Farmer, foodie and now successful TV presenter Jimmy Doherty of Jimmy’s Farm fame is firm friends with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and the two film Jimmy and Jamie’s Friday Night Feasts together. Here he reveals what it’s like to be a farmer, his plans for this year’s popular Jimmy’s Festival and his favourite foods
It’s hard to imagine with two popular food inspired shows on TV, a successful farm and family park and a festival that’s grabbing the headlines each summer, that Essex born farmer Jimmy Doherty began his country love affair at Mole Hall Wildlife Park in Saffron Waldon as a teenager.
“Yes it’s crazy but even then I always had pets and loved animals – everything from dogs to snakes”, says Jimmy. “In the early days it was my dream to have a zoo, then as time went on I got more interested in food and food production which started me working with cattle, sheep and pigs.” Jimmy who owns a sprawling farm park in picturesque Wherstead just outside Suffolk, with all kinds of animals including rare pigs says: “I got a bit obsessed with livestock and traditional farming. Long story short, I’ve come pretty much full circle, not only do I have a successful farm I actually have a zoo keepers licence, too. I’ve actually achieved the original dream of my 16 year old self, you can’t beat that!”
Jimmy who splits his time between his farm and TV projects including the successful documentary Food Unwrapped believes it’s the constant challenge of working on new things that keeps him buzzing. He says: “The best thing about presenting is when you get to tell a news story that has a great twist. I was working on a story investigating cod liver oil and we ended up going into a whole thing about the decellularisation of cod skin and finding a method of helping people with debilitating skin conditions. I love when you start off with one thing and it turns into something else. You also get to meet so many interesting characters and do a lot of different things.”
Doherty believes it’s the same thing that appeals to him about farming: “It’s about the whole cycle of development – germinating a seed and watching it grow into a plant that can be harvested for food. It’s the same with livestock; seeing animals being born and being part of the entire journey. I love connecting with the land and seeing the fruits of my labour.”
He admits that when he opened the doors to Jimmy’s Farm he wanted to offer visitors something a bit different.
“I think the fact that we are a working farm sets us apart from other attractions. The farm and wildlife park have rare domestic livestock,that are rubbing shoulders with a tapia! People can eat in the restaurant and then go and visit the tropical butterfly house and check out some meerkats. At Easter we took on some crocodiles – a childhood dream come true for me, and a huge asset to the farm and its diversity.”
The award-winning Jimmy’s restaurant had some input from best mate Jamie Oliver and the two grew up together in Essex. “Jamie and I have been friends since we were three – and were mainly always up to mischief. He’s exactly as you see on TV, he really knows his stuff and is very funny. Filming in Southend for Friday Night Feast was hilarious – it’s great working with your best mate!”
Doherty and Oliver were both born in Clavering and Jimmy reckons growing up in Essex was the best. He says: “I had a lovely upbringing and one of my favourite memories was strawberry picking on one of the many pick-your-own farms. We’d pick strawberries then go and weigh then in a basket. I’d eat so many – I’d have about six left in the punnet!”
He goes on: “Essex humour is something else and we have some fabulous restaurants and fresh food suppliers. Our farm shop is in a beautiful converted barn which is shared by the farm’s butchery. We have loads of goodies, including condiments, chocolates and Champagne.”
Both Jimmy and Jamie are passionate about making eating good, healthy food a must for families in the UK, and Friday Night Feast is a real foodie inspiration. He says: “We’ve got a new series coming out – I can’t divulge too many details, but we’re looking at topics and campaigns at the moment plus some great new recipes and celebrity guests.”
The café at the end of Southend Pier where the show is filmed is actually an ice-cream and coffee stand but is transformed into a café for the series. Jimmy says: “My nan used to take me to Southend all the time and when we learnt to drive me and my friends would make road trips to get fish and chips in Southend. It always had that element of escapism and fun. We could have taken the show anywhere, but Southend plays on both mine and Jamie’s heartstrings.”
With food never far from his thoughts, Jimmy says: “I’ll never get bored discovering new tastes and trends. I’m a huge fan of pulled pork which is super popular right and great as I’m a pork producer! I’ve never got the thing about sundried tomatoes, I think they’re over-rated but I do love fish. My favourite food is a Sri Lankan Crab Curry, ideally eaten in Sri Lanka but I would happily never eat a sea cucumber again. It was like a giant salt water slug – not nice!”
Now with summer well and truly here Jimmy is putting the finishing touches to his popular festival. He says: “The festival has been growing bigger every year starting from smaller farmer’s markets and sausage festivals with just a few hundred people, growing to something huge!
“The great thing about having the festival here is that we have all the infrastructure in place already, plus the festival fits in with the farm and incorporates all its features – we don’t ship the animals out to make way for the event, they’re very much a part of it. And this year there are more attractions than ever including headlining acts Paul Young and the Happy Mondays. There are celebrity chef demos as well as den-building and woodland craft workshops. The whole farm is open. It’s a totally family and dog friendly vibe.”