Troubled chef John Burton-Race rebuilding his life in Dartmouth, Devon
Troubled celebrity chef John Burton Race has overcome scandal, divorce and bankruptcy to find happiness at last in Dartmouth, he has revealed.
In an exclusive interview today he reveals that he is now living in a small cottage in Strete, in south Devon, with partner Suzi Ward and their five-year-old son William. He has re-opened his former Dartmouth restaurant, The New Angel, with the backing from car hire millionaire Clive Jacobs.
It was his former wife Kim's discovery that William, then two, was Burton Race's son that precipitated the closure of The New Angel in 2007. His subsequent divorce and bankruptcy cost him, he said, "more than £3 million". But today he says he is convinced it was worth it.
"Suzi and I have so much in common. We are both country people, we love to ride horses together or go for long walks. We love Devon and are very happy here. We're soulmates," he said.
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"As for my divorce, it's only money. And hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
"Kim is a city girl, all she likes is her Gucci handbags and her Prada shoes. She's back living in London now and good luck to her. We were hopelessly mismatched."
What's more, the recession has, he said, altered his cooking for the better: "I've had to change the menu to suit the economy.
"Now, I'll buy whole side of Dexter beef from a farm near here, put the prime cuts on the à la carte menu and use the cheaper cuts to make a beef en daube for a set menu. That's much more affordable for customers and the main thing is to get people in the door here eating.
"Even if the set menu is just £19.50, by the time they've had wine, mineral water, coffee and a dessert for a fiver, that's up to £35 a head and well worth having."
He has also given up smoking, is planning several more TV series and has a paperback version of his cookery book Flavour First out this month.
THE FULL INTERVIEW
Even if you don't know one celebrity chef from another, you'll
surely have heard of Dartmouth's infamous foodie, John Burton Race.
He's the one who had blazing rows on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!,
then was revealed to have secretly fathered a child, by then two years
old, with his mistress. Next came a £3 million bankruptcy, the loss of
his restaurant and a bitterly public divorce. Add in a conviction for
drink-driving and resisting arrest last autumn and, albeit for mostly
the wrong reasons, he is certainly one of the UK's best-known chefs.
we meet, however, the 52-year-old is positively chirpy – and it's fair
to say he has reason to be. He has persuaded car hire millionaire Clive
Jacobs to help him re-open The New Angel, his Dartmouth restaurant.
What's more, he is now happily divorced and living with his some-time
mistress, Suzi Ward and their five-year-old son William, known as Pip.
even trying to cut back on wine and has given up smoking, too. He's put
on weight, looks less cadaverous and really rather well.
you, there are days when I still crave a fag," he says, cradling a
coffee in the window seat of The New Angel. "And today's certainly one
I do hope being forced to re-live his many
misdemeanours in an interview isn't the cause of his longing for
nicotine. After all, I am a little surprised he has even agreed to talk
to me, considering it was the Western Morning News which first broke the story of his affair and love-child. But then, how could we not?
no, truth be told, John just fancies a smoke because he's got a busy
day ahead. He admits that, despite it all, he really rather enjoys his
notoriety. "Yes, I've had lots of adverse publicity," he says with a
theatrical sigh. "Most of it I brought upon myself. But then, you learn
to live with it.
"I can go out of this restaurant now and by the
time I've popped round the corner someone will have said to me, 'Here
comes the shagger', or 'Haven't you been a naughty boy?'
"I don't mind – I love gossip myself. It's funny, I'd probably miss it if people didn't say something."
all's well that ends well, then? Well, sort of. These days John says he
is £3 million ("at least") poorer since his wife of 11 years, Kim,
divorced him. "Oh well, it's only money. And hell hath no fury like a
woman scorned," he says with a twinkle.
"Kim is a city girl, all
she likes is her Gucci handbags and her Prada shoes. She's back living
in London now and good luck to her.
"We were hopelessly
mismatched. It was all right at first because when I ran a restaurant
in London [The Landmark, where he won two Michelin stars] I was
literally never at home. But the cracks started to show when we moved
to France and had to spend lots of time together."
TV fans will remember John first appearing on our screens in French Leave
in 2002 when he, Kim and their six children (of whom the youngest two,
Charles and Amelia, were his) moved to rural France. John's attempts to
out-cook the French, producing cassoulets and patisserie, were
But more gripping still were the family dramas
played out on screen. No-one who saw Kim's face when John came home
with a live goat in the back of his car can be altogether surprised
that the marriage ended in divorce.
Once the French adventure was over, the family decamped to Dartmouth where they appeared in yet another reality TV show, Return of the Chef.
