Gary Rhodes: Michelin-starred chef who found TV fame with his twist on British classics

Christine Manby

At a time when TV cookery shows were generally hosted by softly spoken women reminiscent of secondary school cookery teachers, a spiky-haired young chef called Gary Rhodes brought something different to the genre.

Long before Gordon Ramsay made his shouty television debut, Rhodes introduced the high-pressure, high-emotion atmosphere of a commercial kitchen into living rooms. When he first appeared on Keith Floyd’s Hot Chefs in 1988, Rhodes had just ensured that the Somerset restaurant where he was head chef retained its Michelin star. He would go on to gain six Michelin stars over the course of his career.

Rhodes, who has died aged 59, was born in south London and grew up in Gillingham, Kent. He learnt to cook as a child, after his father left the family and his mother returned to full-time work. By the age of 13, Rhodes was cooking the Sunday roast single-handed. At 14, he read George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and was inspired to become a professional chef. After school, he went to catering college in Thanet, where he met his future wife Jennie.

After college, Rhodes’ first job was at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel. While living there, he was seriously injured when hit by a transit van, as he ran for a tram. He subsequently underwent eight hours of surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain.

Returning to London upon his recovery, he became sous chef at Pall Mall members’ establishment the Reform Club before joining the team in the Michelin-starred restaurant at the Capital Hotel. At the age of 26 he became head chef of his own kitchen at the Castle Hotel in Taunton, Somerset. A year later, he made his first television appearance on Hot Chefs.

Aged 30, Rhodes returned to London again to take over the kitchen at the Greenhouse Restaurant in Mayfair, where he would win another Michelin star. In 1997, he opened his first eponymous restaurants, City Rhodes and Rhodes in the Square.

It was the beginning of a small empire of Rhodes restaurants that soon spread throughout the UK and overseas – and eventually even took to the seas, with Arcadian Rhodes, his restaurant on P&O’s superliner Arcadia.

By now, Rhodes was well known to the British public, thanks to his television series Rhodes Around Britain and Gary’s Perfect Christmas. On the back of this success, Rhodes signed an advertising deal with Tate & Lyle to endorse its sugar products. It was a controversial move for the chef who also headed Flora UK Cooking in Schools campaign. An advert he made for Flora, which featured Rhodes driving a car topped with an enormous fibre-glass crumpet, was banned for using misleading figures regarding the margarine’s popularity.

Rhodes was known for his unique take on old British classics, putting bread and butter pudding and faggots back on the menu. He took his passion to the public with a TV series, New British Classics, and the accompanying book. He wrote 18 cookery books in all.

Rhodes Around Britain was followed up with new TV series Rhodes Across India and Rhodes Across China. Meanwhile, his global reach was confirmed in 2000, when he was asked to host the first of two seasons of the American MasterChef.

At one point, Rhodes had two Michelin-starred restaurants in London. Rhodes 24, in the NatWest Tower, and Rhodes W1 in the Cumberland Hotel.

Rhodes was first enticed to Dubai in 2007 when he opened Rhodes Twenty10 at Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Rhodes W1 at the Grosvenor. For a while, he commuted, flying to and from Dubai up to 10 times a year, before making a permanent move there with his family in 2011. A restaurant in Abu Dhabi followed two years later. Rhodes was in Dubai, having finished a day’s filming on a new television series for ITV, when he collapsed and suffered a subdural haematoma. He died shortly afterwards.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Gary Rhodes, restaurateur and television chef, born 22 April 1960, died 26 November 2019

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