Celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli introduced his new baby son to HELLO! magazine in October 2016 after becoming a father again at the age of 55. In an exclusive interview and photoshoot with his fiancée Michelle Kennedy, 40, and all four of his children, the former Hell's Kitchen star tells of his joy at becoming a dad to Valentino Louis, who was born last month weighing 6lbs1oz.
"I have always wanted three sons and this is the perfect hat-trick. All the ingredients are here for a lovely recipe. It's wonderful to have children," Jean-Christophe told HELLO! at the family's 14th century farmhouse in Hertfordshire, which is also his cookery school The Novelli Academy.
Jean-Christophe became a father again in September 2016
Valentino Louis, who was born on 7 September weighing 6lb 1oz, was already a big hit with his brothers Jean, eight, and Jacques, four, Jean Christophe’s sons with his fiancée Michelle Kennedy. Joining the family is Christina, 30, the chef’s daughter from a previous marriage. Jean-Christophe, who is the eldest of three brothers and a sister, says of his young boys: "They’re very excited. Jean is feeling like the big boy, like he’s in charge." Also in the thick of things is DJ, singer and songwriter Christina, who was by Michelle’s side for the Caesarean birth – and even cut the cord – taking the place of Jean-Christophe, who was busy doing the school run.
"It was Jacques’s first day at big school, which was a big deal for him," explains Jean-Christophe. "I was hoping to be there for the birth but Michelle insisted that I took the boys. I knew it was the best thing for everybody. As soon as the baby was born, at 9am, Christina sent me a text with a picture. I cried. It was so magical."
"To be honest I didn’t mind that Jean-Christophe wasn’t there," said Michelle. "He doesn’t normally get nervous, but he is a bag of nerves when a baby is born. He paces up and down trying not to show me how nervous he is. But Christina is so calm and we’re best friends, so I said to him, 'I’ll take Christina, you go with the boys.' Jean-Christophe brought the boys to the hospital later and it was really precious when they came in, I didn’t expect them to be so elated. They lit up, they were brimming over. It was lovely."
Jean-Christophe and Michelle have three sons together
While Michelle, 40, says that the sleepless nights have left her more tired this time around, Jean-Christophe – who has appeared on such TV shows as Hell’s Kitchen and This Morning, has written several books and has collaborated on a new menu for Manchester restaurant Don Giovanni and is planning a new restaurant next year at the AC Hotel by Marriott in Belfast – is embracing life as a more mature father. "It’s like being in the kitchen – you get on top of it and do it with a smile," he says. "I will be at the traditional retirement age when Valentino is at secondary school but age is not important; I still feel young and I expect I will be running for my bus pass.
"Children are an extension of life," he adds. "My grandfather was 54 when my dad was born. It’s in the genes. I want to be around when my children are adults and I can see myself running on into my 80s." It was Jean-Christophe’s paternal grandfather, Luigi Valentino, who inspired his new son’s name. "I always promised myself that I would never forget my Italian grandfather," says the French-born chef. "The last time I saw him I was only about nine, but I could see in his eyes that I wouldn’t see him again."
Little Valentino seems to be developing his own personality, his parents say. "He’s very attentive and he knows my voice," says Jean-Christophe. "But he’s also very relaxed. We’re lucky." Even though he is busy running his academy and cooking at festivals and events all over the country and abroad, Jean-Christophe says he is able to be with his children more now than he could when Christina was young. "My life allows me to spend more time with them – I’m getting back what I missed with Christina," he says. "Luckily we are very close now and she is the best big sister."
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"Jean-Christophe is really hands on, he does so much," says Michelle. "If he’s going away for work he gets up extra early and has about seven pans on the hob at once, cooking dinners for however many days he’s away. I’m so lucky to have a chef as a fiancé. He also drives the boys to school – speaking only French to them in the morning. And he’s really good at maths. On top of that, he’s their nutritionist and takes them running. He really believes in that and it’s a lovely father-son bonding time. He’s very affectionate with them but he’s also very disciplined, organised and strict," she adds. "They are my weaknesses so we complement each other really well. We have a great balance, we’re yin and yang."