Gary Rhodes: “If you really want to become known within this industry, it takes time”

By Stefan Chomka contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Michelin, Gary rhodes, Restaurant

Chef Gary Rhodes died suddenly earlier this week while filming in Dubai. In a video featuring the TV chef shot a few months before his death, one of the last interviews he did, Rhodes speaks about becoming one of the first TV chefs, his celebrity peers and advice he’d give young chefs starting out and his move the United Arab Emirates.

On celebrity chefs and ones to watch

It’s interesting when you’re watching TV and seeing so many chefs because I seem to remember that when I first started on TV I think I was the very first professional chef to have a full BBC series. Today I suppose I have a little bit of pride watching chefs on TV and the reason for that is many of them have worked for me, so if you look at some of the big names of the moment – Tom Kerridge, he worked for me for two years when he was first coming up through his training – a really good young lad in the kitchen and I’m proud to see that that’s a man now – a two Michelin starred chef who has not only proved himself in the industry with that professional status, but at the same time has enough personality within himself and his food to tell that story on TV. Another one is Nathan Outlaw who worked with me in London for a little while…another two-Michelin starred chef with a restaurant down in Cornwall – again another great talent who is one of my old boys. That’s how I like to look at them. Then you’ve got Gordon Ramsay, a great friend of mine now for about 25 years or more who OK, can be a bit ruthless on the TV every now and again but as a person not only is a true gentleman but on top of that is still a three-Michelin starred chef, and I think people forget that and I think he’s more than proved himself as one of the great British chefs of all time. And of course good old Rick Stein. I’ve been watching that man for years and years and I like the honesty in the story he tells. I don’t watch too many cookery programmes, but if I’ve got one of my old lads on there I like to watch it and a couple of guys such as Gordon and Rick who are true greats in the industry.

On how long it took to develop his own style of cooking and advice he’d offer young chefs looking to develop theirs

There are lots of young chefs out there who want to become super stars overnight. I always want to say to them ‘look, it takes an awful long time to find and discover your own style of food.’ My discovery was working with some great chefs over the years from my days in Holland and working for the likes of Brian Turner, a Michelin starred chef I worked with as his right-hand man back in the 80's. If I take the influence he had on my food it was really quite phenomenal – what his food was about was simplicity; making sure that nothing was ever overplayed with, it was about how to just draw the maximum flavours from each ingredient and how to then never over influence the main feature. That was one great thing that he taught – there was always taught that there is main feature to every single dish. Our job is actually to support that, to add other flavours to another dimension that is going to do nothing but complement but never take away from that natural central flavour that you’re featuring. Looking at that and the other chefs I had the opportunity to work with – I worked in France with a three-Michelin-starred chef for a small period – taking all their influences and styles helped me develop my own – some things you agree with, some things you think offer a new education to your palate and repertoire. At the same time there are many other things that you feel you’d rather ignore, but that’s how you look and learn.

I think one of the saddest things in the industry at the moment if I want to be ruthless and honest is that young chefs now do want to become head chefs at the age of 22/23 and there are many out there of that age who are head chefs of operations. What did I know at 22/23? I thought I knew so much then, but it’s only now that you realise how little you’ve experienced and knew at that age, so thank goodness I didn’t try and run away with it at that point – I still wanted to learn and work with others. I would say to any of them, don’t rush your career away. It’s not all about money and earning a bit more because you’re a head chef. If you really want to become known, a man or lady respected within this industry and known within the industry as someone who’s added something and has an influence, that takes time. It takes a lifetime of looking and learning. Since I left my college 40 years ago, I’ve still got so much to look, see and learn about. I feel now it’s that chefs are predominantly influenced by the people they’re learning from and working with. It’s moreover from television programmes and cookery books. Reading a story is one thing. Understanding that story and experiencing that story is something else.

There are lots of young chefs out there who want to become
superstars overnight. I always want to say to them
‘look, it takes an awful long time
to find and discover your own style of food.’

