Chef Tim Bilton looks to have it all; the restaurant of his dreams, a loving wife and two great kids and a television profile many would envy. But behind this success he has been fighting a private battle, as Catherine Scott discovers.
HE Spiced Pear Hepworth is everything Tim Bilton ever wanted.
His own fine dining restaurant and tearoom, fields where he can have animals and grow fruit and vegetables inspired by his time working for Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons where he can build a future for himself, his wife Adele and their two sons Henry, seven, and one-year-old Charlie.
“Being a chef is a lifestyle not a job,” says the 41-year-old. “You work all hours and at weekends, but you do it because it is your passion. I just love it.”
Many people will know Tim for the five years he spent at the Butcher’s Arms in Hepworth building up the run down pub into a destination gastropub which gained him much acclaim.
But the Butcher’s Arms was owned by Enterprise Inns and Bilton knew that he wanted to own his own pub. He is a true Yorkshireman and a believer in bricks and mortar as a way of securing his and his family’s future.
“We tried to buy the Butcher’s Arms three times but each time they turned us down. I knew I wanted my own place, somewhere to plan the next 20 years. Pensions are up and down, bricks and mortar is where you need to be.”
Although the lease isn’t officially up on the Butcher’s Arms until September, Tim went about acquiring the Spiced Pear which, at the time was called The Hepworth and before that Cragrats. However, just 10 weeks before the doors were due a bombshell was dropped on Tim’s carefully laid plans.
“We’d all been working really hard to get the Spiced Pear ready,” he explains. “My back started to give me a bit of trouble and so I went to the doctor to get some painkillers. While I was there I just happened to mention that I’d had a shadowy type spot on the white of my left eye and would he mind taking a look at it. It didn’t hurt but I’d had it for sometime and it was starting to itch.”
The doctor didn’t like what he saw and referred Tim immediately to an eye specialist at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. The doctor there did some tests and said he wanted to refer him to a specialist in Sheffield.
Even then he wasn’t unduly concerned, his mind was on his new business. But when the professor locked the door behind Tim and his wife, he started to realise all was not well.
“He said he was 99.9 per cent certain that I had cancer,” recalls Tim. “The minute the word came out of his mouth I just had an out-of-body experience. I remember looking round and realising he was talking to me. Adele was asking lots of questions but all I could think was ‘I have a restaurant opening in 10 weeks I haven’t got time for cancer’.”
And that was pretty much how Tim dealt with the news. It is only now, three months on, with his new business already a success that the reality of what could have happened seems to have hit home.
He knows full well that he should have gone to the doctor’s sooner having had the spot in his eye for more than a year. He also knows that the cancer could easily have spread to his lymph glands, seriously reducing his odds of recovery, and that he could also have lost his eye.
“I know I am extremely lucky that I went
MASTER CLASS: Tim Bilton with Raymond Blanc at the Leeds Food and Drink Festival. He was mentored by Blanc as a teenager.