Obituary: Peter Jukes, chef proprietor

Peter Jukes
Peter Jukes
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Born: 31 December, 1949, in Wolverhampton. Died: December, 2012, in Fife, aged 62

That Peter Jukes ever became a chef at all was a fairly remarkable achievement since his career was almost over before it began.

Having worked in an assortment of jobs, from tyre factory employee to deckchair boy, dishwasher and waiter, it was not until he reached the age of 24 that he decided that cooking was where his future lay.

However, making the decision was one thing; turning ambition into reality was quite another. And when he could find no-one to take him on, despite the industry crying out for trainees, it looked like his dream might be a non-starter.

Undeterred, the determined young man, who had left school as soon as he could, wrote to one of the leading hotel and catering magazines outlining his plight. A flood of offers ensued and what would become a glittering career began, culminating in the running of his own award-winning Fife seafood restaurant, The Cellar, and a clutch of industry accolades.

It could hardly have been further removed from his first job on leaving Wolverhampton’s Springfield Secondary Modern – making tyres on the production line in the town’s Goodyear factory. He detested the work and had hoped to escape the heavy industrial graft by becoming a professional cricketer.

Already an accomplished sportsman and skilful spin bowler, he played for Warwickshire County but was prevented from turning professional as a result of a serious ankle injury.

He soon moved on from the disappointment and away from his home town, taking a succession of jobs, including a stint as a deckchair boy in Jersey.

He had intended to work the summer there but loved life on the Channel Island and, by the early 1970s, realising he wanted to become a chef, had started at a relatively humble level, albeit in one of the island’s best hotels, making soup at L’Horizon.

From there he successfully applied to Ealing Technical College in London, where his secondment to the Mayfair Hotel marked the start of his association with some of the country’s most prestigious hotels.

But there was a major hurdle still to overcome. When his training course ended he was unable to find a job. With the prospect of unemployment looming, he took the initiative and wrote to the catering magazine – with spectacular results.

He chose to take up an offer at The Dorchester, training under renowned Swiss chef Anton Mosimann, before moving on to Gleneagles.

His love of cooking fish began when he went to the upmarket Imperial Hotel in Torquay, in 1975, where he became the poissonnier. As his career took off, he became sous chef at Hampshire’s luxury Chewton Glen, where his contemporaries included television chef John Burton-Race, before returning to Scotland for his first position as head chef, at Greywalls at Muirfield in 1980.

He arrived in Anstruther in 1982 following a spell at another luxury hotel, The Manor at Castle Combe in the Cotswolds.

It had been an eventful decade for the driven and handsome young chef who had diligently pursued his ambition, gaining the respect of the industry as he did so.

Divorced, following a youthful marriage to his first wife, Pat, with whom he had a daughter Maxine, he had remarried and it was his second wife Vivien, the mother of his son Thomas, who helped him fulfil the dream of owning his own restaurant.

Tipped off by one of her friends that The Cellar was for sale, they travelled up to view the restaurant. Initially they were unimpressed by its unprepossessing approach, but once they turned into its magical little courtyard they were hooked. He was already established with a reputation as an outstanding chef, and they were fully booked from the start, enjoying a phenomenally successful business and working together for 14 years.

One of his early employees went on to become his third wife, Susan, who continued to help him enhance the reputation of the restaurant that, over the years, welcomed diners from around the globe. They included celebrity guests such as Albert Finnie, Sean Connery, Samuel L Jackson, Greg Norman and Tom Watson.

The couple, who have four daughters, presided over the critically acclaimed eatery as it won award after award, including The Times’ Most Romantic Restaurant – table six the favoured spot for proposals – and UK Seafood Restaurant of the Year.

Jukes, who was a past chairman and Fellow of the Master Chefs of Great Britain, was Scottish Restaurant Chef of the Year in 2001 and had been awarded three AA rosettes for 17 years.

He was regarded as Scotland’s Rick Stein, and his passion for seafood was fuelled by the superb fresh produce on his doorstep. It inspired his creative cooking and he became obsessed with finding the best way to cook whatever fish was to hand, while always allowing the flavours to shine through. Not concerned with impressing other chefs, he only wanted to serve his customers the greatest food he possibly could and make the restaurant the best it could be.

Inevitably, he was a workaholic, putting in 14 to 16-hour days. But he was strong, dedicated and fair, a respected boss and an excellent mentor, displaying a calm, relaxed demeanour in the kitchen that helped to train and bring on young chefs with ease. Such a demanding working life left him little time for other interests, save his family with whom he spent all his spare time and who knew him as a fantastic dad with a humorous streak and a love of practical jokes.

Latterly, having spent almost 40 years on his feet in kitchens and suffering from arthritis in his knee, he decided to retire and put the restaurant up for sale. It was an excruciating decision to make as he adored the place and had given it his all, transforming The Cellar from a slightly faded, little rundown Fife establishment to a destination that welcomed the world to its door.

He is survived by his third wife Susan and children Grace, Alice, Rachael and Sarah; second wife Vivien and son Thomas; first wife Pat and daughter Maxine; his brother Robert and sister Lesly.

ALISON SHAW