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

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: May 15, 2010

Troubled chef rebuilding his life in Dartmouth
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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'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.

When

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.

He's

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.

"Mind

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

of them."

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?

But

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."

So,

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

fascinating.

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.

In

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.

Add in

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.

Eventually,

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.

Nonetheless, he

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.

But

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."

The

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."

He

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.

But

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."

Well, quite.

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

complicated.

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.

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