John Burton Race, The New Angel, Notting Hill

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th June 2014

John Burton Race is the chef behind such iconic restaurants as Michelin-starred The New Angel, two-Michelin-starred John Burton Race at The Landmark and two-Michelin-starred L’Ortolan in the pre-Alan Murchison days.

He is also famous for his TV appearances on such shows as French Leave, where he took his family to France to live the good life in front of the cameras, and I’m a Celebrity Get me out of Here, where he famously had his restaurant closed down by his vengeful ex-wife while he was in the jungle.

Now he’s back with The New Angel Notting Hill which opened in April. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out how he’s enjoying being back in the kitchen and what kept him away for so long…  

Why did it feel the time was right to move back to London now?

I’ve always cooked and since giving up the New Angel down in Dartmouth about four and a half years ago I’ve been doing lots of stuff all to do with food mostly, apart from some tongue-in-cheek television programmes. I had a consultancy with the Irish Dairy Board for three years, which has just come to an end, so I was looking around for something else to do and then I suddenly “had a dream” which was basically to stop pissing around and get back into the kitchen because that is and always has been my passion – the thing that’s been good to me all my life and the thing that drives me and makes me ambitious for more and I’ve been missing that.

Was there something about this site that particularly attracted you?

Well I’ve always loved West London because a long time ago, and I’m not sure how many marriages, I was living in Chiswick and I loved it. You’ve got the hustle and bustle of central London then you come a couple of miles down the road and it’s all leafy and quiet and nice and too expensive for me to be fair! If I’d held on to that house in West London I could buy myself an island now!

The New Angel, Notting Hill
The New Angel, Notting Hill

Anyway it’s just what I want to do, a very small restaurant – just 50 covers – a tiny kitchen downstairs and we’ve separated it off with me and three or four chefs in the hot kitchen and three or four in the cold kitchen and just doing simple, straightforward food.

Is a star something you’re aiming for or do you feel like you’ve been there and done that?

No I’d be lying if I said that. The way it’s been set up and the amount of money I’ve spent, we’ve got to go for a certain quality. I know in the last five years there’s been a lot Michelin bashing from various sources but I still haven’t found anyone more reliable to give you a guide about standards.

How much did you miss being in the kitchen? 

I can only imagine that it’s a bit like working in the theatre; you can work behind the scenes and you can write the scripts, and cooking’s the same; you can write menus and do consultancy work, which I’ve been doing and it’s very entertaining but there’s something about the buzz of starting with an empty white plate and building it up into something, taking on board textures, colours and flavours etcetera; you don’t get that buzz of service if you’re out on the side lines; yes you can admire your work but it’s much nicer to get in there and get dirty and that’s what I’ve missed.

Scallops

Has it given you a creative boost to be back in a restaurant?

I haven’t stopped having ideas but the thing was, I didn’t have a window for them and that’s what this is all about. What’s new in cooking? Not a lot, but I have a new approach and I have new dishes that I want to cook and try out on people. Four and a half years is a long time in cooking; it isn’t that you’ve forgotten to ride your bicycle, it’s that there’s new bikes out there made of carbon fibre. I’m on one of those now and I want to see how fast I am!

You have had a lot of highs and lows in your career; what have been the high points for you, Michelin stars?

I don’t really measure my career by stars as such; I suppose in my career I’ve had what I felt were three exceptional evenings on service where the food’s gone out and I’ve been proud of the food.

Why have those moments been more satisfying than, say, winning a star?

When I have an idea – and I have loads – first you draw them and then you try and make them and you might achieve what you wanted to achieve from the idea – fine – but then you’ve got to delegate it to someone else; so your head chef might get 80% of what you got; he then delegates it to a chef de partie who loses another 20% and then sometimes you think, oh no what’s this crap? But then some nights – very few, but some nights – you look at the stuff going out and you taste it and you think, wow! And that’s what it’s all about.

What about the lowest point; was that when you were in the jungle and you found the New Angel in Dartmouth had been closed? 

Yes definitely, that was a complete shock to me and something that kicked me in the teeth because having your own place and a good strong business financially and within three months you’re cap in hand sharing that business with a business partner and having to answer to more people than you used to answer to. Financially it was a ruination. But then I’ve got children in Back roomdifferent marriages and they’re all healthy, so I can’t grumble about that; two weeks ago I heard that my mother’s got lung cancer so that’s quite shocking; I’ve got my health; I’ve got a great job opportunity here which I’m going to grab with both hands and see if I can make something of it but at the same time I’ve got the strength and tenacity that if I do fail I can pick myself up because I’ve done it.

Could you see the New Angel Notting Hill as somewhere you settle?

Definitely, people talk about plans; I’m very reluctant to do that because I always believe in learning to walk before you run, but I have the financial backing and the property but I have to find a level here then deliver the consistency because I hate going to a restaurant and expecting something and they don’t deliver, and at the same time I’ve realised that I can’t make it completely dependent on me because then the building’s in the shit if I drop down dead. You’ve got to work out a balance and I sometimes struggle with the balance. I’m an all or nothing type of bloke; they say it’s insecurity; I don’t feel insecure; It’s just being barking mad, isn’t it? All chefs are mad anyway, it’s official!

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th June 2014

John Burton Race, The New Angel, Notting Hill