Chef. Restaurateur. TV star. Author.
And – just when you thought you couldn’t meet a more amiable celebrity – a big fan of baked beans.
“If anyone knows my style of cooking, it’s British, predominantly, but I’d like to it to appeal to many others too.” Back in September 2007, London-born chef Gary Rhodes sat down to tell Time Out about his plans for Rhodes Mezzanine. Having already changed not-entirely-glowing perceptions of British cuisine in Europe, he hoped to have the same impact here in the UAE.
And over 12 years, three restaurants and a world-first cinema dining collaboration topped out with a brain-freezingly stellar knickerbocker glory, there’s no question the man’s impact was felt.
Rhodes was just 26 when as head chef for Castle Taunton in Somerset, England, the property was once again awarded a Michelin star rating. From there he went on to lead six one-star restaurants, all the while reinventing some of the UK’s most globally derided exports – from faggots to bread and butter pudding – to democratically game-changing effect.
His work on TV, coupled with his trademark, gravity-defying hairstyle, made him a household name around the world, not just in his native Britain. In that same 2007 interview, Rhodes’ own view of himself was as “the most embarrassing person on TV” in those early days. Yet to everyone who worked with him, or admired him, he was the chef’s chef. In addition to those paid by the likes of Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge and Marcus Wareing in the past week, the tributes from friends, colleagues and peers over the next few pages are testament to that fact.
In 2010, three years after taking the helm and lending his name to Rhodes Mezzanine, Rhodes made the move to the UAE, settling in Dubai, where he launched Rhodes Twenty10 at Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa, and later introduced Rhodes W1, a new concept in the place of Rhodes Mezzanine, in 2014.
In a city filled with restaurants from internationally renowned and celebrity chefs, Rhodes’ own relocation to Dubai was a rare move, and one that earned him even greater respect.
He delighted people by regularly dropping into events across the city, chatting for hours with attendees at the likes of Taste of Dubai, and arriving fantastically, unfashionably first for Time Out Dubai’s own 15th birthday party. For us, a couple of hours’ chat in a busy bar was as memorable as dining in one of the chef’s restaurants – something we’ve done innumerable times. After taking home a trophy one year at the Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards, Rhodes told us “winning a Time Out award is like getting a Michelin star”.
It was, of course, a comment we reacted to with due restraint and demurity. So we only plastered it all over our corporate branding, presentations and email signatures for the next several years.
That same restraint saw us ritually include Rhodes Twenty10’s “burger” – though absolutely not one in anything but name – in every annual Best Burger list we issued from the moment it was first served.
Whatever the future for his restaurants, Gary Rhodes’ legacy lives on in the generation he inspired, and diners all over the world who will never have to endure what British food was before he cooked it to the point of cool.
For that, and the knickerbocker glories, Chef, thank you.
DUBAI PAYS TRIBUTE
Colin Clague, group executive chef, RÜYA
If the words ‘consummate professional’ apply to anyone it’s to Gary. He is held in such high regard by everyone – he’s won Michelin stars, got an OBE and has achieved so much.
The outpouring of grief has been remarkable – it goes to show what a well-loved man he was.
He had time for everyone, from the guy on the street to the big names and treated everyone the same. It’s often said he was the first rock star chef, but all of those things you associate with rock stars – arrogance, attitude, and the rest – couldn’t be further from what Gary was like. He had the hair and the skinny jeans, of course, which is what made us all sit up and take notice as young chefs. Our generation watched him in our chefs’ whites and tall hats and thought “we want to be like him”.
But in real life he was humble and kind. He reinvented British cooking. His New British Classics book is one of the most dog-eared on my shelves and it’s one I use for recipes time and again. But he not only reinvented the landscape in the UK, once he moved to Dubai he reinvented himself again and brought great British food to an international audience. That takes some doing.
He will be hugely missed by everyone.
Michael Kitts, director of culinary arts, The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management
First and foremost Gary was a very close friend for more than 40 years. We met at Thanet Technical College back in 1974.
He was respected and admired by everyone in the industry and was extremely passionate about food and our industry, he just loved being a chef. He was a true ambassador for chefs, always appreciated his popularity with the public, it was never too much trouble for him to sign a menu or book, or pose for a photo, a true English gent through and through and I will miss him dreadfully.
Without doubt, he transformed British Cuisine and he should take ‘full credit’ for that, British chefs of today I’m sure would all agree.
Thank you Gary, for your craft and your friendship.
