townie, he is determined to leave behind the staple supermarket fare of "cellophane and sell-by dates" and delve into the wild larder to create a cuisine sauvage (food writing always seems to bring on a severe dose of the purple prose). A former food columnist for the Sunday Telegraph and a one-time chef at the River Cafe, he foresakes his creature comforts for this series and drives around the country in a custom-built Gastrowagon - a Land Rover with a sleeping compartment strapped to the roof and a kitchen that folds out of the back. Heath Robinson would have been proud to have designed such a vehicle.

Over a rather conventional meal of asparagus and sea bream (I must admit to some relief that he didn't offer to rustle me up a quick platter of fried minnows), the game presenter recalls that he only turned his nose up at one delicacy: lugworm. "I just couldn't face it. If I had cooked it, though, I would have just stripped out its guts and fried it. It would have been leathery - like any worm - but almost anything is tasty if it's deep-fried in batter and crisped-up to oblivion. It's the same principle as frogs and snails. They don't taste of much in themselves - it's all in the sauce.

"You can pretty much eat any animal," he continues blithely, "but plants and mushrooms are a different matter. There's no point dicing with death just for the sake of it. Channel 4 are really worried that viewers are going to go out and poison themselves - to the extent that at the end of every programme, there'll be a 'don't try this at home' warning. Television companies have to cover themselves against the moron factor. There'll always be someone who goes and chomps a red toadstool with white spots on."

Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall has the name and attitude of a courageous 19th-century explorer, manfully hacking through the undergrowth of hidden Britain and boldly eating what no man has eaten before. Like French and Saunders's bluff countrywomen in headscarves, he has a refreshingly robust view about food; you can almost hear him dismiss viewers' worries with a snorted "stuff and nonsense" as he munches on a hedgerow salad of broom buds and sorrel.

He has no time for precious suburban scruples about what you can and can't eat. "The cute furry animal syndrome is big in this country, and I know some people will be upset by seeing me eat a squirrel. Since the Carling Black Label advert with the squirrel, the cuteness factor has shot up one hundred per cent. I'll take criticism from radical vegetarians, but most of those who'll complain will be people who don't think twice about eating a battery-farmed chicken. They shouldn't then turn round and say that I can't eat a squirrel because it's so cute. There's a lot of hypocrisy about the killing of animals. Whether some real militants will fire-bomb my house, I don't know."

The tone of the series is generally light, but the presenter does admit that "if we've got a half-serious mission, it's to get people to think about the origins of their food. Twenty years ago, people were unquestioning; they'd pick something off the shelf and not care about where it came from. Now if you catch your own fish, you're very much aware of where it comes from. And it's a bit nicer than buying a fish-finger from the supermarket". So Fernley-Whittingstall is a culinary crusader, hoping to make us see that in the deepest countryside lurk not hidden terrors, but our next meal. Recipes will, of course, be available on 4 Tel, Page 322 after the show.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the series, however, is that Fernley-Whittingstall was never once ill during the making of it. He struggled with the sand-eels, and feared the worst at a vegan feast in Cornwall. "I ate this salad of raw leaves and flowers and was just waiting for the stomach cramps to kick in. But in fact it was delicious. The lilies were especially tasty - crunchy like iceberg lettuce with sweet flavours and the pollen bursting in your mouth."

Sojust what does it take to make this iron-stomached adventurer queasy? "Normally what makes me sick is going to an expensive restaurant in London. Really rich food - that's much more likely to do me in."

'A Cook on the Wild Side' starts Wednesday at 8pm on Channel 4

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Associate Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

    IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

    £23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

    Business Analyst

    £300 - £350 per day: Orgtel: Job Title: Business Analyst Rate: £300 - £350 per...

    C# .NET Developer

    £290 - £291 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Manchester C#.NET ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform