TV CHEF and food crusader Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall raised £1million in 36 hours to help expand his River Cottage empire – but West Dorset will remain at the ‘heart’ of his brand.

He founded the restaurant and food business River Cottage with Rob Love in 1998.

River Cottage already has its signature canteen restaurants in Axminster, Teignmouth and Bristol and the investment money will be used to open one in Winchester in the autumn, with a further two in the south on the horizon.

River Cottage managing director Mr Love said: “It was over £1million in 36 hours and that’s pretty extraordinary.

“It is the first one of these crowdfunding bonds so it’s unique.

“We have lots of enquiries from River Cottage fans who are always asking us how they can get involved in the brand and the company so this seemed like an obvious opportunity. We know and like crowdfunding as a method of fundraising which is obviously growing and we were keen to try it out and it was very successful.”

Hugh said: “The River Cottage brand grew out of our West Dorset roots based on our SLOW food ethos and that remains at the heart of the business. We’re committed to helping people eat amazing food and this investment opportunity means we can continue to do that to more people in more places. We’re passionate about our business and we want our investors to be as well.”

He said expansion had always been on the cards and this was one way of funding it.

The River Cottage Bond, which allowed private investors to make an initial investment of £500 or more, will be paying seven per cent fixed interest per annum. It attracted backing from around 280 people.

Alongside the seven per cent annual fixed interest, each of the chain’s new investors will receive 10 per cent off at River Cottage’s three canteen restaurants in Axminster, Bristol and Plymouth, as well as free River Cottage membership and exclusive benefits.

Mr Love added: “The restaurant in Winchester will be opening in the autumn and we have another two planned when we can find the locations.

“It is a natural part of our expansion.

“River Cottage is incredibly well supported and we offered it up to the River Cottage Canteen supporters first and they snapped it up. We were delighted with the response. It is a nice brand to be working with.”

A River Cottage spokesman said the ethos of the business is to champion seasonal, local, organic and wild produce.