Steve Whitney, a chef who worked alongside some of the highest profile names in the industry, has died at the age of 61.
He was best known as being the right-hand chef to Anton Mosimann before going on to open his own business Whits, initially in Kensington, west London, which later relocated to Deal in Kent. An ardent football supporter, Whitney was a popular character in the hospitality industry who was renowned for his wicked sense of humour.
Whitney was born on 23 January 1958 on a US Airforce base in Bitburg, Germany, after his American Airforceman father met his mother at a US base in Manston, Kent. After completing 25 tours in Germany, the family moved to a base in Lubbock, Texas. After his father died when Whitney was just five years old, the family returned to the UK to live in Ramsgate, Kent.
Drawn to a catering career, Whitney studied cookery at Thanet Technical College under chef lecturers Stewart Rolfe and Phil Wendholt. Also on the course was Michael Kitts, now director of culinary arts at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai, who became a life-long friend.
A career in London beckoned. He worked at the Berkeley hotel under Marcel Auduc; Claridge’s with Felix Soubrand; the Dorchester, where he first met Anton Mosimann; Le Gavroche with Albert Roux; and Inigo Jones with Paul Gayler.
During his stint at Claridge’s, Whitney met and married fellow commis chef Caroline. They moved to work in the US, where their son was born in Washington DC.
On returning to the UK, Whitney worked at the Copper Inn in Pangbourne, Berkshire, before returning to London at 90 Park Lane, St Quentin, and then at the Savoy under Anton Edelmann, who he said taught him “a great deal about discipline”.
In 1984 Mosimann appointed Whitney as executive chef of his eponymous private dining club where he met Eva Barkasz, the general manager. Although their relationship was initially described as fiery “fighting like cat and dog”, six months later they were a couple and eventually married.
When Mosimann asked him to join a team of chefs to cook at a dinner to be attended by all of Europe’s royal families for the launch of Prague Heritage Fund, Whitney ended up spending the first night in jail for travelling on an expired USA passport. Only a top diplomatic intervention enabled him to be released in time to cook.
Whitney and Barkasz opened their first restaurant together, Whits in Kensington, in 2004 with financial backing from Mike Gooley, founder of travel giant Trailfinders. They ran the business for 12 years before moving it to Deal, Kent, as Whits of Walmer. The seafood restaurant gained a loyal following and Whitney was named Chef of the Year in 2017 by Kent Life.
A statement on the restaurant’s website said that the business will continue to operate with “the loyal kitchen team, led by Carl and Wendy” producing Whitney’s dishes to his high standards. “Without him at the helm, we will shorten the menu a little and keep Whits on the straight and narrow for the foreseeable future”.
Mosimann said: “Steve first came to work for me at the Dorchester as a commis chef and years later, joined me at Mosimann’s as executive chef. He always worked incredibly hard and was always ready for a new adventure. He was an excellent chef. He will be sadly missed for his culinary creations but also his jovial outlook on life.”
Whitney is survived by his second wife Eva and son Max.
Steve Whitney, 23 January 1958 – 18 November 2019