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John Torode: My heart will always be in the kitchen

By Ella Walker

Chef and restaurateur John Torode talks about losing his mother to a cardiac complication when he was a child, staying in shape at 50 and why you won't catch him on reality TV.

John Torode, in what is something of an understatement, says: "Food is a great big part of my life." The celebrity chef, TV personality and restaurateur quit school at 16 to attend catering college and since then has become one of the best-known food presenters on television.

Famed for his interest in hearty, fusion food, he moved to the UK in 1991 and, after working with Sir Terence Conran, got a job cooking on ITV's This Morning.

Before long he was replacing Gary Rhodes as host on a revamped version of MasterChef on the BBC, putting budding chefs through their culinary paces alongside grocer turned TV personality and dessert aficionado Greg Wallace - the pair have been friends since meeting at Conran's restaurant Quaglino's, where Wallace supplied the veg.

So, more accurately, food is a massive part of Torode's world.

Most recently, he filmed a 10-part foodie series, Malaysian Adventure, for Good Food - and he loves an adventure.

"A car, a boat, a new person or maybe a new dish, there is never just one moment," he says when trying to think of a highlight from the show. "But that first day when you realise you are somewhere new is a brilliant feeling."

Torode was born in Melbourne, Australia, but from the age of four, until he was 10, was raised by his grandmother - who taught him to cook - in New South Wales.

The move to New South Wales came about after the death of his mother, who suffered from a heart condition.

"My mother passed away very young, aged 31," he explains. "It was a complication rather than a disease of the heart, however, it sits quietly in my subconscious always."

The broadcaster is now passionate about raising awareness of how important it is to eat well and keep your heart healthy.

"The heart is a pretty cool thing," he says. "A couple of valves and it keeps us going, and it's the symbol of love and life."

"All of us have [had friends or family members affected by heart disease in one way or another], and that is why we must look after our hearts and ourselves. We should think about the long-term effects of what we eat, then, maybe we can live pain free.

"Food keeps us alive and so good food gives us a good life, whereas bad food delivers us a bad life," he adds solemnly.

That's not to say he's particularly strict with his own diet, though, admitting food is also meant to be "fun and exciting", as well as good for you.

"I have always considered what I eat and cook," he says. "Sometimes it's a bit of treat and I do go overboard, but most of the time it's pretty clean living."

Although Torode hasn't suffered with any heart problems himself, in the past he has discussed his problems with asthma.

Fortunately, now 50, he has mostly put those health concerns behind him, explaining that he's had "many a scare, but not for many years as I exercise and have learnt to be calm". He also tries "not to rely too heavily on medication".

When it does come to exercise and keeping fit, he spends as much time outdoors as he can, particularly on his bike.

"Fresh air and going fast is fun, and makes me really happy," he says. "As I get to my autumn years, I have to not put on too much weight and cycling helps with that."

He also considers yoga "amazing", manages to fit in "a little running" and loves to swim and "ride a horse as often as I can".

And, in fact, although he does have to work a little harder these days to stay in shape, he's enjoying the process of getting older and wiser.

"I love it," he buzzes. "Sometimes I look at my kids and think how much fun there is to come for them, but I have a wonderful life with my family and a very wonderful girlfriend [actress and fellow celebrity chef, Lisa Faulkner]."

He and Faulkner met after the actress won Celebrity MasterChef 2010.

For a man who hosts TV cooking contests, Torode has been strangely adamant that he would not subject himself to the likes of I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! or Strictly Come Dancing. But when it comes to Strictly, you can't blame him: his fellow MasterChef judge Wallace took part in the show in 2014 and was booted off in week two.

Perhaps endurance show Mission Survive with Bear Grylls would be more tempting?

"Adventure is something I will always yearn after," muses Torode, but he stays firm: "A TV programme with challenges is not something I need to do."

And, unlike Grylls, famous for eating raw salmon straight from the river on film, scales smeared all over his face, in the same situation, Torode would've taken his time and been slightly more sympathetic towards the fish...

"I would take that salmon, fillet it; maybe eat the liver for goodness and then be calm, slice it and find some herbs, or light a fire and cook it a little bit. We are no longer Neanderthal men," he says good-naturedly.

When he's not working on one of his many, many projects, or avoiding reality TV, Torode likes to "cook, walk, ride, sit, watch, listen, talk, eat, fly, dream ..." and in the next few months will be as busy as ever, appearing at "lots of food festivals coming up over the summer and, as for TV, watch this space!"

  • John Torode is spearheading Superfishoil, a new campaign from Fish is the Dish by Seafish, to raise awareness of the health and heart benefits of eating more fish. Visit fishisthedish.co.uk

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