The remains of Kevin Boyle, 26, were discovered in a garden in Coulsdon, south London, just before Oliver was due to make a missing person’s appeal on ITV yesterday.

Boyle had cooked for Tony Blair, Oprah Winfrey and the Prince of Wales after he trained with the celebrity chef on the Channel 4 show, Jamie’s Kitchen.

Oliver, 36 said yesterday: “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.”

The death of Boyle, who appeared in Jamie’s Kitchen in 2002 in a group of 15 budding chefs working in his Fifteen restaurant, is being treated as unexplained and a post mortem will take place in Croydon today.

It is believed that Kevin may have been dead for up to three months as he was last seen on CCTV at Purley railway station in south London in October.

Oliver made an appeal for information soon after and family and friends set up a website to look for the chef, who was described as “depressed”.

The website called Boyle a “wonderful young man” with a “large network of friends all over the country”.

It added that he dreamt of opening his own restaurant and was looking for a business partner.

Mark Humm, youth minister at Purley Baptist Church, which Boyle attended regularly, said the last time he saw him, he was “very upset about something”.

 A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “The death is being treated as unexplained at this stage. A post-mortem is due to be held at Croydon mortuary today.

“The deceased is believed to be Kevin Boyle, a 26-year-old man who was reported missing from Purley, however we await formal identification. His next of kin have been informed.”