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Tributes paid to chef Gary Rhodes who 'created a renaissance' of British cuisine

27 November 2019 by
Tributes paid to chef Gary Rhodes who 'created a renaissance' of British cuisine

Tributes have been paid to Gary Rhodes, a chef that "created a renaissance" of British cuisine.

Rhodes' death was announced by his family this morning. In a statement they said: "The Rhodes family are deeply saddened to announce the passing of beloved husband, father and brother, Gary Rhodes OBE. Gary passed away last evening, Tuesday 26 November 2019, at the age of 59, with his beloved wife Jennie by his side. The family would like to thank everyone for their support and ask for privacy during this time."

The industry has been paying tribute to a chef that spearheaded the 1990s revival of traditional British cuisine.

Chef Michel Roux Jr, with whom Rhodes worked as a Roux Scholarship judge, said he was "devastated", adding: “I looked up to Gary, he was a genius in front of a stove or an audience.”

Alain and Michel Roux added: “Today we lost one of the greats. Our thoughts and love are foremost with Jennie and family. The Roux family was fortunate to enjoy the support of chef Gary for many happy years as a Roux Scholarship judge. He only stood down upon moving to Dubai but his support and friendship remained steadfast.

"As a Michelin star chef, Gary was remarkable, taking British cooking into the ascendant reconnecting us with a rich culinary culture to rival that of other nations. Classic cooking with flair and a twist of innovation was Gary’s speciality. As a good friend to all chefs, our respect for Gary was absolute and his popularity was universal. We never heard a bad word said about Gary and likewise, we never heard him utter a word against anyone. Gary will be sorely missed but his legacy will outlive us all.”

Brian Turner, who appointed Rhodes as his sous chef at the Capital hotel in the early 1980s, remembers him with fondness as a great chef and a close friend. They met up just three weeks ago in Dubai, where he said Rhodes was “very content with his life”.

“I told him that I would take him on if he got rid of his spikey hair and earring. He never did, but he always wore a hat so I could never see them! It was a measure of his focus on the job in hand. Food and his support for Man Utd were his passions. He always worked with the upmost enthusiasm and treated everyone with respect.

“Our paths crossed over many years – through our television work and various events such as the Good Food Show. Gary led the way in becoming a superstar TV chef – he was a wonderful presenter as he had a strong message to deliver – his love of British produce and food.”

Anthony Demetre, chef proprietor of Wild Honey St James and Vermuteria in London, who worked with Rhodes in the late 1980s and 1990s at both the Castle in Taunton and the Greenhouse in the capital, told The Caterer: “He was a huge mentor for me and a massive influence. He was the leader of the pack in that generation of Marco Pierre White and John Burton-Race - these British guys doing incredible things. But, Gary was the one who resurrected British food, it was going through a terrible period and Gary was the man who resurrected that with oxtails, faggots and Eccles cakes. This is stuff I do today, I have Welsh rarebit on the menu and it’s his recipe. That’s the legacy, he’s a legend.”

He added: “He was a lovely man to work for, unstoppable in terms of his passion, hugely driven, never fazed by fashion or influenced by food trends, very confident in his own palate, very confident in himself and a doting father.”

Kit Chapman, proprietor of the Castle hotel in Taunton, Somerset, where Rhodes first made a name for himself, told The Caterer that he was a truly great British chef and one of the first of his generation to lead British cooking into a new era.

He said: “When we first met, Gary was still into nouvelle cuisine, but then we went on to form an extraordinary partnership at the Castle in celebrating and creating a renaissance of the British repertoire to huge success. His braised oxtail dish was just stunning and in my view his bread and butter pudding was the best there has ever been.”

Jean-Christophe Novelli, who appeared alongside Rhodes on TV's Hell's Kitchen, said: "The first time I met Gary was in the early 1990s when all the Michelin star chefs used to meet in London once a year. I knew then that he could consistently cook very well, he had confidence and style. I remember asking him who did his hair! He said my wife Jennie.