On how the experience of other food cultures shapes his food

Over the years, many many chefs have influenced my style of food, but also working in other countries overseas, particularly my time even my days back in Amsterdam when I lived there, you know. I absolutely loved learning there back in the late 70's and early 80's when there was all kinds of food fashions which were changing quite dramatically with nouvelle cuisine so that had quite an influence. Likewise learning West Indian cooking with the influence, I had from my stepfather that then has grown and developed since being involved with the Calabash here in Grenada. Likewise, over in the UAE, I’m learning so much about middle eastern cuisine. A food that I’d kind of ignored, but now I’m learning so much every single year and that’s what I love so much about this industry - it is a continual education.

On what inspired him to open his first destination restaurant in Grenada and at Calabash

When I was making all the TV series for the BBC we did a Christmas special and that was filmed here in Grenada. It was trying to show people it’s not all about roast turkey and Christmas pudding every single year – you can go to different parts of the world and enjoy different food. So you can imagine I was saying ‘yes please I’d love to go and film that particular programme’ and it was great fun to do. But I just absolutely fell in love with this island. I did come back the following year, fell in love with the Calabash and fell even more in love with Grenada. The great think with getting to know Leo Garbutt who owns the Calabash with his family is I found him quite an inspirational man, who had the same beliefs and the same strengths that I feel I have in this industry, and that is always wanting to do more, always wanting to offer more, always wanting to keep our guests – which is our business – happy. I thought this is a man I’d love to work with, hence the beginning of the Rhodes restaurant at the Calabash.

Leo Garbutt and Gary Rhodes

On how opening Calabash gave him confidence in a global market for his style of food outside the UK and US, and why he moved to the UAE

There was an influence from my step father John, a man a love and adore and has been my stepfather for over 40 years, and he is from Jamaica, so I was also being taught at a very young age what West Indies food was really all about and what it holds and what values it holds and the story it tells. So that excited me as well, so having that opportunity to come over here was really exciting, and I suppose all of that has helped with my decision of going into the UAE. I found myself opening a restaurant there, I opened then two restaurants, and then I found that business was just growing and growing. Now I’m involved with many, many businesses out in the UAE within cinema groups, within supermarket chains, within hotels…I spoke to my wife one day and said ‘we can’t stay in London anymore because I’m making 8- 10 trips a year back and forth to the UAE which was getting out of hand because previous to that I was only doing two to three. Now we’ve turned it the other way around and now living in the UAE and literally only make two to three trips back to the UK, so it’s worked nicely for us and business is continuing to grow, so I like to feel it was the right decision at that time.

On the biggest restaurant and hotel food trends in 2019 and beyond

I think the new fashion started late last year but I think 2019 is the big year for it and that’s probably vegan, because more and more people are wanting to become vegan, wanting to become as healthy as they possibly can which is not a bad thing at all…I think that will spread across the whole of the world. I really do feel that Middle Eastern food is going to become more and more fashionable, and I also think you’ll see Middle Eastern cooking programmes coming on very soon - it’s certainly one I’d love to do because that would be part of the education I talked about. I’d also like to think that classic dishes of old will be refreshed with simplicity.

This interview was produced for the team at Calabash Luxury Boutique Hotel, where Rhodes opened his first restaurant abroad in 2006 and continued to work with over the past 13 years.

In a statement the hotel group said: “The Garbutt family and team at Calabash Luxury Boutique Hotel are utterly bereft to hear the news of Gary Rhodes’ sudden and unexpected passing. He was an industry great, a true inspiration to everyone who met him and a close family friend. We have been honoured to have worked with Gary for over 20 years and together we opened his first overseas restaurant at Calabash in 2006. All our thoughts are with his wonderful family during this tragic time, and we will cherish the years we were lucky enough to spend time and have fun with Gary, Jennie and the Rhodes’ family. We at Calabash will continue to honour his craftsmanship and legacy at our Rhodes Restaurant in Grenada.”

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