Enjoy a CovidSafe visit to the National Library.

Q & A with Paul West—part two

Q & A with Paul West—part two
Authors at the National Library
24 June 2016

Paul West and Amanda Whitley

Sam Cooper, Paul West and Amanda Whitley  2016

On a wintry night in mid-June, a hardy and excited group gathered at the Library to have dinner with River Cottage Australia chef Paul West. Safe in the warmth of the Library’s stunning foyer, the wine and conversation flowed, the laughs were plentiful, and the delicious River Cottage Australia Cookbook-inspired meal was devoured. Straight from his farm in Tilba, Paul delighted guests and chatted up a storm, both on mic with HerCanberra founder Amanda Whitley and individually as he signed a weighty pile of books.

In this second part of our conversation with Paul, as promised, we have more photos, more recipes, and more insight into the reading, writing and cooking life of the man himself.

Why did you apply to host River Cottage Australia?

I was (and still am) a huge fan of the original UK series, and had been on a path to something similar, minus the cameras of course, for many years. It sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime so I threw my hat into the ring and here we are!

[Ed.'s note: The show received 1300 applications for the role of host! It just goes to show how far a passion for people and your craft can get you.]

We’ve all experienced that moment when disaster strikes in the kitchen five minutes before guests arrive. Do you have a go-to strategy for rescuing a meal when the bulk of it has gone horribly wrong?

Wine, and lots of it.

What are you reading right now?

The Lentil Underground, Liz Carlisle.

What three titles should always be on the shelves of any self-respecting book shop?

From a food perspective:

What’s the strangest piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a writer?

That I don’t need a cape and a beret to appear at the Sydney Writers Festival.

What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked about your writing?

Did I write it?

What are you working on now?

A new cookbook!

What do you love about libraries?

The smell and the hushed sounds, plus reliable internet when you’re travelling on the cheap!

Photos of harissa chicken and hazelnut syrup cake

Butterflied Chicken with Harissa and Hazelnut Syrup Cake, from The River Cottage Australia Cookbook, courtesy Bloomsbury Publishing.

Butterflied Chicken with Harissa

Recipe taken from The River Cottage Australia Cookbook by Paul West, published by Bloomsbury, RRP $45, out now.

This spicy North African–style marinade adds a chilli kick to grilled chicken, as well as a sweet, smoky flavour. Served with a simple scoop of couscous and a dollop of fire-quelling yoghurt, chicken off the grill never tasted so good. Your local butcher will butterfly the chicken if you ask them nicely.

Recipe serves 4


  • Handful of medium-heat red chillies (such as Serrano), tops removed
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon ground smoked paprika
  • Handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 60ml (¼ cup) olive oil
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt
  • 1 medium free-range, pasture-fed chicken, butterflied
  • 200g couscous
  • 200ml chicken stock (see page 208), boiling hot
  • Knob of butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • 200ml natural yoghurt (see page 245)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Small handful each of mint and coriander leaves, roughly torn
  • Lemon wedges, to serve


Put the chillies, garlic, cumin and coriander seeds, paprika and cherry tomatoes in a food processor. Pulse until a paste starts to form. Add the olive oil, half the lemon juice and zest and a generous pinch of salt and pulse again until combined but not completely smooth. If you don’t have a food processor you can smash everything together in a large mortar and pestle.

Lay the chicken out in a deep-sided dish and season with salt. Coat with the harissa marinade and rub it all over. If you have the time, place in the fridge to marinate for a couple of hours.

Heat the chargrill plate of the barbecue over a medium–high heat and place the chicken on, skin-side down. Cook until the skin is charred and then turn over and repeat for the other side. If the skin is charring and the flesh still isn’t cooked, move the chicken to a cooler part of the plate and grill for around 15–20 minutes, turning occasionally, until it’s cooked through.

Meanwhile, place the couscous in a heat-proof bowl, pour over the hot chicken stock, cover and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Then toss in a knob of butter, season with salt and pepper and fluff with a fork.

To make the yoghurt dressing, combine the yoghurt, remaining lemon zest and juice and a large pinch of salt in a small bowl, then stir to combine. Drizzle over a little extra-virgin olive oil and stir through. Scatter with some of the mint leaves.

To serve, place couscous on a large plate and top with the grilled chicken. Scatter over the rest of the mint and the coriander leaves and serve with the yoghurt dressing and lemon wedges on the side.

Photos of dinner menu and hazelnut torte

Katherine Crane, Dinner with Paul West  2016

Hazelnut Syrup Cake

Recipe taken from The River Cottage Australia Cookbook by Paul West, published by Bloomsbury, RRP $45, out now.

The polar opposite of an airy sponge, this dense, nutty cake is kept moist and given a lift by the addition of the orange syrup. A great cake recipe to have up your sleeve for those among us who avoid the wheatier things in life.

Recipe serves 12

Ingredients for cake

  • 6 free-range eggs, separated
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • 340g hazelnuts, ground to a fine meal
  • Candied peel, to serve (optional)

Ingredients for orange syrup

  • 150g caster sugar
  • 200ml freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Zest of 4 oranges


Preheat the oven to 160°C and grease and line a 25cm cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric whisk to beat together the egg yolks and sugar until they are creamy and pale yellow.

In a separate bowl, mix together the baking powder, orange zest and hazelnut meal, then add to the egg yolks and sugar and thoroughly beat them together. 

In a clean bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add one-third of the whisked whites to the yolk mixture and combine to help lighten the mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites until the mixture has a smooth, even consistency. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for about an hour or until the cake springs back lightly when touched and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is cooking, make the syrup. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over a medium heat. Once the sugar is dissolved reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Allow to cool.

When the cake is cooked, remove from the tin and while it is still hot, prick it all over with a skewer and then spoon half of the syrup on top, allowing it to soak in. leave to cool a little. 

To serve, dress with more syrup and some candied peel, if you like.

Read part one of our conversation with Paul.