Belfast Telegraph

Darren Simpson: Tributes for tragic Northern Ireland chef after heart attack in Australia

By Claire Williamson

World-renowned chefs have paid tribute to the late Darren Simpson from Northern Ireland, who died suddenly this week.

Mr Simpson's illustrious career saw him train and work with some of the greatest chefs in restaurants in Ireland, London and Australia.

He was the youngest winner of the prestigious UK Young Chef of the Year award, taking the accolade at the age of 21.

From 1992 to 1999 he worked in restaurants such as Paul Rankin's Michelin-starred Roscoff in Belfast, Albert Roux's Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in London, Sally Clarke's and Simon Hopkinson's Bibendum, both also in London.

His career then took him to Australia where he enjoyed further success.

It was reported that Mr Simpson, who leaves behind a wife and two sons, suffered a heart attack in hospital on Thursday night.

The Daily Telegraph reported that it followed a recent attempt at rehab after a long battle with alcoholism in a clinic near his home in Byron Bay, Australia.

Among those paying tribute was TV chef Jamie Oliver.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "It's with such sadness to hear about Darren's death at such a young age.

"He was without doubt a brilliant chef and extraordinarily talented.

"My thoughts are with his family."

Mr Rankin, who gained Northern Ireland's first Michelin star in 1992, said it was like "losing family".

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "He was a good friend. He came to me very young, when he was about 17 or 18.

"We spent a lot of time together in London, too. It's like losing family.

"He was always very talented, he was naturally gifted. He was a real star and he was great fun to work with. He was like a brother, I loved him as a friend and I will miss him forever.

"What Darren has achieved is great respect, and he won the hearts and talents of so many people all over the world."

Michelin-starred TV chef Mr Roux said: "I still remember him as a very young, up and coming chef with a cheeky smile and huge ambition - and he achieved practically everything he ever wanted as a chef.

"When I remember him it makes me giggle and laugh and puts a smile on my face.

"He had that lovable rogue, cheeky look to him, but, my word, was he talented - he had a lot of natural talent.

"It's such a loss. It's always a shock when someone passes away when you knew this young man had so much going for him.

"I will always remember him as an immense talent at a very young age and he always had a smile on his face.

"He always had something to make us laugh." Acclaimed Michelin-starred Irish chef Richard Corrigan said he was "saintly" in his working environment.

"He walked on water he was so good," he said.

"I am absolutely devastated to hear of his passing.

"His mere presence walking through the kitchen, in those days, would put a big smile on my face. He personified calm and passion and never, ever offered a bad or nasty word or a rebuke to any of his colleagues.

"Darren absolutely brought our industry to the place it is today. People like Darren have inspired the next generation.

Karyn Booth, a food stylist from Lisburn, met Darren through Mr Rankin when they both worked at his Belfast restaurant, Roscoff.

She later worked with him in London as his pastry chef.

She said: "He was one of the most talented chefs I've ever met. He was an infuriating perfectionist. He didn't stop and wouldn't let us stop until what we were sending out was perfect - we all appreciated that so much.

"We've learned so much from him and admire him so much.

"He was the life and soul of the kitchen. He used to bounce in, in the morning, and he would have changed the menu at 11.00 and service started at 12.00.

"It was those sorts of things that kept everybody on their toes and that's why his kitchens were so great.

"He was the most lovable person. He had so many inspirational chefs that thought so highly of him.

"We would have finished service at midnight and you never knew who would be sitting there (in his office with him).

"People just wanted to be with him, wanted to be his friend and associated with him because he was brilliant. And people genuinely loved and respected him for who he was and what he did."

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