"We met later properly through the intermediary of Jonathon Meades. I saw then, it was clear that Gary was meant to make a unique mark. It was a pleasure and an honour to work with and be his opponent on Hell's Kitchen. This is where I realised that he was not only a great chef and leader but a true gentleman and a loving husband and father. I witnessed the rise of one of the best British chefs and as a French chef it was an honour to work with him. This allowed me to not only get to know him better as a chef but also a very good friend, a friendship that never ceased. Gary was loyal, trustworthy and had a very big heart, he was also very modest."

Another one-time boss David Levin, former proprietor of the Capital hotel and Greenhouse restaurant in London, said Rhodes was an exceptionally hard working chef who was always the first in the kitchen. "He helped create an exceptionally successful restaurant at the Greenhouse, which became a great hit with Americans and Australians who wanted to try the 'new British food'. Above all, Gary was a lovely, lovely person who always wanted to please everyone."

Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton, who worked with Rhodes on projects in Dubai, said: "Growing up in the industry he was one of the chefs you really looked up to. There were TV chefs, but he was the first to come from a Michelin background and he filled restaurants. He trained an incredible number of chefs and brought British comfort food to the fore. Everyone was scared stiff of putting potted mackerel on a menu but he made it Michelin starred. He was a generous and great man."

Tom Kerridge, who worked under Rhodes at on the Square in 1999, added that he was deeply shocked and hugely saddened.

He said: "He is without a doubt one of the greatest British chefs who almost single handedly put British food on the world stage. Taking simple ingredients and embracing classic dishes, and turning them into something world class.

"Many chefs have been through his kitchen, myself included. I consider it to be an honour to have stood alongside him at the pass and he taught me that simplicity is key, removing things from plates rather than adding, and celebrating everything that is great about Great Britain.

"My thoughts go out to Gary's family and close friends for their huge loss."

Paul Ainsworth, who also worked with Rhodes at on the Square, said: "I’m deeply saddened to hear the tragic news about Gary – he inspired a whole generation of cooks, including me. I feel honoured to have had him as a mentor and will never forget his kindness. A true gentleman and pioneer, he will always be an icon and champion of British cookery. My thoughts are with his family at this very difficult time. Rest in peace chef, you were truly unique."

Two-Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw joined the kitchen at City Rhodes in 1997 when he was just 19 years old. He told The Caterer: “Gary was inspirational to me as a young chef. I used to pass his photo every day on the wall of Broadstairs College where we both trained. His TV presence was influential in raising the status of British cooking with the general public. My Grandad delighted in telling people that I had landed a job with ‘old haircut from the tele’!

"I only worked with Gary for a short time but he was always supportive and kind to me, encouraging me to strive for excellence in the kitchen. He will be greatly missed.”

Simon Casson, president of hotel operations for Four Seasons in Europe, Middle East and Africa, worked with Rhodes at the Castle in Taunton. He said: "In 1987 I arrived to the Castle at Taunton as assistant manager. Gary was a revelation to me... so passionate about his cuisine and in possession of a star-like quality. Surely followed Michelin stars and fame.

"He was a true champion of British cuisine, mentored so many chefs and stands tall as one of the greats in my mind. Moreover he was a top bloke, humble and genuine, always full of life and laughs. We reconnected these past years in Dubai along with his lovely wife Jennie and shared a wonderful dinner reminiscing about times and moments shared in the past. I feel truly privileged to have counted him as a friend and inspiring mentor in my life."

Bill Toner, CEO of CH&CO, who had worked with Rhodes when he opened City Rhodes in 1997 and Rhodes in the Square in 1998, in partnership with Sodexo (then Gardner Merchant), said: “I am absolutely devastated by the passing of Gary Rhodes. It’s a tragedy that someone so talented has been taken from us far too soon.

“I had the pleasure of knowing Gary well. He worked for me for a number of years on a number of restaurants and was a fantastic chef and a real innovator who helped shape our great industry. We were particularly proud of what we created together and our Michelin stars at City Rhodes and Rhodes in the Square. Gary was an ultimate professional, hardworking, caring and a special person. He will be truly missed but leaves a great legacy on our industry. My deepest sympathy and thoughts are with Jennie, the boys and his family at this very sad time.”

