A chef’s kiss! Stephen Terry looks loved up as couple seen for the first time since restaurateur announced he was leaving his wife for wine shop assistant nearly 25 years his junior

A TV chef who was Gordon Ramsay‘s best man has been pictured out in public for the first time since leaving his wife for a woman nearly 25 years his junior.

Stephen Terry, 56, announced the closure of his exclusive restaurant, The Hardwick, in Abergavenny earlier this week.

Shocked locals in the market town assumed its abrupt failure was due to a fraudster couple who stole almost £200,000 from the business to finance a luxury lifestyle.

But insiders say that the lovestruck chef has been ‘distracted’ from the business in recent months after falling for a wine shop assistant.

Now the father-of-three has been spotted cosying up to his new lover Jo Browning, 32, who has an eight-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. 

Friends of Mr Terry’s 54-year-old wife, also called Jo, say she is ‘devastated’ by the split.

Father-of-three Stephen Terry has been spotted cosying up to his new lover Jo Browning, 32, who has an eight-year-old daughter from a previous marriage

A friend said Mr Terry was now living with Ms Browning (pictured) who works for local wine supplier Chesters

A friend said Mr Terry was now living with Ms Browning (pictured) who works for local wine supplier Chesters

TV chef Stephen Terry (left), who was Gordon Ramsay's (right) best man, has left his wife for a woman nearly 25 years his junior

TV chef Stephen Terry (left), who was Gordon Ramsay’s (right) best man, has left his wife for a woman nearly 25 years his junior

Friends of Terry's wife Jo (left) say she is 'devastated' by the split

Friends of Terry’s wife Jo (left) say she is ‘devastated’ by the split

His new lover Jo Browning, 32, has an eight-year-old daughter from a previous marriage

His new lover Jo Browning, 32, has an eight-year-old daughter from a previous marriage

Her father Derry Nicklin, 83, was a major investor in her husband’s restaurant when he launched it 18 years ago.

Mr Terry, who represented Wales on the BBC’s Great British Menu, announced The Hardwick was shutting down days ago but made no mention of the matrimonial difficulties that may lie behind the sudden closure.

A friend of the couple said: ‘His wife and family are absolutely devastated by Stephen’s behaviour.

‘He has been having an affair behind Jo’s back and she is heartbroken.

‘It has been a dreadful time for her and their children.’

The friend said Mr Terry was now living with Ms Browning, who works for local wine supplier Chesters.

The friend added: ‘So many lives have been turned upside down. They were married for nearly 20 years and Jo’s dad invested the money to get The Hardwick started.’

Meanwhile Mr Terry said ‘everything is golden’ with his new lover Jo. He said the pair fell in love earlier this year and are now planning a life together. 

Although they are living in a modest, rented house in Abergavenny, he said they are hoping to open a wine bar offering meals ‘in the very near future’, possibly in Bristol or Bath. 

The chef said he felt ‘desperately sorry’ for the heartache his new relationship had caused his wife and their three children. 

He added: ‘I feel their pain. It came as a shock to them and they are very upset.’

Mr Terry said: 'I met someone - Jo, or Franks as I call her - and she turned my head'

Mr Terry said: ‘I met someone – Jo, or Franks as I call her – and she turned my head’ 

Ms Browning is nearly 25 years younger than her new partner and has the same first name as his wife

Ms Browning is nearly 25 years younger than her new partner and has the same first name as his wife 

Mr Terry said 'everything is golden' with his new lover . Pictured: Mr Terry and his wife

Mr Terry said ‘everything is golden’ with his new lover . Pictured: Mr Terry and his wife

‘I love my wife, but after 20 years I think we just grew apart. It happens. 

‘I’ve been working hard in a kitchen all my life and this is the first time this has happened. I’ve always been very conscientious, committed to my job and career. I put so much into my work and career that really that was all I did. 

‘Then I met someone – Jo or Franks as I call her – and she turned my head. 

‘We are good. Everything is golden. I didn’t anticipate the pain and upset it would cause. I feel terrible for that. My wife never saw this coming – neither did I. It’s been hard for our friends and family and I am desperately sorry for that.’ 

He said he was ‘extremely proud’ of the way his three children have dealt with the marriage split. Their two daughters have recently started university, he said. 

‘They are settling in and I’m so proud of them. Our son, who is 14, is also coping well, but he understandably finds it more difficult.’ 

He said the affair had not triggered the closure of The Hardwick. 

‘I’ll tell you what caused that – Brexit, Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis. 

‘Outside London, and especially in a relatively small town like Abergavenny, very few people can afford to eat out nowadays because they have precious little spare money. People are simply not going out any more, and in the hospitality industry, margins are incredibly tight. We just couldn’t survive. 

