SYDNEY (AP) — Darren Simpson, who at 21 became Britain's youngest ever Young Chef of the Year and has been a television chef and food writer, has died in Australia, his family said Friday.
Northern Ireland-born Simpson worked at multiple restaurants in London, Ireland and Australia and appeared in Australian television's "My Restaurant Rules," "'Live This," and "Ready Steady Cook."
"My uncle Darren has passed away. He was truly one of a kind! He was a funny immature, caring guy, gonna miss you and your sick jokes! Love you Uncle Darren," the chef's nephew Matt Simpson posted on Facebook.
Simpson died near his home in Byron Bay north of Sydney on Thursday afternoon, Seven Network television reported.
He had recently attempted rehabilitation at a clinic for alcohol addiction before ending up in a hospital, News Corp. websites reported. The cause of death has not been confirmed.
Simpson grew up in Armoy and Hillsborough outside Belfast, one of three children of publican parents. A family friend who was a chef in Bermuda inspired him to make cooking his career, Fairfax Media reported.
Australia's LifeStyle Channel broadcast three series starring Simpson of "The Best in Australia," based on the BBC series "The Best," since 2007.
The series producer Marian Bartsch, of Mago Films, described Simpson as "a bright spark full of all that life had to offer and a razor sharp wit to match."
"Darren's quick wit and quirky Irish sense of humor allowed him to shine on and off camera and forged a lifelong friendship with all who came in contact with him on the show," Bartsch said in an email.
"He was such a lovely man. Funny, thoughtful, larger-than-life and a damn good chef. We will miss him and are thinking of his family at this sad time," she added.
The LifeSytle channel's profile of Simpson said he won the prestigious Young Chef of the Year award, open to all British chefs under the age of 25, within two years of landing his first job as a chef.
From 1992 to 1999, Simpson worked in restaurants including Michelin-starred Roscoff in Ireland and Le Gavroche in London. He also worked in top London restaurants Clarke's, Bibendum, River Café and Sartoria.
In 1999, he was head-hunted to become the head chef of Aqua Luna Bar and Restaurant in Sydney. In 2005, he opened the award-winning La Sala a modern Italian restaurant.
Simpson was awarded Chef of the Year by the Australian Hotels Association in 2011. He had recently worked at restaurants in Queensland state.
The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper's chief restaurant Critic, Terry Durack, praised Simpson's influence on the local food scene, saying "he brought something new to Sydney."
"He brought that cocky Irish charm to everything he did, but was actually a big old softie inside," Durack wrote.
Simpson is survived by his wife Julie and sons Angus, 14, and Hamish, 12.
This story has been corrected to show that name of company is Mago Films instead of Margo.