John Burton-Race

The globetrotting chef learnt his trade in South East Asia and has found home in Devon, by way France and the Middle East. Imogen Lepere meets him to talk trends, tradition and technique

Where did you last go on holiday?

Every September I go to Crillon le Brave in Provence. The food at both of its restaurants is amazing and at Bistrot 40K all the ingredients are sourced within 40km of the hotel. I believe good food is 50 per cent excellent ingredients and the rest is down to the chef. The food in Provence is my favourite in France. They have red mullet and sea bass from the Mediterranean, powerful cheeses and a sweet wine called Pipi d’Ange, which is delicious and top value.

What are your earliest food memories?

My father worked for the United Nations and I lived in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and went to school in Thailand. We always had local cooks and I remember sneaking into the kitchen and learning Asian techniques, such as tenderising chicken by marinating it in papaya, lime and chilli overnight. My grandma was an old- fashioned cook who used to serve very traditional English desserts like tipsy pudding. It’s a cross between Christmas and sticky toffee puddings, served with whisky caramel.

What makes Devon’s natural larder so special?

I’ll never move away from Devon. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the UK and has its own microclimate. It’s so warm that farmers can rear beautiful, tender lamb all year round. The shellfish is amazing: scallops from Babbacombe, crabs from Dartmouth and oysters from Bigbury. The cheese is fantastic, too.

Which restaurants do you like in the South West?

I love casual places that champion regional food at a fair price point. The Maltsters Arms at Tuckenhay does great seafood, but the best fish and chips is at Torcross Boathouse. My favourite pub is Tower Inn at Slapton, where Dominique Prandi cooks great value French cuisine. The newly opened Lympstone Manor, headed by Michael Caines isn’t cheap, but does excellent food.

What elevates a dish from good to great?

There are loads of cooks out there who are very good technically and produce a consistently high standard, and these tend to be your one-star Michelin level. I held two stars across three restaurants for 17 years, and in order to achieve two stars you have to go beyond technique. My style is constantly evolving. Traditional French is where my heart is and I rate Michel Roux Jr and Le Gavroche.

Where do you get your inspiration for a new dish?

Eating out in France influences me more than anything. I love their approach to food, the way every region has its own speciality and food is a way of life. Outside Paris you still get the two-hour lunch followed by an afternoon nap and you’ll see children of all ages in restaurants. I keep a young brigade who can feed off my knowledge and are eager to make their own mark, but the most important thing is enthusiasm, which keeps me experimenting.

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