Nick Alvis, chef patron, folly by Nick & Scott
I met Gary when we first came to Dubai around ten years ago, but it wasn’t until we sat together at an awards ceremony that we actually became friends, after we won the Best Restaurant award for Table 9. Gary gave me a huge hug and told me I reminded him of himself when he was younger. That stuck, and from then on we’ve always caught up at the events. (I actually once took his Time Out award home by mistake, and had to drop it off to him the next morning, when I was not in a great state – to say the least.)
We kept in touch with a bit of football banter, and genuine messages to see how one another were getting on, which I was always in massive awe of, knowing what a huge influence he has had on our industry. It really was almost unreal that I was mates with the legend that is Gary Rhodes – not to mention the times when I’ve cooked for him. It was really quite surreal.
When I attended our first Taste of Dubai event, I will never forget hearing Gary running the service at his restaurant stand, behind this flimsy screen in a makeshift kitchen, sending these little dishes out for the celebrity hunters. He was going off like it was a full-on restaurant service, yelling at everyone.
I couldn’t help think, why is he going nuts here? It was because that was who he was, and he demanded this be right, no matter if it’s a stand in a field, or his own restaurant kitchen. It always had to be right.
That passion, commitment, enthusiasm, dedication – it was never in question.
Gary loved life and loved what he did for a living. It was so obvious and evident that it was all genuine. And that is where I respect him the most. Gary’s genuine professionalism, and genuine friendship.
Jannie Holtzhausen, vice chairman, Spinneys Dubai
Gary worked with me to develop products for Spinneys for a couple of years, and I had the privilege to travel with him to Cape Town, looking at new products we could use in the business.
I quickly came to know him as a humble and engaging person with a great sense of humour.
Underneath that was a brilliant chef and food-mind, who knew how to adapt products and recipes to suit supermarket offerings without compromising quality and taste.
We, and I personally, will not only miss his contribution, but also him. I always looked forward to our time together, not only for work, but also the warm company.
Our hearts and minds are with Jennie and their two sons.
Luigi Vespero, executive chef, Waldorf Astoria Dubai International Financial Centre
Ciao Gary, Words can’t describe how much I am going to miss you and your endless positive energy.
I will miss the smile on your face every time we find ourselves at a restaurant table talking nothing but food, ingredients and how much you love a good beans on toast for your breakfast.
Since I stepped foot in Dubai, you soon became a friend and a mentor, and I promise you I will make good treasure of all your words of wisdom.
Now go and join the circle of Great Chefs that are all waiting for you up there, they are all waiting to see that cheeky smile.
Akmal Anuar, chef-founder, 3Fils
When I worked at Grosvenor House [at the launch of Zengo] for a while I had the good fortune to spend some time with Gary.
He was a very straight-up chef who knew what he wanted, but on top of that he was a lovely guy. We never worked together and with me being a bit younger than him, it felt like we were from a different generation of chefs. Us younger ones like to goof around but in terms of the kitchen, Gary was very focused and very disciplined. That was how he got to be one of the greats.
I always remember switching on the TV when I was a kid and he’d be on, it seemed like he was on all the time and, of course, was instantly recognisable with his spiky hair.
He took British food and made it popular.
He was very calm and nice to be around. He’ll be missed and his achievements with Michelin and beyond shouldn’t be forgotten.
Silvena Rowe, chef-founder, Nassau
I always loved and admired Gary. He was the original father of modern British cuisine, he was the best at reinvention and it was all possible because of his creativity and generous spirit.
I worked alongside him for a while in my very early days and now, again, in the past five years. With us both making Dubai our homes I feel lucky to have been able to witness his energy and friendship to their fullest once again.
Gary was one of the most prominent chefs in an increasingly competitive and exciting culinary stage here in Dubai, where we have many great restaurants and cuisines.
Gary was always the most wonderful, giving and positive of men and my heart goes out to his family. The memories of Gary will leave a pure and sweet feeling in my heart. Rest in peace, Gary.
Scott Price, chef patron, folly by Nick & Scott
Gary was the first chef I remember watching on TV, and his books were the first ones in my library. He really put British cuisine back on the map. He’s eaten in all our venues since we came to Dubai, and has always been supportive of Nick [Alvis] and I.
It was a real privilege to film with him last week. He was such a gentleman, a true chef and his legacy through the people who worked with him will last a long time.
Not many people stay at the top of the game for as long as he has, and it’s a testament to his passion and love for the industry.
