THE DIARY: Life after cooking is catching more fish

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The Independent Online
On Sunday I took my children fishing for little pollack. We went down to Swanage and fished off the end of the pier. I'd hook the fish and then they'd help me reel them in - the fish weighed in at around three pounds each. The boys are still too little to fish for themselves. At home Matty, my girlfriend, tends to cook for the boys and I cook for her; occasionally we cook a meal together. The boys never cease to amaze me. They are at that stage in life where everything is a learning curve. They're not interested in cooking, but that doesn't bother me. I want them to be interested in whatever gives them happiness. I want them to find professions in which they can express themselves, however that may be.

I met James Hewitt on Tuesday. He came to have a photo-shoot done in the private room. The photographer, James Stoddart, is a friend of mine and he told me that James would like to meet me. He was very polite and very nice. We spoke about his life and he was rather amusing and told a good story. We chatted for about five hours at the Mirabelle. I always dine in my own restaurants because it's the best form of advertisement for people to see me and my family and friends eating in my own place. If I ate elsewhere, I wouldn't know what was going on in my own restaurants. I consider it a business decision; added value, if you like.

The first time I appeared on television I was just 25. It was on a show called Take Six Chefs. Funnily enough, on that programme I said I would retire from cooking by the time I was 40. The director called me today to say how none of them had believed me at the time, but I certainly had done it. It was a decision I made with Matty and it's something I've been thinking of for a year, or even the last 15 years. Making the decision has caused me mixed emotions. It was a very sad day for me, it has cast a shadow, but life is all about letting go. Now I can spend more time with my family. I can spend more time with myself. I didn't tell anyone in the profession that I was going to retire because, of course, everybody talks. The element of surprise is always important; it's about creating an impact.

I rang the Michelin on Wednesday and they were very nice about my news. They said they thought it was a courageous move. I've had a very good relationship with them over the years. They have never been influenced by reports of my behaviour and my reputation as an enfant terrible. They have always let my dishes speak for themselves. I think clever people do bow out at the top. I wouldn't want to end up in Albert Roux's position where he lost his two stars and is still clinging on.

I'd like to spend more time creating opportunities for the people who work for me. It's very important to encourage young people in the industry. I've made a good living out of cooking. I've met a lot of interesting people. I've been there, done that and let go of it. There is more to life than three stars in the Michelin guide. It's more exciting chasing the stars than keeping them. My ambition now is to be the best restaurateur in Britain rather than the best chef, and bring my wisdom and knowledge into encouraging new talent. My method of teaching is giving people a philosophy. Don't take the recipes, take the philosophy and everything else will come. Robert Reid, the chef at the Oak Room, is a prime example of the new blood in the industry. He has been with me seven years and can't continue to work in my shadow. He'll carry the mantle from now on - it's a challenge that excites him.

I had dinner with Gordon Ramsey and Michael Winner last night. Michael thought it was a very clever move to bow out. Gordon, who has been with me for many years, couldn't believe it. He was fairly devastated and perhaps a bit envious too. Nothing would make me happier now than to see Gordon win three stars. It would feel as if things had come full circle.

If I started all over again, I'd go into the same profession as chef and restaurateur. I've made many mistakes in my career but I must have done a few right things as well. One of the secrets of being a good cook is learning how to get yourself out of trouble, how to cover up. The restaurant world is a very different one today. People now search for good honest food and a nice environment where they can sit down with friends and have dinner. They don't want a huge bill at the end of it, unless it's a special occasion. My success has come out of luck. Luck has given me opportunity. I've been in the right place at the right time. I will cook the odd dinner for charity or for a special occasion, and it would be nice to do so in about a year's time. I'm always cooking in my mind so in a way I'll never stop cooking.

Last week has been very draining for me emotionally. I've had to speak to a lot of people including all my staff. The number of phone calls I've received has been extraordinary and very reassuring. Now the week is over I can put things into perspective better, and I've been thinking about my mother who died when she was 38. I'll be 38 next year and I know this has led me to me consider my own family. I go home and they are sleeping, I wake up in the morning and they are off to school. I think that spending a little more time with my family will in fact benefit my businesses. It's very hard juggling so many different balls and trying to be all things to all men. I think it is important to play my own drum at last; and naturally do more fishing with the boys.

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