In the Happy Mummy Spotlight this week is Celebrity Chef John Burton Race. Born in Singapore in 1957, John Burton Race spent his formative years travelling extensively alongside his diplomat father. These influences are still visible within his food, which combines his innovative ideas with the best of British produce. Trained in a number of London’s top restaurants including Quaglino’s, Hotel Meurice London, and La Sorbonne; Burton Race has worked alongside some of the world’s most celebrated chefs including Raymond Blanc. It was as Head Chef at the renowned Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Buckinghamshire, where he was awarded his first Michelin star in 1983.
Since then, Burton Race’s star has continued to rise, after opening his own restaurant, L’Ortolan in Berkshire. He was awarded an additional two Michelin stars, an achievement he repeated at the John Burton Race Restaurant at the Landmark Hotel in 2000. Two years later, John was introduced to the public conscious with his role in the Channel 4 documentary series French Leave, and after a sabbatical spent in France, he returned to the culinary fraternity, launching The New Angel restaurant in Devon in 2004. Within a year the restaurant was awarded a Michelin Star, which it retained until Burton Race’s departure in 2010.
Burton Race opened The New Angel in Notting Hill, which was widely acclaimed, gaining three AA Rosettes, a place in Harden’s Top 10 new openings 2015, as well as a slot in OpenTable’s Top 100. Most recently, he has announced his partnership with Richardson Hotels, which has resulted in the new restaurant John Burton-Race at The Grosvenor Hotel in Torquay. With an emphasis on local produce, exciting menus and innovative wine pairings, the space promises to transform the Devon dining scene.
What inspired you to become a Chef?
I travelled a lot as a child due to my fathers job; I remember one day I saw a big figure and a tall hat and I thought ‘Wow he looks impressive’. I asked my mother who he was and she explained that he was the chef and I thought that’s what I want to be when I grow up. I enjoyed cooking from a young age, as my 12 year old son does now.
If you wasn’t a chef, what would you be?
I have always had a love of Art so I would have maybe been a painter, but I am not sure if I would have had the required skills. My other love is horses, I love everything to do with horses; horse racing, equestrian sports anything horsey and I own 3 horses so I think if I wasn’t a chef I would definitely be something in the field of horses.
You are an amazing Chef, but be honest, do you ever eat takeaway food?
Living in London as a teenager and working a chef I would work really long days and by the end of them I would have tasted so much food that I felt sick – I didn’t fancy going home and cooking so I would stop off for a kebab on the way home! I live in Devon now and I love fish and chips by the sea. There is also a fab Indian takeaway in Kingsbridge called Maha-Bharat and I always head there if I don’t feel like cooking.
What is your favourite restaurant in the World?
I am a huge fan and personal friend of Raymond Blanc. I love his food and as a person he has supported me a lot over the years. Raymond is a fantastic mentor. My favourite restaurant in the world is Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Buckinghamshire owned by Raymond.
Is there a downside to being a chef?
Yes, very much so. The hours are long and it is both physically and mentally draining. It is a very demanding job and there is a lot of pressure to deliver as well – you are only ever as good as your last meal. It is also incredibly risky financially. When people visit a restaurant they tend to have a set price in their head that they are prepared to pay for the food and the wine and no matter where they are in the world or how good the food is they do not want to go above that figure. It feels like there has been a 20% increase in the cost of food in the last couple of years but people don’t expect restaurants to reflect this increase.
Have you ever had a cooking disaster?
Very much so! I have an old family recipe handed down to me from my Grandmother and I can never seem to make it right. The recipe is for a Fruit Cake and it was a cheap recipe using half butter and half lard, every time I attempt it I prod it to check its cooked, take it out of the oven when I am sure it is cooked and every time it sinks – I am sure there must be a part of the recipe missing but my Grandmother is unfortunately no longer around so there is no-one I can ask.
What are your favourite dishes to eat?
I was born in Singapore and love Asian food. One of the best meals I have ever had was a 13 course Asian banquet in Singapore (they were 13 really small dishes!). I also love a Roast Rib or Sirloin of Beef served with Roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and vegetables. If I am out in a restaurant I tend to order a good fish dish or lobster, but I always love to finish a meal with some kind of chocolate dessert!
What is the worst thing you have ever eaten?
Without a doubt the worst thing I have ever eaten was Possum when I was in the jungle filming I’m a celebrity get me out of here. I always thought that if you were starving you would eat anything presented to you – but in the jungle I had lived on an average 300 calories a day, lost 2 stone in weight in 21 days but I still couldn’t eat possum! It tasted really metallic and it felt like I was eating a rat, it was horrendous and there was nothing that could disguise the flavour.
Talking of your time in the jungle,what did you think of it?
The jungle is a very unique experience and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the privacy & the peace of mind. I am really pleased that I took part in it.
Are you still in touch with anyone from the jungle?
Living in such close quarters you can bond with with quickly, I made some great friends in the jungle who I am still in contact with – we don’t hear from each other a lot but every now and again we will get in touch and have a catch up. I really got on with J from the boy band Five and Cerys Matthews. That being said, the jungle is 100 degrees and when you are starving tempers can fray easily – I did clash with a few people!
You have been to the jungle, but where is your favourite place to visit?
I love Vaucluse in Provence and visit year after year. It is so peaceful and I like places that are quiet where I can really relax and rest. I always stay in The Hotel Crillon Le Brave. I also love The Hotel Cobblers Cove in Barbados we have had some family holidays there.
Where do you feel happiest?
Honestly, in Vaucluse, Provence.
Thank you so much to John Burton Race for this interview; it really was a pleasure to talk to you and I am sure we will catch up again in the future.