Rainer Becker, chef-founder, Zuma
I remember when I came to London for the first time in 1999, I knew Gary Rhodes from my time in Japan because he was a huge TV personality – and he was an inspiration. He was such a happy guy when you watched him on TV and he explained it all so nicely. And for me, he was inspirational – I’d say “wow”, I could never be a TV chef, but look at this guy. It’s true, he made cooking cool. And when I heard the news I was so shocked. He made British cuisine, how should I say now, known as great cuisine. Before him British cuisine wasn’t known. Forget about Marco Pierre White – he was fine dining. Gary Rhodes brought British cuisine to the world – and he did it very well.
Michelle Walsh, chief marketing & innovation officer, VOX Cinemas
VOX Cinemas will be forever indebted to our dear friend chef Gary Rhodes OBE, who we partnered with in 2015 to create our THEATRE by Rhodes fine food and film concept. We will never forget the day that Gary pointed out to us that the word ‘EAT’ existed in the word ‘THEATRE.’ We couldn’t believe that we had been operating cinema theatres for 15 years but it took a culinary icon like Gary to point this out to us. It really set the tone for developing this brand together with a vision that our guests could eat his exceptional food in one of our cinemas.
Chef Gary taught us so much over the last four and half years. We were first and foremost an entertainment brand, but having worked so closely with him we are now also a hospitality brand. Some of the most memorable dishes he created for us were the knickerbocker glory, his famous afternoon tea, peppered beef sticks, sticky toffee pudding, cottage pie, the list goes on…
Everyone could find a favourite dish on his menus because he worked so hard to create something for everyone. Chef Gary had so much passion for food and that was evident not only to us who worked with him, but to anyone who met him at one of our events, or even those regular cinemagoers who happened to bump into him in the lounge at Mall of the Emirates.
He had time for everyone and was so gracious with all our staff, we will truly miss working with one of the greats in the food and beverage industry.
Jason Atherton, chef-founder, Marina Social
Gary was one of the very first chefs who paved the way for British gastronomy celebrating the best of British recipes and elevating traditional and humble dishes to Michelin star level. He was an inspiration for a generation of chefs not only in the kitchen but out of it.
His expertise in the kitchen, his ease in explaining and inspiring home cooks with his books and TV series and his wonderful restaurants all will be sorely missed.
He will be a true loss in the culinary world and personally as a great friend
Reif Othman, chef-founder, Reif Japanese Kushiyaki
I am saddened to hear of the passing of Gary Rhodes. I grew up watching him on telly and even got the opportunity to meet and work with him just a week ago. He had so much energy and charisma that it projected to all who knew him.
As the only celebrity chef based in Dubai, he played a major role in maintaining the identity of traditional British food while supporting young chefs and home-grown concepts. A culinary legend who will be truly missed.
Uwe Micheel, president, Emirates Culinary Guide
We lost not only a great chef but a great human. I remember when I met Gary the first time, expecting to talk only about food, but we ended up talking about Manchester United for most of the time, and that has not changed in many meetings after. Man-U was always one of the subjects. Whenever we talked about supporting young chefs, chef Gary always made time to support. He always had an ear for our future generation. I will always remember chef Gary as the colleague and as the human, not as the celebrity which without a doubt he was. Gary was a great ambassador for British cuisine. He brought British cuisine into formal restaurants.
The Culinary Family in the UAE will miss you, Gary.
The team at Grosvenor House Dubai and Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa
Chef Gary Rhodes will always remain in our thoughts and hearts. He was an integral part of our Grosvenor House Dubai and Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort and Spa family and not only has the industry lost a true culinary legend, we have also lost an inspirational human being and a very dear friend.
We will forever be thankful for the opportunity to work with him and learn from his wisdom.
And from all of us at Time Out...
Gary Rhodes changed the game in Dubai. He changed the way the city viewed British food. He changed the way we went to the cinema. And when he made Dubai his home, he changed the perception of the archetypal city-hopping celebrity chef by investing his time, care and passion for great cooking in the emirates. He was no stranger to a Time Out Dubai Restaurant Award, and, as quickly became very clear to us in the compiling of these tributes, no stranger to his peers. The volume and depth of tributes we received for these pages from friends and colleagues in the business in Dubai, within just a few hours, bears witness to how greatly his influence was felt. As a colleague, a mentor and a friend. To us, he was one of the city’s best chefs. So from all of us at Time Out Dubai, thank you for the food.