JEAN-Christophe Novelli has come a long way since his first job at a bakery in his hometown of Arras, northern France, at the age of 14.
Now an internationally renowned five AA Rosette and Michelin star-winning chef, the 50-year-old father-of-two has started his own cookery school, launched a knife collection and opened his own restaurants.
Dubbed the “World’s Sexiest Chef” by the New York Times, Novelli, who became private head chef to Elie de Rothschild in Paris aged just 19, is passionate about his belief the key to a long, healthy life is eating quality food and boosting your appetite with plenty of exercise.
“A lot of people don’t know about good quality food,” he says. “In order to be excited about it on a daily basis you need to have the best produce.”
Speaking to the Leader from Chamonix in the Alps, where he is staying with his fiancée Michelle Kennedy, Novelli says he runs at least a mile every day.
“You’ve got to make time for exercise and eating well,” he says. “Whatever I’m doing I just stop everything and go for a run no matter where I am.
“I try to do more but if the worst comes to the worst I just do one mile.
“Working out also gives you a massive appetite and you can enjoy your food more.”
The chef confesses he does struggle sometimes and last year ended up eating sandwiches at several meals on the run.
“Sometimes it’s difficult,” he admits. “The problem I have is the life I live is so hectic and I travel a lot.”
His philosophy for life has been boosted since the birth of his three-year-old son, Jean.
“I want to be able to enjoy life as much as I can,” he says. “I don’t smoke and don’t drink and eat healthily.
“It makes sense, you only have one life. If you want to give your best to everybody you’ve got to be on top of your life.
“When my son’s 20 I don’t want him to have to look after me – I want to run a race with him.”
Novelli enthuses about the fresh fruit and vegetables he can see growing near him in Chamonix before being sold from a stall next to the field, but sympathises with farmers trying to achieve the same in the UK.
“I think it’s important to use as much natural produce as you can,” he says. “A lot of people in the UK are growing their own vegetables and are interested in eating natural foods.
“The only problem is the climate – it must be a challenge for people trying to grow things. A change of weather can make or break the crops.”
Nevertheless, Novelli believes Wales has a lot to offer in the way of fresh produce and is looking forward to meeting some of those behind it in Mold.
“It’s going to be good,” he says. “There’s a lot going on in Wales in terms of food, it’s getting better every year.
“I’m delighted to have been invited – this will be my first time at the festival but I’ve heard good things about it before.
“I’m going to be doing several demonstrations, maybe using local produce. I’m not going to bring any ingredients with me.
“What I like to do is walk round the festival before the demonstration and pick things up.”
The chef believes such events should be welcomed by the communities hosting them as a way to bring business to the area.
“A food festival is like a fashion show, a way to show off new things,” says Novelli.
“There’s so many people producing food and so many exciting products at the moment.
“It’s important for communities to be able to support that. A lot of people don’t get enough recognition for what they do.
“A food festival is a great way to open up an area and increase competition – competition is healthy.”
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