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Author, chef and educationalist Victor Ceserani dies at 97

21 February 2017 by
Author, chef and educationalist Victor Ceserani dies at 97

Victor Ceserani, one of the UK's most inspirational catering educationalists, has died at the age of 97.

He passed away yesterday after being admitted to hospital two weeks ago suffering from cancer.

Ceserani's name is renowned among culinary colleges and universities worldwide through the series of textbooks regarded as industry bibles which he co-wrote with Ronald Kinton and Professor David Foskett. First published in 1963, they included Practical Cookery, Advanced Practical Cookery and The Theory of Catering. More recent editions were updated with contributions from chef John Campbell.

Professor Foskett, who worked alongside Ceserani for 37 years, said: "Victor Ceserani was an inspirational man who has touched so many lives and left us with a great legacy. He was a man of integrity , faith and compassion . A truly wonderful person who will be dearly missed."

Victor Ceserani and David Foskett
Victor Ceserani and David Foskett
In Ceserani's autobiography Catering for Life, Michel Roux wrote in the foreword that the chef-turned-lecturer had "dedicated" his life to the profession who was "an inspiration for the younger generation and an example for any leader in our profession in the catering world". He added that Cesearani held "the rare balance of being a gifted craftsman with an academic mind.

Born of Italian-Belgium parents on 23 October 1919 in Knightsbridge, London, Ceserani spent the first 20 years of his life living in Chelsea. Shortly after his 15th birthday, keen to get away from academic subjects which he said were "beyond my comprehension", he joined London's Ritz hotel as an apprentice, on a salary of seven shillings and sixpence for a six-day week. It was while working at the Ritz that that he met his future wife, Letti, at the Pheasantry Club in the Kings Road. The couple remained devoted to one another throughout what Cesarani described as "an exceptionally happy marriage".

After leaving the Ritz, Ceserani become second chef at the Orleans Club. It was around this time that he entered a competition for unusual recipes but thought he might have a better chance entering as a woman, so it was as "Mrs Ceserani" that he won the prize for his "snow eggs".

As Ceserani was technically Italian, he received his National Service papers for the Italian Army, but promptly tore them up as his father had just taken out UK nationality, and he didn't regard himself as an Italian.

When war was declared in 1939, Ceserani joined the Royal Fusiliers, initially training as a motor mechanic. He was then promoted to lance corporal and moved to the officers' mess as cook for the 19th Battalion of Fusiliers in Cheshire. Throughout the war, he worked as an officers' mess cook in many units until he was posted to France just after VE day and finally de-mobbed in June 1946.

On returning to London, Ceserani took on the position of second chef at Boodles. In 1948, he was promoted to head chef and one of his famous recipes during that time was roast beaver, which he had acquired from the local butcher as it was not on ration.

Victor Ceserani and Brian Turner
Victor Ceserani and Brian Turner who had "wonderful fun times together"

erani continued at Boodles until early 1950 when he decided that he would like to share his experience with other young people. Hence, his move into education, starting with a year's teacher training course at North West London Polytechnic.

Here he first met Dr Pickard, who was the tutor for business studies. Little did he know that he would be a significant influence on his later life.

After training for a year, Ceserani applied for a job at the new Acton Catering School. In those days, with no sexual discrimination laws, the job was advertised for a woman, but in any case he applied and was successful. He joined Mary King, who was head of department and chief instructor Gerry Hudswell in what was the old girls' grammar school.

In the 1950s, all the recipes used to be written on the blackboard and copied down by students. Ceserani and his colleague Kinton decided to save time by having the recipes printed. The result was the publication of Practical Cookery.

When Hudswell went to Canada and King retired through ill health, Ceserani took over as temporary head of Ealing, later taking over as as head of school.

During his time at Ealing, Ceserani felt he should make up some of his own academic shortcomings and ended up at Michigan State University in the US, where he took a MBA and taught students in hospitality.

Returning to Ealing, he found the school had been kept in good shape under such luminaries as Bob Kidner, Dennis Lillicrap and Andy Durkin and, of course, his co-author Kinton.

During his career at Ealing, Ceserani was awarded an MBE for services to catering education in 1974. He finally retired in 1980 and was announced as an honorary fellow of Ealing College if Higher Education in 1982.

He was presented with the Catey Special Award, then called Personality of the Year, in 1984, and received the Catey Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.

In 1999, Ceserani was granted honorary life membership of the HCIMA, which later became the Institute of Hospitality. He was also an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.

Sara Jayne Stanes, chief executive at the The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts told The Caterer: "If anyone deserves to be called a legend it is Victor. He was loved and revered in equal measures. His knowledge of the culinary repertoire, which he was always willing to share, has been acknowledged across the world of hospitality."

Brian Turner, president of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, added that Ceserani was a marvellous communicator and a proud Englishman who was always generous with his time and knowledge. "He may have been a little fellow, but he had a big heart and exuded the true spirit of hospitality. He also knew how to laugh and we had some wonderful fun times together."

Ceserani remained active during his retirement, always willing to encourage and support young people coming into the industry and was an enthusiastic judge on the Roux Scholarship panel for many years.

Michel Roux, Victor Ceserani and Rick Stein at the Roux Scholarship
Michel Roux, Victor Ceserani and Rick Stein at the Roux Scholarship

n 2011 he spoke out about the abuse of chefs in some kitchens, a subject he had experience of as a young chef at the Ritz. "There is a very fine line between being tough and instilling discipline in staff," he told The Caterer. "Dressing down staff and belittling them in front of others is not right."

He devoted his final few years to Letti. Together, they had two sons, John and Michael.

Victor Ceserani: a profile >>

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