Former Michelin-starred chef Chris Oakes dies suddenly

25 June 2015 by
Former Michelin-starred chef Chris Oakes dies suddenly

Former Michelin-starred chef Chris Oakes has died suddenly, at the age of 59.

Kit Chapman, director of the Castle, said Oakes put the hotel on the gastronomic map. He worked at the hotel from 1983 until 1986, when he was replaced by Gary Rhodes.

"Chris was a very quiet, modest man," said Chapman. "He arrived at the hotel as sous chef and when the head chef suddenly left, I offered him the top job. He initially refused to take the position as he didn't believe he had the ability, but he was a wonderfully careful, highly competent and skilled cook."

Born and brought up in Hollesley, Suffolk, Oakes lived above the pub his parents ran in the village. He was an average pupil at school, but showed early promise as a cook when he came top of the class for making, icing and decorating a Christmas cake.

On leaving school, Oakes initially took any job he could to help support his recently widowed mother. After a time working on building sites and delivering milk, he joined Seckford Hall, a country house hotel in Woodbridge as an apprentice in the kitchen. Oakes later moved on to work for Gerald Milsom at Le Talbooth, near Dedham, and the Pier at Harwich. The seven-year experience of working for Milsom gave him the confidence to move further afield, which was when he joined the Castle.

Upon leaving the Castle, Oakes went on to open his own restaurant, Oakes in Stroud, Gloucestershire. In his book Great British Chefs, Chapman wrote at this time: "Oakes's themes in the kitchen reflect the down-to-earth honesty, single mindedness and restraint of his temperament. He does not like fuss. His preference is for clean, bold flavours and simply-matched textures prepared and arranged in the modern idiom without any contrived prettiness."

Oakes eventually sold up in 1995 when the recession of the early 1990s took its toll. At the time, he told The Caterer that it was impossible for him to start making cheaper meals that became the vogue as Michelin-star standard cooking was "the only way I know how to cook".

Other highlights of Oakes' culinary career included spells at Claridge's, and the Stafford hotel, and he was also head chef at Cambridge University's Trinity College.

Last year he opened the Twilight Bar in El Zoco centre in Calahonda on the Costa del Sol with business partner Leighton Curtis.

Curtis took to Twitter following the news and said: "My hero, my mentor, but most of all my friend, Chris Oakes passed away this morning at the age of 59. One of the best chefs this country has seen.

"I feel so empty, the loss of my friend and great British chef Chris Oakes. I only spoke to him the other night."

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