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Kenwards (continued...)

National fame, however, didn’t lead to economic success. “I was very serious about what I cooked, and spent hours over dishes. Ingredients were expensive, too. Once I bought a carpet and a fish on the same day and the fish – a turbot – cost more than the carpet.” Weekends were busy, as punters came from far afield. But weekdays could be depressingly empty. “The average Lewesian couldn’t afford to eat there, and didn’t necessarily like the sort of stuff I was serving,” he remembers. “I never made a fortune, though left-overs at home were fantastic. The kids were brought up on off cuts of roast mutton and turbot.”

There was also an explosion of interest in cooking, as the eighties approached their end. TV chefs became celebrities, recipe books became more elaborate, everybody wanted to try things at home. Tastes were changing and he felt forced to fancify his menu: something he didn’t like doing. The end came in 1991. There was a break-in while the family was on holiday in Scotland and the restaurant was closed. John had always stocked his wine cellar well: several crates were stolen. “I told the police that thieves always struck twice, but they took no notice,” he says. “A couple of weeks later more wine was stolen." It was the last straw. John, dispirited and exhausted, decided to call it a day. He started up a cheese shop in the basement of the office, and rented out the rest of the premises. Lewes was no longer at the cutting edge of British gastronomy. AL


John Kenward today: “I never made a fortune, but we dined well
on the left-overs”