Industry figures have paid tribute to Rose Gray, the co-founder of the acclaimed River Café in London, who has died aged 71 after a prolonged battle with cancer.
Gray was a keen home cook and a designer before launching the River Café with Ruth Rogers in Hammersmith in 1987. It immediately hit the headlines as being the place to find beautifully prepared simple, seasonal and carefully sourced Italian food - a total antidote to the nouvelle cuisine that was still prevalent throughout London at the time.
The River Café gained a Michelin-star in 1998, which it has retained since, and has been the launch pad for the careers of some of the UK's best known chefs including Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Theo Randall.
In January, Gray and Rogers, who together have published numerous cookbooks, were awarded MBEs in the 2010 New Year's Honours List for their contribution to the hospitality industry.
The River Café has spawned a host of imitators, but Gray and Rogers were never tempted to expand elsewhere. They became known for being personally devoted to the restaurant. In one of her last interviews, Gray told Caterer that it was always her intention to make the restaurant more special and even more interesting.
"It's a restaurant run by two women and we're always there. That gives us the chance to make sure our personal vision is integrated into all we do," she said.
Former protégé Oliver said he was deeply saddened by her death. "Rose was one of life's very very special, natural, genius chefs; a true pioneer of delicious simple cooking," he said.
"Without question the world has lost one of the most important chefs of our times, she will be sorely missed."
Fearnley-Whittingstall added: "When it came to encouraging and teaching her cooks, Rose always called it how she saw it (or tasted it), but she was also unfailingly generous with her time and her praise. She will be remembered by everyone who ever ate the wonderful Italian food cooked by her and Ruthie, and appreciated for years to come by all who have wowed their friends with recipes from the five amazing River Café cookbooks."
Rowley Leigh, chef-proprietor of Le Café Anglais, opened London's Kensington Place in 1987. He said: "Rose had an incredible core strength and a totally uncompromising approach. She definitely taught us professional chefs a thing or two.
"When she and Ruth started their approach was very radical, and also very naïve. Professional chefs, at the time, thought the way they operated was unthinkable, but gradually, more and more chefs have done exactly the same."
By Janet Harmer
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