Sara Jayne Stanes, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts (RACA) for the last 15 years, died on Saturday 24 July aged 75 after a short illness.
Stanes spent the first 20 years of her career producing television commercials, but she was best known in the industry for her role at RACA, the association of head chefs, pastry chefs and restaurant managers. She was a director since 1996 and chief executive since 2006, steering its principal aims including raising the standards of food, cooking and service through education and training and providing career opportunities for young people.
She was also chief executive and trustee of the Adopt a School Trust, the Academy's charity that educates school children about food from provenance and nutrition to food cultures and cookery skills, as well as a trustee of the Gold Service Scholarship competition, which recognises young front of house professionals.
Having spent many years as a chocolatier, she launched the Academy of Chocolate in 2005, of which she was chairman, and has lectured on chocolate as well as written numerous articles and contributed to both radio and television programmes on the subject.
Stanes wrote two books, Chocolate: The Definitive Guide, published in 1999, which won the Guild Food Writers' Jeremy Round Award and Best Book in the English Language in the 2000 World Cookbook Fair Awards; while Chocolate: Discovering, Exploring, Enjoying was published in 2005.
Speaking to The Caterer in 2012, she credited her fascination with chocolate to the late chef Michel Roux: "It all started when I was doing research for the films that I never made and I saw Michel Roux demonstrate three courses, the last of which was a chocolate truffe gâteau.
"I remember thinking that I didn't like chocolate very much, but that's because I didn't know what chocolate was. I assumed, like most people, that chocolate confectionery was chocolate. But this was proper chocolate, and when I tasted it I thought it was absolutely wonderful."
Her accolades were numerous, including an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours in June 2007 and the Cateys Special Award in 2011, as well as an Honorary Doctorate at the University of West London in 2013, an Honorary Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Cooks in 2006 and an Honorary Fellowship at Thames Valley University in 2004.
She is survived by her husband Richard.
Brian Turner, who worked alongside Stanes as president of the RACA, said: "Sara was the powerful engine room of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts with its ideals and missions always in the front of her mind. Sara loved the hospitality industry and deserves her place in the history of the Academy and industry as a whole.
"Her knowledge and appreciation of food, service, wine and chocolate was second to none and her desire to see that this was passed on to future generations through Adopt a School and the Academy's apprenticeships scheme was something to be seen.
"She will be missed so much especially for her cheeky sense of humour and mischievous smile."
John Williams, executive chef at the Ritz London and executive chairman of the RACA, said: "Sara was a very unique lady and the driving force of the Royal Academy - always striving and leading from the front as she made it her life's work. Steering the Academy to raise the standards of cooking and service through education – from this the Adopt a School programme was created, nurturing the youth of today, who she understood to be our future.
"Her pride was to look after the younger generation and apprentices so they may understand food, food provenance and cookery skills. She wholly believed in the apprenticeship system, always looking to create the future leaders of our industry. She had a wonderful way of understanding people, bringing them under her wing and drawing the best from them.
"She is an icon in our industry and leaves an amazing legacy to which we can only aspire to emulate. Friends who knew her, knew of her cheeky and playful sense of humour, which has 'encouraged' me to change my opinion on many more occasions than I would care to admit."
Amanda Afiya, co-founder and director of Sauce Intelligence and an Adopt a School trustee, said: "She had a massive impact but I don't know if people will ever really realise the extent of the impact she made. I've known her all of my career and she was just so intelligent and well-read, an absolute class act. Quite formidable – I was quite scared of her when I first met her.
"She worked right up until the end. She was so passionate, particularly about the Royal Academy, but also about Adopt a School and what that stood for. Somebody who was just so committed to educating people about healthy eating. We're constantly talking about it now and trying to get healthy food through to children… but she's been doing this for decades.
"She never gave up that fight. She just kept going and going. She was an absolute fireball, so hard working, so diligent, and I don't think we'll ever be able to say enough superlatives to express our thanks for what she's done, not just for the industry but for the general public. She was an extraordinary woman."
Gary Hunter, deputy executive principal at Capital City College Group, added: "I'm deeply saddened by the news of Sara's untimely passing. Her founding of Adopt a School and the drive towards the success it has become means that it is one of many legacies she has gifted to the hospitality profession.
"Her passion and encyclopedic passion for real chocolate prompted her to create the Academy of Chocolate and its subsequent annual awards programme, which we hosted here at Westminster College and I have many treasured memories of emotional debates and conversation with her about this very subject. Generous to a fault with her time and energy, we owe so much to Sara at Westminster for her guidance, inspiration and support. Her visionary stance on culinary education set high standards for us all to meet in the future."
Alastair Storey, chairman of Westbury Street Holdings and the Gold Service Scholarship, added: "Sara made the world of food and hospitality her absolute focus for many, many years. We are so grateful for her insight and dedicated support over the last decade as an active trustee of the Gold Service Scholarship."
The Academy of Chocolate said in a statement: "Under Sara's guidance, the Academy of Chocolate Awards is now the most established international chocolate awards; it has provided a springboard for many of the finest chocolate makers in the world today, as well as continuing to encourage and promote rising talent around the world.
"She was an absolute pioneer of the chocolate world, and her pragmatic, passionate and devoted interest for chocolate producers, and the chocolate supply chain, means she will leave a far-reaching legacy across multiple sectors."