There you go an arrogant dick head that wants to dictate to all of us what to eat , its got NOTHING to do with discards just his attitude, time to kick this arsehole out and off the tv for good I say

'Look,” says Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, “in the eyes of pretty much anyone, I’m a toff, aren’t I?”

He smiles. The cook, television presenter and author was in the year above David Cameron at Britain’s leading public school. “I’ve got a double-barrelled name. I went to Eton. How can I say, 'Listen, I’m just faintly upper middle class’?”

He loves – and is loved for – getting dirty in the vegetable patch and bloody in the kitchen, as a passionate advocate of home-grown or ethically sourced food. But even those who adore his River Cottage television shows or sign up to his campaigns against battery farming and wasteful fishing know him as – to quote one reviewer – a floppy-haired toff.

“To me, toff means landed aristocracy,” he protests, gently. “You’re not to bend and abuse this quote, but if you’re at Eton there are people who are toffs and you’re not. But to someone who isn’t anywhere near that background … of course I’m a toff.”

Copies of his latest book, Three Good Things, are handed to him as we sit in Toppings bookshop in Ely, Cambridgeshire. With a high-profile TV career, a cookery school, a couple of restaurants and a series of bestselling books, he has joined Jamie and Delia as a foodie so famous he needs only a first name, which he scrawls on each cover page: “Hugh”. The book goes with a new Channel 4 series.

Handsome, eloquent, campaigning, with connections to those in power… is he becoming the Coalition’s Jamie Oliver?

“They haven’t put a lot of work my way,” he says, laughing. “Jamie got a couple of good cooking gigs for the visit of Barack Obama, or whatever, but I haven’t been entertaining the Coalition, or any of their foreign guests at River Cottage. Always open to suggestions.”

Jamie was pals with Tony Blair. Hugh’s cousin Sarah is married to David Cameron’s brother, Alexander. “Those are chance connections. I’m not pally. I know these guys, but they are not close personal friends.”

Is he not forever hanging out with Dave? “I’m not ever hanging out with Dave. We have friends in common, but we don’t see each other except through those friends.”

Still, we have an Old Etonian Prime Minister and Chancellor, and Mayor of London, and it looks like the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be one, too. None of the others is available to comment, so what’s going on, Hugh?

“What can one say? I had a great time at that school. But not such a great time that I’m sending my own kids there. It is, in many senses, a ridiculous place.”

Fearnley-Whittingstall lives in the West Country with his wife Marie, a French journalist, and their four children, aged between two and 16. The family home is not River Cottage HQ but another farm, with cows, sheep, pigs and chickens and a vegetable garden.

The book’s introduction gives a glimpse of family life. “Come to my house for breakfast,” he says. “Freddy’s devouring pancakes with sugar and lemon, Chloe’s eating porridge with golden syrup and cream, and Oscar’s having cornflakes with cold milk and a sliced banana. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying a double espresso with a shot of brandy and a fag…” He’s kidding about that last one – “obviously” – but it’s the first cookbook I’ve ever read that made me laugh.

The book throws together three elements at a time – steak, cheddar and gherkins in a sandwich; parsnips, garlic and blue cheese in a soup – but what really interests me is, who writes his stuff?

“I’m very happy to ’fess up that this is a collaborative project,” he says. “One collaborator is my head chef at River Cottage, Gill Meller. We talk about food all the time. I also have a brilliant researcher called Nikki Duffy, a food writer in her own right. That’s my core team. We meet regularly, exchange ideas, test recipes in our own kitchens, exchange emails and get back together. That is the process.”

They don’t just send him the recipes to sign off? “No, not at all. I’m more of a control freak than that.”

When I ask what River Cottage stands for, there is a moment like one on his show when he turns to the camera and delivers a soliloquy.

“There is a continuum with food. At one end is the person who eats only frozen pizzas and ready-made meals. At the other is the self-sufficient person – at the extreme, the Kalahari bushman who doesn’t even cultivate crops, but just goes out there and finds a few roots to eat.

“I’m offering people a bunch of tools with which they can move themselves along that continuum towards the Kalahari bushman. Keeping chickens, growing herbs in a window box, shopping at a farmers’ market or going to a pick-your-own once a year.”

Now he’s breathless and loud. “My contention is that it’s a good idea. You’ll enjoy it more, your life with food will be more fun, your family will probably eat more healthily and there will be one aspect of your life – the business of what you shove in your face – that will be getting better.”

But doesn’t all this go out of the window when times are tight? “The recession doesn’t necessarily make good food harder, for anyone who is prepared to cook.”

Fearnley-Whittingstall didn’t go to catering college but studied theology, then psychology, at Oxford. He landed a job in west London’s fabled River Café restaurant in his twenties, but was sacked after six months.

“I learnt how to bone a leg of lamb, clean squid and prepare fish, all that sort of stuff, but I was not as quick as others and not very good at tidying up. I was maybe having too good a time.”

He became a food journalist, but the foundation of his career was laid in childhood. “I was my Mum’s sous chef for 10 years of dinner parties. Pastry chef as well. Lots of profiteroles and Black Forest gateaux. Food was something I could do, from the moment I made a peppermint cream.”

I would suggest he owes his presentation skills to his father, who was an advertising copywriter. Having charmed his way on to television, the young Hugh first made his name as a TV cook who ate roadkill, or whatever came his way – including, memorably, a placenta. Has he eaten badger, the animal of the moment, target of a controversial cull?

“I’ve, er, been offered what was alleged to be a bit of badger at a West Country cider shed party. It tasted like barbecued meat, slightly overcooked.”

In 1997, he pitched himself as a city refugee trying to live a modern version of The Good Life in River Cottage, Dorset. Both river and cottage were left behind when his business moved to Axminster, but the name remains his trademark.

In 2008, he made Hugh’s Chicken Run for Channel 4 in which he built a replica of a battery farm and wept at what it did to the hens. “When we started campaigning, less than 5 per cent of poultry sold in supermarkets was high welfare. It’s now 15 per cent. There is a dialogue in the industry that wasn’t happening before. That’s something I can feel proud of.”

Next he went fishing, and was shocked by the number of fish thrown over the side of trawlers as a result of EU rules. More than 800,000 names filled his petition to have those rules changed.

“There still isn’t a discards ban. There is one tabled, and it is under discussion.” He expects a ruling next month, and a ban of some kind next year. “It will be meaningful and it will make a difference.”

Given all this, I spluttered into my lentils when I read that he became a campaigner because he was “fed up with the way in which businesses seem to dictate the diet to the nation”. Surely that’s what he’s trying to do, with his empire?

“We’re fighting a rearguard action for quality,” he says. “If you hang out at the cookery school and the canteen in Axminster, it isn’t really an empire. It’s a bit more mud-around-the-ankles than that.”

There’s a pause. “Let me be clear about one thing, though. I absolutely do want to dictate the taste of the nation. I want to change your life with food.”