Victor Ceserani, who celebrated his 90th birthday last week, is the chef, teacher and author who pioneered catering education in the UK during his 30 years or so as head of catering at Ealing College.
His books quickly established themselves as the standard textbooks in UK catering colleges since the first title was published in 1963. Now regarded as industry bibles, they include Practical Cookery, Advanced Practical Cookery and The Theory of Catering, all co-written with Ronald Kinton and David Foskett. More recent editions have been updated in concert with Michelin-starred chef John Campbell.
Ceserani has been described as a "culinary hero of British cuisine" by Anton Mosimann and as "one of the pillars of the industry" by Michel Roux, who penned the Catering for Life: Autobiography of Victor Ceserani.
Ceserani's many awards include an MBE and honorary life membership of the HCIMA. He won the Special Award (then called Personality of the Year) in the first-ever Cateys held in 1984 and followed this with a Lifetime Achievement accolade in 1992.
Victor Ceserani was born in Knightsbridge on 23 October, 1919, of Italian/Belgium parents and spent the next 20 years living in Chelsea. He started work at London's Ritz hotel shortly after his 15th birthday in 1935 and it was here that he met his future wife, Letti, at the Pheasantry Club in the Kings Road.
Shortly after he was awarded his certificate of apprenticeship in 1937, Ceserani left the Ritz to join Charles Abry as second chef at the Orleans Club.
Around this time, Ceserani 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 certainly didn't see himself as an Italian.
However, war was declared in 1940 and Ceserani received his call-up papers for the Royal Fusiliers. Initially he trained as a motor mechanic, but was then promoted to lance corporal and moved to the officers' mess as cook for the 19th Battalion of Fusiliers in Cheshire.
During the war, Ceserani worked as officers mess cook in many units until he was posted to France just after VE day and finally de-mobbed in June 1946.
As the Orleans Club had been destroyed, Ceserani looked for another opportunity in club land and took 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.
Ceserani continued at Boodles until early 1950 when he decided that, having had such a great experience in the industry, he would like to share this with other young people. On the recommendation of Basil Edwards, secretary of the then Hotel and Catering Institute, he started 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.
|Former student Gary Rhodes with Victor Ceserani|
In the 1950s, all the recipes used to be written on the blackboard and copied down by students and so Ceserani and Ronnie Kinton decided to save time by having the recipes printed. As a result, the first edition of Ceserani and Kinton's Practical Cookery was written and published in 1962.
Over time, Hudswell went to Canada and Mary King retired through ill health and so Ceserani took over as temporary head of Ealing. Here he was to be reunited with Dr Pickard, who was now head of Ealing Technical College. Ceserani later took over as head of school.
During his time at Ealing, Dr Pickard suggested that Ceserani should make up some of his own academic shortcomings and suggested he take an MBA at Cornell. However, he ended up at Michigan State University where he not only took his MBA but taught students in hospitality (a new word at that time).
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, co-author Ronnie Kinton..
During his many eventful years at Ealing, Ceserani was awarded an MBE for services to catering education in 1974. In 1980, he finally retired from Ealing.
In 1999, Ceserani was granted honorary life membership of the HCIMA, whose then-president Vic Laws (now food service consultant and director of AVL Consultancy) had been among his first students. Ceserani was only the second person in the history of the institute to receive this honour.
The last ten years have been spent seeing friends in the industry, enjoying good food and wine and being with his family.
TRIBUTES FROM OTHER CHEFS
Anton Mosimann "Victor, you have no idea how much I miss not being with you and Letti this evening; but I am cooking on board a Silversea cruise and sadly a helicopter was not available. You have always stood out as a culinary hero of British cuisine and had a tremendous influence both with your books and through training young professionals. Kathrin and I will toast you somewhere between Corfu and Sicily. Have a wonderful celebration and really enjoy your lunch. With fond regards."
Michel Roux Snr
"I consider Victor as one of the pillars of the industry - a man who has done much for the training and development of British chefs."
1974 MBE for services to Catering Education
KITCHEN ADVICE FROM THE THEORY OF CATERING
VICTOR CESERANI BOOKS ON CATERERSEARCH
VICTOR CESERANI ON CATERERSEARCH
ON THE WEB
Thanks to Vic Laws, who provided much of the information for this article.