Gary Rhodes and the revival of British cuisine

After hearing the tragic news of Gary Rhodes’ death yesterday morning, the industry has been paying tribute to a chef that was at the forefront of the revival of traditional British cuisine in the 1990s.

Known for his spiky hair and passion for home-grown ingredients, Rhodes was a pioneer in British cuisine. He opened his first restaurant in 1997, City Rhodes, and was made an OBE in 2006. Not to mention, his successful TV career saw him appear on MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen and his own series Rhodes around Britain.

From his training at Thanet Technical College and working in the kitchens of the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel, then at the Reform Club and his role as sous chef at the Capital hotel, Rhodes was originally focused on cooking classic French food. However, his move to the West Country where he landed the position of Head Chef at the Castle hotel saw him transform the menu in which Kit Chapman, proprietor of the Castle, championed as his ‘English project’.

Although, primarily apprehensive the British route wasn’t the way to go, Rhodes and Chapman formed an extraordinary partnership, Chapman guiding the project and Rhodes devising a menu that featured dishes celebrating local produce.

Congruently, in London, the renowned ‘Brit pack’ Alastair Little, Simon Hopkinson and Rowley Leigh were gaining widespread recognition on their British focused cooking.

Where the food scene had witnessed an abundance of European chefs such as the Roux brothers, Raymond Blanc and Anton Mosimann dominate the market with nouvelle cuisine and classic French cooking, the 1990s were a pivotal time for the British culinary scene with chefs such as Rhodes and the ‘Brit pack’ putting British dishes back on the map.

How did they do this?

For the first time ‘home-grown’ chefs were considered creative artists, searching for the best ingredients at home as well as taking the nouvelle influence and seeking ingredients from abroad. As a result, more chef-led restaurants opened, among them Gary Rhodes at the Greenhouse, Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine and Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck who were refreshing British dishes which had gone out of fashion.

London – the destination for food – saw these chefs fuse traditional British dishes with European influences, introducing a modern cosmopolitan British style of cooking and making disregarded dishes now ‘trendy’.  

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In an interview with The Caterer at the time, Rhodes said, “Many British chefs have no idea how to cook a classic national dish – they have forgotten how to use traditional methods of braising and stewing.”

Rhodes’ exceptional talent was commended in the industry and chefs who worked with him, continue to cook the dishes he introduced them too.

Tom Kerridge, who worked at Rhodes on the Square 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. He taught me that simplicity is key, removing things from plates rather than adding, and celebrating everything that is great about Great Britain.”

Rhodes was one of the chefs who fronted the way for British cooking to become popular again and he inspired a generation of chefs like Tom Kerridge, Paul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw, to name a few. He is renowned for taking a classic dish and making it Michelin starred and his legacy will remain for a long time to come.

To read the many tributes dedicated to Gary Rhodes from people in the industry, click here to see The Caterer’s round-up of comments.

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