Memories of Gary Rhodes

A well-known British chef, author and TV star is lost far too young.

The news that yesterday the chef Gary Rhodes died suddenly has been greeted by all the media with the requisite amount of sadness and grief. This is for two extremely good reasons.

The first is that he was only 59. This is far too young an age for someone who has given so much pleasure, and good food, to so many.

But the second was that Gary was such a warm and engaging man. Humble. Down to earth. With a ready smile. And yet extremely passionate about all that he cooked and believed in, which was fundamentally the quality of British cooking and British produce.

I remember one particular example of just what a nice man he was.

It was shortly after The People’s Palace restaurant had opened in the South Bank Centre, a restaurant that now trades under the name Skylon. It had been taken on by David and Joe Levin, the father-and-son team who had made a great success of the restaurant, and the rooms, of the Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge as well as The Greenhouse restaurant in Mayfair.

Gary was then the The Greenhouse’s head chef and I had a meeting with him at the South Bank and we were then walking back across the Hungerford Bridge to Charing Cross station.

I have to explain that in those days Rhodes was extremely well known to a large percentage of the British public for his hairstyle as much as for his cooking style. His jet-black hair was styled, unusually then, so that it stuck up as a distinctive quiff. I would imagine that quite a large amount of hair gel had to be used to keep the style intact but that was a secret that was known only to Gary and his wife.

We were walking along the Hungerford Bridge when we were approached by a small group of young women. They recognised Gary instantaneously before one of them stopped us and said, ‘Would you mind, Mr Rhodes, if I touched your hair?’ Gary stopped, bowed his head so that this stranger could run her fingers through his hair before saying thank you very much. Gary signed his autograph on a piece of paper and we carried on along our way.

Rhodes’s career mirrored that of the footballers of Manchester United, a team he followed with great passion. After leaving catering college and a stint in Amsterdam, where he was involved in a serious car accident, he first cooked in London at the Capital Hotel under Brian Turner before a stint at The Castle Hotel in Taunton, Somerset, under the ownership of Kit Chapman. He was then seduced back to the bright lights of London and made head chef of The Greenhouse by David Levin.

He had the face and the mannerisms that made him a well-loved face on television in the 1990s. The hair, the cheeky smile, his honesty, his obvious love of cooking British dishes, and his obvious delight in discovering British suppliers were all in his favour. He presented MasterChef USA, Hell’s KitchenNew British Classics and Rhodes Across India, inter alia. All of these programmes made him quite the star long before Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing.

Unlike these chefs, however, Rhodes never found the restaurateur partner to convert this success into something more lasting. His partnership with the catering company Sodexho ended and in 2011 Rhodes decided to move with his wife Jennie, whom he had met at catering college in Thanet, to Dubai with his family. There he opened two restaurants and it was in the middle of filming another TV show for ITV that he collapsed and died. 

He will be missed. And although his spiky hair may have changed colour and diminished in length, his warm and inviting smile will linger on. 

Jancis adds I always felt a particular kinship with Gary because we shared a birthday, and with the chef Nico Ladenis too. We send heartfelt condolences to his wife and the rest of his family.

Gary Rhodes, chef