A Michelin-starred Birmingham chef has described how he and his wife watched in horror as their belongings were destroyed in a fire.
Richard Turner, of Turners in Harborne, was left with just the chef’s whites he was wearing after the blaze wrecked their home in Harborne Road, Edgbaston.
Turner, who was at work when the fire broke out, revealed he was forced to sleep on the floor of his restaurant and said the “nightmare” experience had made him re-evaluate his life.
The chef said the disaster made him realise what it is like to lose everything and has prompted him to raise cash for the homeless.
Turner is set to host a charity event and is seeking sponsors to back him in the Great Midlands Fun Run. He will donate the proceeds to the Birmingham-based charity SIFA Fireside, which helps the city’s homeless and people fighting alcohol abuse.
Turner said he had not wanted to talk publicly about the fire, which happened just before Christmas, but decided to speak out to help raise awareness about the work of SIFA Fireside.
He recalled how the alarm was raised by his neighbour who phoned Turner as a busy service was getting under way. Turner, aged 41, told the Post: “My neighbour telephoned me at seven o’clock on the Wednesday before Christmas. He said, ‘You’d better come home now, your house is on fire.’
“I thought he was winding me up, so I told him to get lost. I was busy during service in the restaurant.
“But he told me he was being serious, that there were fire engines on the drive and my house was going up in flames.”
Turner and his 32-year-old wife Meena dashed home, by which time three fire engines were tackling the blaze.
The chef said: “I was devastated. One of the firemen saw how upset me and my wife were, so he went back into the house and got the presents out from under the tree.
“He came back out on a ladder, wearing a black coat with a sack over his shoulder. I had to laugh, even though my house was on fire. I said, ‘You’re four days early, mate!’
“The firemen were unbelievable but it was sickening to deal with, I felt totally exposed.”
Turner said he kept quiet about the fire because he wanted to carry on as normal and did not want to disappoint his customers by closing the restaurant, even temporarily.
He said: “Christmas and New Year were a nightmare, but I didn’t want to tell anybody because I didn’t want to let the customers down. I just had to keep my head down and get on with my cooking. I had a full restaurant on Christmas Day. What else could I do? The stress was horrendous.
“On one night, I had nowhere to go and had to sleep on the floor in the restaurant in my whites.
“It really brings things home to you when you lose everything like this and makes you think about others who are not as lucky as us and don’t have a permanent home.
“The night I slept on the restaurant floor made me think about what is important in life. It focuses the mind when you’ve got nowhere to go.
“I came back into work after the fire and I was wearing my chef’s jacket, my chef’s trousers and my shoes. That was all that I owned in the world, alongside my wife’s Christmas presents.”
The fire is thought to have been caused by an electrical fault. The property was being rented and Turner and his wife are now staying at a friend’s apartment.
The chef is better known for his precise cooking and plating rather than his athletic achievements and is busy getting in shape for the June fun run.
Turner added: “Maybe all the Birmingham Chefs Alliance guys should join in and we could raise a whole lot of cash for the city. I’d like to see some of those boys running the streets of Birmingham after service.”
SIFA Fireside, in Allcock Street, Digbeth, runs a host of services, including resettlement and alcohol support, and offers daily meals for the city’s homeless population. It helps about 1,800 people each year.