A major investigation is underway after fire ripped through part of one of celebrity chef Rick Stein’s flagship Cornish restaurants.
Multi-millionaire Stein was reportedly celebrating his 70th birthday elsewhere when his upmarket seafood eatery caught fire in the early hours of Monday morning.
The scale of the damage and the cause of the blaze is still being assessed and its cause is still being probed by experts, although arson has not been ruled out.
The incident in historic Porthleven follows years of bitterness between Stein and the local community, where he has many businesses and has clashed with locals who have accused him of “arrogance.”
He spent a large part of his fortune on a string of fish and chip shops and restaurants in the port of Padstow on the north coast of Cornwall. The success of the empire in the town led to it being nicknamed ‘Padstein’.
Three years ago Stein expanded further by taking over an existing restaurant in the tiny port of Porthleven on the south coast - the scene of the blaze, which began in a lean-to store on the side of the main building.
His move into the village angered many locals - including several fisherman - after he reportedly snubbed them despite promoting fresh food from local waters on his menu.
Staff at Rick Stein Porthleven were unavailable to comment, but in a tweet the restaurant said it was thankful no-one was hurt. It said: “Huge thank you to [fire crews] Most importantly no-one hurt. Currently assessing damage and update to follow.”
Stein is understood to have spent Sunday night with friends and family for the birthday milestone - which he began celebrating on his actual birthday back in January at his Sydney home.
Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service said: “Firefighters from Helston, Tolvaddon and Mullion have been dealing with a fully-involved property fire. At the height of the incident it was sectorised into two sectors with firefighters using four hose reel jets and two main jets to bring the fire under control.”
Incident commander Katherine Billing said: “It is an on-going investigation to look at the cause and it is too early to say with any certainty. Specialist teams are looking at that currently. It was a severe fire.
“Whether it was arson or not is something that is still being investigated. Nothing has been ruled in our out. Because of the severity of fire damage, it is difficult to say at the moment, which is why we have specialist teams there doing their investigations.”
Billing added crews had been “aggressive” with their tactics after noticing gas cylinders at the scene which could have exploded and engulfed the entire unit.
She said: “We were a maximum 15 mins away from the fire destroying the whole of the main restaurant.
“This would have meant a prominent business owner losing the opportunity to trade over the summer and would have spoilt the beauty of Porthleven and affected the economy of the whole village for the summer season.
“The actions the crews took, I truly believe, were pivotal in ensuring they can re-open the restaurant within weeks rather than miss a whole summer season.
“There was some spread to the main restaurant but it was minimal. They have some damaged stock they will have to throw away but I hope they can get back trading within a couple of weeks.”
A later tweet from the restaurant confirmed it would reopen on Tuesday night.
Despite regularly promoting Cornwall on his many television appearances and shows, Stein has always had an uneasy relationship with locals and has upset some residents and business owners in Padstow for the influence he exerts over the town.
In one row centred around his plans for a new accommodation block next to one of his hotels there, Stein wrote to a hotelier accusing him of failing to appreciate the “rosy glow of publicity” his celebrity status has brought to the resort.
In the letter, he attacked those protesting at his plans and demanded “recognition” for his contribution to the area.
He implied that his fame has benefited fellow businessmen and even extended the holiday season, but locals responded and accused him of “insulting” arrogance.