John insists he was drawn to the South West solely for the wonderful
local produce. "Where else in the UK can you get everything locally –
fish, meat, vegetables, oysters, fabulous cheeses..." he says.
fairness, he is still clearly genuinely enthused about the food of the
Westcountry. But another attraction was soon all too apparent. Suzi
Ward, their agent's PA, lived nearby and within little more than a year
of his arrival in Devon, had given birth to his child.
the two children from his first marriage before he met Kim, his four
stepchildren and Charles and Amelia, and he is now a father of nine.
Kim found out about Pip's parenthood and was, understandably, furious.
The couple were also business partners and she then seized the moment
of maximum publicity to close down The New Angel while he was in
Australia filming I'm a Celebrity.
doesn't regret taking part in the show. "At that time, life was really
stressful and difficult for me at home. It was wonderful to go to the
jungle and get away from it all. I needed to detox. A month without
wine and cigarettes did me the power of good. I lost two and a half
stone, my wine gut went and I felt so much better."
It says a
lot about his home life at the time that he found eating kangaroo
testicles and having blazing rows with PR guru Lynne Franks a pleasant
rest. It was to be but a short respite, however. He returned to find
that The New Angel was boarded up, creditors were clamouring and the
staff had been dismissed.
Bankruptcy and divorce swiftly followed, amid a firestorm of adverse publicity as his wife and stepchildren sold their stories.
"I will never forgive them for that, never. It is totally unacceptable to make money that way," he says.
these days, he seems to have bounced back with alacrity. He and Suzi
now live in a small cottage in the village of Strete near Dartmouth and
he says he could not be happier. "Suzi and I have so much in common. We
are both country people, we love to ride horses together or go for long
walks. We love Devon and are very happy here. We're soulmates."
New Angel recently won a mixed review from The Times' restaurant critic
Giles Coren, who said the cooking was "excellent" but criticised almost
everything else, from the service to the lighting to the lavatories.
But John insists the restaurant is weathering the storm of the
recession and is in good shape to face the future.
"I've had to
change the menu to suit the economy, but it's forced me to be more
resourceful," he says. "Now, I'll buy whole side of Dexter beef from a
farm near here, put the prime cuts on the à la carte menu and use the
cheaper cuts to make a beef en daube for a set menu. That's much more
affordable for customers and the main thing is to get people in the
door here eating. Even if the set menu is just £19.50, by the time
they've had wine, mineral water, coffee and a dessert for a fiver,
that's up to £35 a head and well worth having."
He also has a paperback edition of his latest book, Flavour First,
out this month, which is why he is giving interviews. And talking to
him about food, it is clear that, despite everything, cooking is still
his passion. In the book, he chooses key ingredients and finds three
very different ways to deal with them. With sensational photography by
David Loftus, who works on Jamie Oliver's books, it is a wonderful
addition to any cook's library.
"In fact, I'd like to do about
10 more cookery books, if I get the time and the opportunity," he says
grandly. "I'd really like to do one on the cookery of the Far East, as
I lived there as a child because we were ex-pats. And by total
contrast, I also really want to write a guide to cooking inexpensive
recipes with British ingredients, like oxtail or pigs' cheeks."
is a busy man though, so these volumes, for now, will have to wait. "I
spend about 50 per cent of my time at The New Angel and 50 per cent
doing media activities," he says. He insists his TV appearances and
cooking demonstrations – he cooked in front of 800 at the Ideal Home
Show this year – are purely to promote The New Angel. One suspects,
though, that he loves the attention.
Future TV projects include
a sort of "Round the World in 80 Recipes" which would see John
attempting the most extreme of ethnic recipes, in situ, such as cooking
a camel in the desert. "It's a very expensive show to make, though, so
we'll have to hope one of the channels goes for it," he says. He's also
an ambassador for Miele kitchen appliances and Poggenpohl kitchens.
despite all the rushing around, his life is much more settled these
days. Relations are still acrimonious between him and Kim, however, for
whom he literally does not have a good word. He says, somewhat
unconvincingly, that he has managed to keep a reasonable relationship
going with Charles and Amelia. "Charles loves Arsenal and recently I
managed to get him into a box at the Emirates stadium and to meet some
of the players afterwards. We had a terrific day.
"Of course, I
don't see them as much as I would want to, but that is the sacrifice
you make," he says wistfully. Then he visibly pulls himself together
and adds: "I'm sure they will turn out just fine. After all, I'm
adopted. And just look at how I've turned out."
When I press him on the details of his adoption, it all sounds most
odd. He says vaguely that he didn't meet his real father until he was
42 and that his "stepfather" – who brought him up – is now dead. He
doesn't want to talk about his mother, or mothers. It sounds rather
All one can hope is that this most controversial of
chefs has finally found stability and happiness. Based on his track
record, however, you couldn't say that was a safe bet. But the odds are
surely better now than they have been for many years.