Jean-Christophe Novelli likens the art of cooking to the excitement he gets from watching his favourite footballers.
Among the players that have thrilled him over the years are French legend Michel Platini and almost inevitably, David Ginola, whose flamboyance on the pitch Jean-Christophe likes to see applied in the kitchen.
So much so the multi-Michelin starred French chef says he can spot a good cook by the way he or she moves and touches their utensils.
Those attending Mold Food and Drink Festival should bear that in mind when they watch him deliver a series of masterclasses on Sunday afternoon.
For these are not just cookery demonstrations to Jean-Christophe, but theatre itself and his means of communicating his love for cooking to an appreciative audience.
Those lucky enough to catch one of Jean-Christophe’s three demonstrations, which will take place appropriately in the festival’s cookery theatre, will be treated to a spontaneous display, for as the 56-year-old reveals: “At some festivals I get to ask to choose my dishes first, but I refuse.
”I have options and I can always adjust, but at the end of the day cooking is important and what is most important is to make people passionate about food.
“I like to improvise and I don’t like to have a set menu, I want to have that excitement.
”I liken it to playing football. When you start the match, there is that suspense. I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years.
“It is like going to a football match – you go to a match to see skills.
“I like watching footballers. I could tell when I first saw Gareth Bale running he was special.
”I remember seeing Ginola play early on and nobody would have thought he would become what he became.
“But you see it in chefs. It is a combination of attitude and how they touch their pans, their dexterity and synchronised movement – it is about confidence and experience and you can spot it.
“You are just not putting things in a pan, it is like listening to a pianist.
“It is a way of communicating and it is the same when I go to a festival, even if they are doing just a burger – I love it.”
But while Jean-Christophe’s skills might appear off the cuff, like any good football manager, he swears by the attention to detail he pours into preparing his dishes.
A veteran of the food festival circuit, the Frenchman never misses a chance to get out and about sourcing his ingredients in local stores.
Mold then is a welcome port of call with its burgeoning foodie scene – and after attending in 2011 Jean-Christophe could not help but be impressed, particularly as the festival’s focus on healthy eating fits in with his own philosophy.
“It is one of the very best nationwide – in fact I think it is possibly the best in Wales,” he declares.
“For the last five years they have been completely changing the whole experience, making sure that the people are enjoying their cooking by not adding salt and sugar. It is simple cooking and simplicity is top of my list.
“The more you use the local produce, the better for me. I go through every store in the area and I try to find things as I am always looking to add ingredients to my recipes at the last minute.”
While as a rule he keeps his dishes firmly under his pan lid, Jean-Christophe offered a sneak preview of a meal that will feature on the menu of a new restaurant he is opening in Belfast Harbour’s City Quays next spring.
He adds: “This will be my first opening in Ireland and I plan to do a dish here in Mold. It’s a mixed fish dish, so I am going to make a tomato provencale with a touch of vanilla.
”Then I will introduce my fish and of course it won’t be about adding salt, fat or hardly any sugar.”
The festival’s headline draw was among the first chefs to showcase his culinary skills in front of the TV cameras. From Hell’s Kitchen to his recent appearances on the Culinary Genius show, his passion for passing on his knowledge is undimmed.
As well as being an author of several cookery books – including the latest Simply Novelli – copies of which he will signing at the festival – Jean-Christophe runs his own cookery school, The Novelli Academy, at his Hertfordshire home.
His appearance at Mold will be among the first since he was forced to freeze his schedule after his family were stunned by baby son Valentino’s cancer diagnosis last year.
His wife, Michelle, also contracted deep vein thrombosis as the Novelli family endured a dreadful time, but they have good reasons to be positive as their son is making good progress and Michelle is fully recovered.
“The chemotherapy sessions have reduced the tumour by 40 per cent,” explains Jean-Christophe. “They took his [Valentino’s] feeding tubes off two months ago.
“It has been horrific for us, but the most important thing is the boy has survived and he is doing well.
“I am looking forward to coming and I am honoured to be at Mold as it is a great festival. It is not just the food and wine and cooking, there is music and it is fantastic for families – I will be bringing my family up on the Sunday to enjoy the whole event.”
Jean-Christophe will be joined in the Cookery Theatre by Jo Wheatley – the winner of the second series of The Great British Bake Off, whose baking-themed demos are on Saturday – and Graham Tinsley, the executive chef at Carden Park Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort.
The trio will add glamour to a festival marking its 12th year with a wealth of fine food and drink exhibitors, demos and interactive sessions. Organisers expect more than 13,500 visitors to attend.
l Mold Food and Drink Festival is on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost £7 for adults, £3 children (aged four to 13 – under-3s free), and £15 for a family ticket. Visit www.moldfoodfestival.co.uk
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