What have you been up to for the past six years?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to take some time out to watch my two sons [now two and six] grow up. I have a great relationship with my daughter [now 28] but I regret not being around much when she was younger. Being a parent is tough in this industry.
You’ve been away from the stove for some time…
Well yes and no. I haven’t stopped cooking because I’ve been running my cookery school [from his home in Tea Green, Hertfordshire]. This year will be the school’s 10-year anniversary. We’ve been very successful.
Why the North of England for your new venture?
Why not? I’ve always wanted to do something in the north and I love Liverpool because I used to watch a lot of football when I was a kid. It’s an incredible city and there’s lots going on there at the moment. Also, I’ve done media appearances and projects all around the UK and I’ve always noticed that the further up the country I go the more popular I am.
So are you moving up there?
No. I’ve got a beautiful farmhouse and my fiancée and kids are there, so I don’t want to leave. But it’s not a case of putting my name to it and walking away, I’ve never done that and I’m not about to start now. I will be spending a lot of time there and will do everything I can to make it succeed.
After such a prolonged break do you feel like your reputation is on the line?
The life I have is fantastic and I don’t need to make a comeback, but I miss the buzz of service. I don’t feel pressure, though – I’m 52 years old. It’s taken me a long time to be satisfied with myself and now that I am I don’t feel I need to prove myself with accolades. I want to create something that’s really exciting and popular – that’s it.
How did the project come about?
You could say I was invited back into the restaurant world. Interstate Hotels and Resorts [a management company] and Hilton approached me. Both are extremely well organised and professional. A lot of the
problems I’ve had in the past were down to low budgets – I opened Maison Novelli [in Clerkenwell in 1996] with £500 – and a lack of investment. There were a lot of compromises. That’s not going to be an issue with this project.
Marco Pierre White has a number of restaurants in partnership with Interstate Hotels and Resorts, are you planning something similar?
I haven’t lost my appetite for success and Hilton is a big company so there are a huge number of possibilities. But we’re just concentrating on this one for the moment. It’s a very big project.
Tell us a bit more about the restaurant…
It’s going to be a big, bustling brasserie called Jean-Christophe Novelli at Michelle. I’ve named it after my fiancée [mother of Novelli’s two youngest children]. It will be 120 covers and I’ll also be looking after a conference and banqueting space that can do up to 300 covers. There is a gastronomic restaurant planned for later this year. When the brasserie is busy and successful I want to offer people something a bit different for special occasions.
What’s going to be on the menu?
They’ll be some of my well-known dishes and some new ones and the brasserie will serve a mix of traditional and modern. It’s all still in development, but like me it will be very French.
You’ve been an ambassador for the likes of findus and orangina – do you regret your tie-ups?
Not at all. Whatever you think of Findus, I see it as a project that went very well. I developed a quality range for them and they sold well. I felt I did a good job. Sure, I got some stick for it, but I don’t wake up in the morning to be popular, I wake up in the morning to make a living.
Are you planning to reintroduce yourself to the public as a celebrity chef?
Well I’m not sure I ever went away, in fact I had a book out recently [Simply Novelli]. And it’s not just the UK – I have a lot of traction in the UAE and Russia. I don’t know why, but they love me. I don’t court TV executives, but if the right thing comes up I’ll do it. TV is great, but I was born to be a chef, not an actor.