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Troubled chef John Burton-Race rebuilding his life in Dartmouth, Devon

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: May 15, 2010

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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.

"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'llsurely 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 yearsold, with his mistress. Next came a £3 million bankruptcy, the loss ofhis restaurant and a bitterly public divorce. Add in a conviction fordrink-driving and resisting arrest last autumn and, albeit for mostlythe wrong reasons, he is certainly one of the UK's best-known chefs.

Whenwe meet, however, the 52-year-old is positively chirpy – and it's fairto say he has reason to be. He has persuaded car hire millionaire CliveJacobs to help him re-open The New Angel, his Dartmouth restaurant.What's more, he is now happily divorced and living with his some-timemistress, Suzi Ward and their five-year-old son William, known as Pip.

He'seven trying to cut back on wine and has given up smoking, too. He's puton weight, looks less cadaverous and really rather well.

"Mindyou, there are days when I still crave a fag," he says, cradling acoffee in the window seat of The New Angel. "And today's certainly oneof them."

I do hope being forced to re-live his manymisdemeanours in an interview isn't the cause of his longing fornicotine. After all, I am a little surprised he has even agreed to talkto 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?

Butno, truth be told, John just fancies a smoke because he's got a busyday ahead. He admits that, despite it all, he really rather enjoys hisnotoriety. "Yes, I've had lots of adverse publicity," he says with atheatrical sigh. "Most of it I brought upon myself. But then, you learnto live with it.

"I can go out of this restaurant now and by thetime I've popped round the corner someone will have said to me, 'Herecomes 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."

So,all's well that ends well, then? Well, sort of. These days John says heis £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 awoman scorned," he says with a twinkle.

"Kim is a city girl, allshe likes is her Gucci handbags and her Prada shoes. She's back livingin London now and good luck to her.

"We were hopelesslymismatched. It was all right at first because when I ran a restaurantin London [The Landmark, where he won two Michelin stars] I wasliterally never at home. But the cracks started to show when we movedto France and had to spend lots of time together."

TV fans will remember John first appearing on our screens in French Leavein 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 toout-cook the French, producing cassoulets and patisserie, werefascinating.

But more gripping still were the family dramasplayed out on screen. No-one who saw Kim's face when John came homewith a live goat in the back of his car can be altogether surprisedthat 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 wonderfullocal produce. "Where else in the UK can you get everything locally –fish, meat, vegetables, oysters, fabulous cheeses..." he says.

Infairness, he is still clearly genuinely enthused about the food of theWestcountry. But another attraction was soon all too apparent. SuziWard, their agent's PA, lived nearby and within little more than a yearof his arrival in Devon, had given birth to his child.

Add inthe two children from his first marriage before he met Kim, his fourstepchildren and Charles and Amelia, and he is now a father of nine.

Eventually,Kim found out about Pip's parenthood and was, understandably, furious.The couple were also business partners and she then seized the momentof maximum publicity to close down The New Angel while he was inAustralia filming I'm a Celebrity.

Nonetheless, hedoesn't regret taking part in the show. "At that time, life was reallystressful and difficult for me at home. It was wonderful to go to thejungle and get away from it all. I needed to detox. A month withoutwine and cigarettes did me the power of good. I lost two and a halfstone, my wine gut went and I felt so much better."

It says alot about his home life at the time that he found eating kangarootesticles and having blazing rows with PR guru Lynne Franks a pleasantrest. It was to be but a short respite, however. He returned to findthat The New Angel was boarded up, creditors were clamouring and thestaff 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.

Butthese days, he seems to have bounced back with alacrity. He and Suzinow live in a small cottage in the village of Strete near Dartmouth andhe says he could not be happier. "Suzi and I have so much in common. Weare both country people, we love to ride horses together or go for longwalks. We love Devon and are very happy here. We're soulmates."

TheNew Angel recently won a mixed review from The Times' restaurant criticGiles Coren, who said the cooking was "excellent" but criticised almosteverything else, from the service to the lighting to the lavatories.But John insists the restaurant is weathering the storm of therecession and is in good shape to face the future.

"I've had tochange the menu to suit the economy, but it's forced me to be moreresourceful," he says. "Now, I'll buy whole side of Dexter beef from afarm near here, put the prime cuts on the à la carte menu and use thecheaper cuts to make a beef en daube for a set menu. That's much moreaffordable for customers and the main thing is to get people in thedoor here eating. Even if the set menu is just £19.50, by the timethey'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 tohim about food, it is clear that, despite everything, cooking is stillhis passion. In the book, he chooses key ingredients and finds threevery different ways to deal with them. With sensational photography byDavid Loftus, who works on Jamie Oliver's books, it is a wonderfuladdition to any cook's library.

"In fact, I'd like to do about10 more cookery books, if I get the time and the opportunity," he saysgrandly. "I'd really like to do one on the cookery of the Far East, asI lived there as a child because we were ex-pats. And by totalcontrast, I also really want to write a guide to cooking inexpensiverecipes with British ingredients, like oxtail or pigs' cheeks."

Heis a busy man though, so these volumes, for now, will have to wait. "Ispend about 50 per cent of my time at The New Angel and 50 per centdoing media activities," he says. He insists his TV appearances andcooking demonstrations – he cooked in front of 800 at the Ideal HomeShow this year – are purely to promote The New Angel. One suspects,though, that he loves the attention.

Future TV projects includea sort of "Round the World in 80 Recipes" which would see Johnattempting the most extreme of ethnic recipes, in situ, such as cookinga camel in the desert. "It's a very expensive show to make, though, sowe'll have to hope one of the channels goes for it," he says. He's alsoan ambassador for Miele kitchen appliances and Poggenpohl kitchens.

Butdespite all the rushing around, his life is much more settled thesedays. Relations are still acrimonious between him and Kim, however, forwhom he literally does not have a good word. He says, somewhatunconvincingly, that he has managed to keep a reasonable relationshipgoing with Charles and Amelia. "Charles loves Arsenal and recently Imanaged to get him into a box at the Emirates stadium and to meet someof the players afterwards. We had a terrific day.

"Of course, Idon't see them as much as I would want to, but that is the sacrificeyou make," he says wistfully. Then he visibly pulls himself togetherand adds: "I'm sure they will turn out just fine. After all, I'madopted. And just look at how I've turned out."

Well, quite.When I press him on the details of his adoption, it all sounds mostodd. He says vaguely that he didn't meet his real father until he was42 and that his "stepfather" – who brought him up – is now dead. Hedoesn't want to talk about his mother, or mothers. It sounds rathercomplicated.

All one can hope is that this most controversial ofchefs has finally found stability and happiness. Based on his trackrecord, however, you couldn't say that was a safe bet. But the odds aresurely better now than they have been for many years.

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