My Home: Jean-Christophe Novelli, chef and restaurateur
At first, the celebrated chef wasn't keen on living in Luton. But he was won over by this 14th-century farmhouse
Wednesday 09 November 2005
Like a typical Frenchman, my favourite rooms are the bedroom and kitchen. My kitchen is really the heart of the house. It's where I do all my best work, and the bedroom is where I like to relax. We live just a stone's throw from Luton airport. It took me a while to get used to the airport thing, but when you realise you can be in Paris or Dublin in under an hour, it's quite an advantage.
I came across this place by accident really. I had been looking for a rustic and authentic house in the countryside for a long time, had gone through about 500 brochures and was on the point of giving up when my girlfriend Joanna found it. When she first came across it, I thought, 'Luton, no way, I don't want to live there'.
We went to view it, though. You access the property by driving past a golf course, and I loved it immediately. It's a listed 14th century converted farmhouse with some really wonderful authentic features. There are fireplaces in every room.
Even so, the first Christmas we had here was awful, as there was no heating or hot water. I didn't realise you needed to fill up the oil tank. Being brought up in the city, and always being used to things working at the touch of a button I found it quite hard to cope. But after a while you get used to it, and now I love the fact that is heated throughout by a combination of real fires and the stove.
I have put my touch on the kitchen. It has a beautiful slate floor that has been here for years. Next to the fireplace, I have a hand-carved Don Quixote statue from Spain. A 75-year-old man carved it, and it means a lot to me. I didn't want for it to be shipped or posted, so I had to pick it up specially and I drove for 24 hours to Marbella to pick up.
I don't think you should dress your home because you have to, it should be because you feel like doing it. My parents keep adding things to their house, and they've been there for more than 47 years. Sometimes you can be driving past somewhere and see a pot, or a table or something and know that it's for you.
The wooden bank seating area around the kitchen table was already here and is made from railway posts. The sink was specially imported from Belgium, and the iron table I bought in France. There is a wooden cabinet that is made from two dismantled wheelbarrows that I bought from a craftsman from Devon.
The cooker is a semipro Molteni. Probably my favourite gadget is my Gaggia coffee maker, which is in the utility room, next to the kitchen. I think coffee is very important; the smell of it has always been with me, and even as a child I can remember my parent's house smelling of coffee.
Being a chef, I find the main thing you need to have in the kitchen is clarity and space, it doesn't actually matter what equipment you have, the main thing is space. I like listening to music when I cook, perhaps some jazz or classical like Rachmaninov.
The kitchen window looks out on to our swimming pool, which was installed a year and a half ago. It's a small pool but it has a special wave machine! I don't drink or smoke or take drugs, and keeping fit is very important to me, and so I swim, run and cycle every day.
Our bedroom is painted in a kind of bourgeois red colour, with wooden floors, and there are lots of purple and red cushions on the bed and candles. My girlfriend decorated it for me as a surprise, when I was away once.
The bathroom is en-suite, and it's quite luxurious. My 19-year-old daughter has a room here as well, so whenever she comes to stay it's there for her.
There are good and bad sides to living in the country. One of the best things is your independence and the fact that you can make as much noise as you want. Also, you follow the seasons much more than you would do if you live in the city. Just having the space can be relaxing.
I believe the mind needs distance to unwind. We have a wonderful view of the hills from our bedroom. The only thing I miss is being able to use the traffic and public transport as an excuse for being late.
I've got a wonderful garden and we grow figs, strawberries, grapes, and everything from lavender, rosemary and mint to rocket. We get deer, foxes and a huge variety of kinds of birds in our garden. In the nearby woods, there are all types of mushrooms growing and I once even saw a truffle.
When I'm not cooking, I tend to be reading. I have over 700 books, and a special library to house them all. Most of the books are on cooking or travel, which is another of my passions.
My other great love is my Doberman dogs. I have five of them and one has just had puppies. I'm up every morning at 6 am to walk them and then we go out again last thing at night.
There are not enough hours in the day for me to do all the things I want. I'm a perfectionist. But living here and being so close to nature is great for me: you realise you just can't compete against that.
Novelli Academy is a one-day course for groups of 10-15 people. For details call 01582 454070; www.jeanchristophenovelli.com
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