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Jeremy Lee – my life in hospitality

27 March 2008

After training with some of the greats, Jeremy Lee became head chef at D&D London's Blueprint Café. Interview by Emma Allen.

Highs…

I was just a kid when I started out in the kitchen, at the Old Mansion House hotel, Auchterhouse, Dundee, near my parents' house.

Actually, I was a waiter first, but I only lasted a couple of weeks - I have memories of dropping stuff and daydreaming too much - so I moved into the kitchen, where I was among the very last of the Escoffier-trained chefs. The training was phenomenal.

After about three years, they told me to go to London to get more experience, so I did. It was the mid-1980s and it was a fantastic time for me, meeting lots of people, but I wasn't cooking the food I particularly wanted to cook until I moved to Bibendum, with Simon Hopkinson.

Then everything kind of fell into place. I was starting to develop as a chef and the cooking was extremely thoughtful, with nods to people like Elizabeth David and produce as fresh as a daisy, and it was exactly what I wanted.

I moved to Alastair Little's restaurant in Frith Street after about three years, before going on to launch Euphorium in Islington. Then Terence Conran came to see me, saying that the Blueprint Café was up for grabs. It had always been a favourite of mine, and of course there's something lovely about being on the river.

When I first started, back in 1995, the menu was very Mediterranean, which wasn't absolutely my bag, so I've slowly introduced a much more British slant over the years. I've always been given a completely free rein with the menu. Who knows what might happen? But, for now, it's a nice place to remain, and I have no urge to move.

Lows…

Realising you're not 18 any more and that you have to adjust, as a chef, isn't exactly a low but something you still have to come to terms with. When you're young you can work long hours, seven days a week, wearing lots of different hats, without batting an eyelid - you're just carried through on adrenaline half the time. But as you get older, you have to untie the apron strings a little and let others in. That can be tricky.

On the whole, I've escaped any really nasty traumas in life. Hindsight's so easy, but I've always been incredibly lucky, I think. Would I have done anything differently? Oh, I've always thought I could have had a great career in the church.

Age 44

Lives Hackney, east London

Status Single

Drives "I don't. I cycle everywhere."

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