Ross Burden: Television presenter who began on 'Masterchef' and went on to front 'Ready Steady Cook' for the BBC
Thursday 31 July 2014
Ross Burden was the television chef best known for presenting a number of day-time cooking programmes, since becoming a favourite with audiences during the final round of the BBC MasterChef cookery contest, in 1993.
Burden was born in Taradale, near Napier, in the Hawkes Bay area of New Zealand. "Growing up in New Zealand in the '70's, everyone grew their own food," he recalled. He had happy memories of working in his grandmother's kitchen and garden as a child: "I remember the two weeks in the year when I could pick and eat my granny's raspberries and how much sweeter they tasted after waiting a tantalising 50 weeks to eat them".
Growing up near the coast created an interest in the natural world, which led to him studying zoology at university. Aged 17, he began working as model to fund his studies, which he subsequently said also made him comfortable appearing in front of the camera. His handsome appearance and cooking skills would later lead to him being described as the "tastiest man in Britain".
He moved to the UK in the early 1990s and had intended to continue his studies towards a Master's degree in zoology. Soon after his arrival, though, he applied to appear on the BBC MasterChef programme. Burden reached the final round of the competition in 1993, where, after a strongly fought contest, he lost to Derek Johns. However, despite not winning, his charm, humour and telegenic good looks assured him a future on the small screen.
Burden paired up with Fern Britton, and later Ainsley Harriott, on the daytime culinary contest Ready Steady Cook, where the contestants had to create a dish live on television in a limited time, guided by their hosts. In Kitchen Invaders he and James Martin would take over the kitchens of two viewers, using whatever they could find in the cupboards to throw together invariably tasty and unusual dishes.
But whatever the format, Burden's enthusiasm for food shone through. At a time of heightened interest in food and its origins, but well before the start of Jamie Oliver's campaigning over school dinners, Burden placed a great emphasis on the use of fresh, local produce, used in season. For a time he ran a catering company which provided gourmet food to celebrity clients, including Princess Anne, and created a video on healthy eating together with Joan Collins. He co-wrote Meals in Minutes (1998) with Harriott and went on to write a second book, Three Chefs in the Cape (2001), together with Alan Coxon and Aldo Zilli, based on their experiences of cooking in South Africa.
His broadcasting experience led to other assignments, including indulging his passion for wildlife as a presenter on the National Geographic channel, an appearance on The Weakest Link with Anne Robinson and a spot of sky-diving over the Nevada desert. In the 2006 X-Factor Battle of the Stars contest he teamed up with fellow chefs Zilli, Jean-Christophe Novelli and Paul Rankin to perform as a singing group. However, Simon Cowell suggested that Burden and his colleagues would do best to stick to their day jobs.
In 2010 he returned to New Zealand to become a judge in the first season of the country's own version of MasterChef, thus completing a cycle. He spoke of looking forward to relative peace and quiet, as he told an interviewer at the time, "Just walking on the beach is lovely. London's stressful and very full-on."
Emphasising the importance of cooking in his life, he commented: "To be serious slightly, which is not entirely in my character, the most important ingredient in food is love... If you cook a roast or even if you make pasta for your best friend, it's all about love. Cooking and friendship and love and talking over a glass of something..." He added: "The best food is whatever's fresh and here today."
Burden had been working on completing a Masters in Maori studies at Auckland University and was already fluent in the Maori language, as well as in Italian and French. His sister, Kirsten Hughes, said "He was just a friendly, compassionate guy – nothing was too much trouble. He was my big, fantastic incredible, larger-than-life brother... Right up until probably a week and a half ago, he was making his next lot of plans. He had the world mapped out." His friends, Mark and Sue Birmingham, said in tribute: "You lit up a room when you walked in – you sparkled your way through life and it has been such a pleasure to know you."
He was being treated for leukaemia, which was diagnosed a year ago, and died from complications of an infection during the treatment.
Ross Burden, chef and broadcaster: born Napier, New Zealand 16 December 1968; died Auckland, New Zealand 17 July 2014.
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