KEVIN Boyle, one of Jamie Oliver's original apprentices from his Fifteen restaurant, has been found dead after being missing for three months.
The 26-year-old chef was reported missing from where he lived in south London, last October, prompting an appeal for information from his former mentor.
A body was found in the back garden of a house in, south London, yesterday afternoon. His death is being treated as unexplained, with a post-mortem examination planned to take place in Croydon tomorrow.
TV chef Oliver, who trained Mr Boyle as part of the Channel 4 series Jamie's Kitchen in 2002, said he was ''deeply saddened'' by the news.
Mr Boyle appeared in the final episodes of the programme, having been recruited into the group of 15 budding chefs when someone else dropped out. He progressed to working at various restaurants, and had cooked for the Prince of Wales and former prime minister Tony Blair.
Oliver said: ''I'm deeply saddened by this tragic news. I am proud to have been able to call Kevin a friend for 10 years and he was also a constant supporter of Fifteen and all the apprentices and graduates who came after him through the course.
''I last saw him in September 2011 at the graduation ceremony for the ninth group of apprentices and he was on good form which makes this news even harder to take.
''My thoughts are with his family at this incredibly difficult time.''
Scotland Yard said they are awaiting formal identification and that Mr Boyle's next of kin have been informed.
On a website set up by Mr Boyle's family and friends following his disappearance, he was described as a "wonderful young man" with a "large network of friends all over the country".
Mr Boyle, who had a history of depression, dreamt of starting his own restaurant and had been looking for a business partner, according to the website.
The Crystal Palace fan, who studied at Lancaster University having previously attended Croydon College and Coulsdon High School, attended Purley Baptist Church "for many years".
The Fifteen group, which has restaurants in north London, Cornwall and Amsterdam, was set up to help unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds by giving them hands-on training. More than 220 young people have now graduated from the scheme.