Former River Cafe chefs Jamie Oliver, Theo Randall and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have paid tribute to the restaurant's co-founder Rose Gray, who died yesterday at the age of 71 following a long battle with cancer.
Gray, who opened the Thames Wharf restaurant with business partner Ruth Rogers, in 1988, was credited with changing the way British people ate with her family-oriented model of dining, focusing on simple Italian cooking in one of the first open-plan kitchens. The pair also helped launch the careers of many chefs, including Oliver and Randall.
In a statement Oliver, who worked at the restaurant for three years, said: "I'm so saddened by the death of Rose. She really was one of life's very very special, natural, genius chefs; a true pioneer of delicious simple cooking. It was my honour to have worked with her - a really great boss, a wonderful person who gave me some of my fondest cooking memories and great funny times."
'Generous and passionate'
Randall, who worked at the River Cafe for 17 years before opening his own restaurant at the InterContinental hotel on London's Park Lane, described Gray as 'enthusiastic, energetic, so incredibly generous and passionate'.
"She and Ruthie had the perfect restaurant partnership; together they pioneered one of the most important restaurants in London, in fact, in England," he said.
"She was amazing, she would never compromise on quality, ever. She taught so many about food and actually, about life. It's such sad news; it's the end of an era."
In his tribute in The Guardian, Fearnley-Whittingstall wrote: "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 wanted us to enjoy our cooking as much as our River Cafe guests, and once she felt we'd broken the back of the shift she'd open a bottle of Prosecco and pour everyone a glass."
The River Cafe has closed today out of a mark of respect on what it called a 'desperately sad day'. It will re-open tomorrow.
Only this January, Gray and Rogers received MBEs in the New Years Honours List in recognition of their work in the hospitality industry. The pair were also listed in Restaurant magazine's21 most influential people in the restaurant industry in October last year.