Co-founder of Sauce Intelligence and former editor of The Caterer, Amanda Afiya, said: “He was one of the first people I interviewed… He really had such a phenomenal impact on the culinary landscape. We know all the people that he’s influenced in the industry and taught, people like Nathan Outlaw, Tom Kerridge, Paul Welburn and Paul Ainsworth.

"I think Gary’s DNA is very much in their cooking, you can see it, that simplicity that he brought to food while still delivering huge flavours. He never overcrowded the plate - he hated the use of unnecessary ingredients - and the astute chefs in his brigades, all around the world, learned that very valuable discipline from him. He had such an incredible impact on British cuisine and really engaged consumers through his television programmes and books.

“I send my deepest sympathies to his wife Jennie, his two sons and all his dear friends who worked closely with him during his glittering career.”

Paul Welburn, executive chef of the Michelin-starred Oxford Kitchen, who worked under Rhodes at on the Square, said: "It's taken me a few moments to write this as the news has devastated me. Gary was the reason I am where I am, a true legend, teacher, inspiration, role model and more importantly an incredible person. He believed in me and gave me the chance to learn and grow as a chef. None of my achievements would have been possible without his support, belief and guidance. He was the chef that took British food and put us on the map. So many chefs have gone through his kitchens and are now leading their own kitchens with the same respect and passion. From the bottom of my heart, thank-you!"

Others have paid tribute to the chef on social media. Gordon Ramsay tweeted: "We lost a fantastic chef today in Gary Rhodes. He was a chef who put British cuisine on the map. Sending all the love and prayers to your wife and kids. You’ll be missed."

John Williams, executive chef of The Ritz London, said: "Very sad news to hear the passing of Gary Rhodes one of the very best British chefs!! My thoughts are with his family!! RIP."

Marcus Wareing, of the Marcus Wareing Restaurants group, said: “So sad to hear the news of Gary Rhodes passing today. The influence he’s has on chef and restauranteurs over the years has been immense. A true icon of Britain cookery, he will never be forgotten. Our thoughts are with his family at this very difficult time.”

Daniel Clifford, chef patron of Midsummer House, Cambridge: “Rest in peace a true British classic Gary Rhodes you opened the door for so many young English cooks.”

Ainsley Harriott, celebrity chef, said: “So sad to hear the news about Gary Rhodes. A true culinary icon and a lovely man. Sending my love and thoughts to his wife Jennie and their boys. RIP, my friend.”

Richard Smith, former owner of Beetle & Wedge hotel, in Moulsford, Oxfordshire, and the Royal Oak in Yattendon, Berkshire, added: "A truly inspirational British chef , exceptional understanding of flavours and tastes, very passionate and excellent technique. He was the godfather of the revival of British cuisine and definitely a major ground-breaking force in making Britain the food capital of the world."

Leo Garbutt, owner of the Calabash hotel in Grenada, described him as "an industry great, a true inspiration to everyone who met him and a close family friend. We have been honoured to have worked with Gary for over 20 years and together we opened his first overseas restaurant at Calabash in 2006. All our thoughts are with his wonderful family during this tragic time, and we will cherish the years we were lucky enough to spend time and have fun with Gary, Jennie and the Rhodes’ family. We at Calabash will continue to honour his craftsmanship and legacy at our Rhodes restaurant in Grenada.”

"His true legacy is that he was - Gary Rhodes excellent chef, gentlemen, true family man and for me an inspiring individual who talked with passion, knowledge and real heart."

Mike Jennings, executive chef of Wood restaurant in Manchester got his first head chef role at Rhodes South, Christchurch, Dorset. He said: "He was just one of those guys who just never lost his temper, he was was just always so respectful, well-mannered and had this aura around him. No matter where you worked in the business you were all treated the same and with respect.

"He evolved the British cuisine and took on the French and said no it's not all about Cordon Bleu cooking. He is the reason, like me, many became chefs."

Daniel Lockyer, head chef of the Bell at Hardwick, said: "I remember playing football with his children in Priory Gardens - he was a Manchester United fan just like myself and so were his boys. Then when I was 16 he was judge at the Mandarin Oriental where I was an apprentice and we met again. He was a great chef who I looked up to and would always give a helping hand or precious words that you would remember all through your career. Thoughts go to his family and close friends."

Email your tributes to emma.lake@thecaterer.com

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