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Ross Burden

Celebrity TV chef

Celebrity TV chef

Born: December 16, 1968; Died: July 17, 2014.

ROSS Burden, who has died aged 45, was a New Zealander who became a celebrity chef in the UK after winning the Masterchef TV programme in 1993. He went on to appear for a decade on the programme Ready Steady Cook, first alongside the host Fern Britton and later with Ainsley Harriott.

His film star good looks and winning smile led the tabloids to bill him Britain's most eligible bachelor and the tastiest man in Britain. It was only much later that he came out as gay.

His looks won him more fan mail than Britton or Harriott. Burden went on to publish several best-selling cookery books with Harriott.

Colleagues said he had a tendency towards Gordon Ramsay-like expletives but he managed to keep them off air and wound up as something of a heartthrob chef somewhat akin today to the Italian Gino D'Acampo on ITV's Let's do Lunch, with Gino & Mel.

He travelled the UK as something of a one-man cooking circus, once venturing to North Uist to promote local produce and help launch the Outer Hebrides Speciality Food Producers Association, formed by the charity Urachadh Uibhist (Revitalising Uist). The group promotes the Outer Hebrides' wide range of local, quality foods - not just the islands' world-renowned fish and seafood.

Burden was also one of the first TV chefs to advocate seasonal produce, particularly in Britain, questioning why we buy certain fruit or vegetables throughout the year when they are out of season and artificially preserved. He reflected this passion in his recipes. "I remember the two weeks in the year when I could pick and eat my granny's raspberries and how much sweeter they tasted after waiting a tantalising 50 weeks to eat them."

During his career in the UK, Burden's TV fame won him several well-known private clients for catering events, including the Princess Royal and the actress Joan Collins, and he went on to set up his own catering company, serving fine food to the rich, famous or royal. Collins joined him in a healthy-eating video.

Casting off his kitchen whites, he fronted TV documentaries, notably about wildlife - one of his passions, including for the National Geographic channel and for columns in the News of the World newspaper.

He became a passionate supporter of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and a fundraiser for the fight against breast cancer.

As a celebrity chef, he was also filmed sky-diving over the Nevada desert, was winked at by Anne Robinson when he was a contestant on The Weakest Link and was told by Simon Cowell to stick to his day job after appearing with three other chefs on a celebrity X Factor.

He was also very much what Kiwis call an outdoorsman, travelling widely around Asia and enjoying shooting and scuba diving.

But he was fascinated by history, loved opera, taught himself Italian, French and the native New Zealanders' Maori, and became a passionate philatelist.

Having carved a career and fame in the UK, Burden returned to New Zealand in 2009 to be a judge on their version of Masterchef, which he presented until leukemia struck him down last year.

He died suddenly from an infection while receiving cancer treatment, even as he was planning his next projects and studying for a second university degree.

While appearing on New Zealand's Masterchef, he worked as a waiter in the famous Sails restaurant in Auckland, partly to pay his bills, partly to find out what kind of food Kiwis liked or didn't like.

In 2010, the restaurant manager sent him home after he, reportedly having been drinking, made suggestive remarks to three young kitchen staff. Burden later played down the incident.

Ross Kelvin Burden was born on 16 December, 1968, in Taradale, in the heart of the vineyard region near Napier on Hawke's Bay, North Island, and was adopted by Kelvin Burden and his wife Anne.

As a teenager, his looks and physique won him assignments as a male model, which helped pay his way through university.

For reasons unknown, he became known to all as CJ, which stuck throughout his life.

His sister Kirsten Hughes said her brother had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia in July last year and had contracted an infection after undergoing a bone marrow transplant. His death led to tweets and blogs from New Zealand, the UK and beyond. "You lit up a room when you walked in; you sparkled your way through life and it has been such a pleasure to know you," said one.

A clearly close friend also blogged: "My beloved, adored CJ, you have left me silently, without waiting for me to come home to you.

"What fun we had - seven-hour lunches, too much wine, talking too long, telling each other terrible jokes, exchanging likes and tall stories."

Burden is survived by his birth mother Jude, his adoptive mother Anne, his sister Kirsten and his extended family.

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