‘As for Brexit, it has ruined the business because of staff recruitment issues. Things got so bad that in the end, I had to make my sous chef my front of house manager and do his job in the kitchen as well as my own. 

The house where chef Stephen Terry and Jo Browning live in Abergavenny, Wales

The house where chef Stephen Terry and Jo Browning live in Abergavenny, Wales

Mr Terry said he had not discussed his split or new love with his superstar chef friend, Gordon Ramsay, for whom he was best man

Mr Terry said he had not discussed his split or new love with his superstar chef friend, Gordon Ramsay, for whom he was best man

‘And then of course, we were taken for £150,000 in the space of two years – that was a kick in the b******s I never saw coming.’ 

Mr Terry said he had not discussed his split or new love with his superstar chef friend, Gordon Ramsay, for whom he was best man. 

‘We are great friends and we had a lot of fantastic experiences together, but our lives are so different,’ he said. 

‘Gordon is the world’s most famous chef so he is tremendously busy. I saw him last year for the first time in maybe ten years and we had a great time.’

Earlier this year, it emerged that the restaurant’s financial administrator and mum-of-five Nicola Nightingale, 48, stole £150,000 from the restaurant while transferring another £46,000 into her 50-year-old husband Simon’s bank account.

The couple used the stolen cash to splash out on luxury holidays to Disneyland in Paris, Disneyworld in Florida, and for anniversary stays in Morocco.

Mr Terry posted a photo announcing the closure reading : ‘The final “Family” last breakfast supper. Thank you to all our staff and customers from the last 18 years. It’s been emotional. Onwards and upwards.’

Mr Terry trained under Marco Pierre White at Harveys and became best friends with Gordon Ramsay when they worked together.

The Hardwick won multiple awards including a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide, being named the best restaurant in Wales in consecutive years and named the 19th best gastropub in the coveted Estrella Damm 50 Best Gastropubs list in 2020.

Stephen Terry, who has left his wife for another woman, is pictured with James Martin

Stephen Terry, who has left his wife for another woman, is pictured with James Martin

The house where Mr Terry and Jo Browning are living together in Abergavenny

The house where Mr Terry and Jo Browning are living together in Abergavenny

Stephen ran the restaurant with his wife after her family helped fund the purchase. They added plush rooms to the restaurant – but he always steered away from seeking a Michelin star because he didn’t want to sound ‘posh and expensive’. He beat Angela Hartnett in the Great British Menu in 2008.

Cardiff Crown Court heard Mr Terry trusted Nightingale to run the finances before she roped her husband into her fraud.

The alarm was raised when suspicious Mr Terry saw money was missing and discovered two £40,000 loans had been taken out in his name along with a £10,000 shortfall in the pension pot.

Prosecutor Tom Roberts said Nightingale ‘generated fake invoices from fictitious suppliers’ after she was employed at the country inn.

The court heard she began working at the restaurant in February 2018 before she started to pay herself inflated wages and create bogus invoices.

Mr Roberts said: ‘She gave the impression that the business was running smoothly but she had in fact run it into significant debt.’

The total money stolen from the restaurant was £150,234.63 between February 2018 and February 2020.

Nightingale, of Deal, Kent, pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position. Her husband was found guilty of acquiring criminal property after a trial.

The couple were handed two year sentences suspended for two years at Cardiff Crown Court in May this year.

A Proceeds of Crime hearing has now been told a ‘thorough’ examination of their finances revealed no releasable assets.

Judge Shomon Khan handed out £1 confiscation orders to be made for Mr and Mrs Nightingale.

He said: ‘There has been a lot of interest in his case but there has been a thorough investigation and that’s where we are in terms of the recoverable amount and this is as far as the courts can take it.’

After their sentence, Mr Terry said it was an ‘absolute joke’ that the couple walked free after defrauding his restaurant.

He said: ‘I am disappointed there was no custodial sentence for what they have put myself through. For someone to come and do that I think she practically got away with it.

‘They had a holiday we could have only dreamed of and all of a sudden you find out you’re paying for it. For them to result in getting a suspended sentence is a travesty.

‘What kind of message does that sent out? It’s a joke, an absolute joke.’

A source close to Mr Terry said the amount of money lost to the business when it was swindled by the Nightingales was partly to blame for The Hardwick’s demise.

But diners who have bought £100 vouchers to dine there in recent days, or booked rooms, today began bombarding the restaurant and demanding to know whether they will receive refunds.

The source said: ‘It’s been a tough time to run a restaurant and there are numerous issues affecting the business, but without losing so much money it could have just about scraped by.’

The Hardwick said it will be ‘calling future bookings and reservations ASAP’.

Jo Terry told MailOnline: ‘I don’t want to comment, my priority is the children and I just want to protect them at this difficult time.’

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