The industry has paid tribute to the “forward-thinking rebel” TV chef and author Gary Rhodes who died this week aged 59.
Rhodes died suddenly in Dubai, where he has a restaurant.
Born in south London, he had built a successful career including several decades of TV work, bestselling cookery books promoting British food and launching restaurants around the world, many of which were Michelin Starred.
Some of his most successful books were TV tie-ins with BBC books and the Ebury imprint was one of many who paid tribute to the 59-year-old chef. An Ebury spokesperson told The Bookseller: “BBC Books was the proud publisher of many of Gary Rhodes’s cookery books, including his iconic New British Classics (1999) and The Complete Cookery Year (2003). He was an amazing talent and a much-loved author, a true British great. We are deeply saddened by his untimely death.”
Rhodes' manager Garson worked with the chef for 13 years and told The Bookseller he helped give her the confidence to found her own talent management agency Deborah McKenna Limited, describing his strong work ethic. “I was working in an agency [at David Higham Assosciates] in 1992 and I was his TV agent,” she told The Bookseller. “I felt he needed more management and so I set up my own agency and he came with me so he really enabled me to set up my own business. He had faith in me being a manager.”
Garson emphasised how versatile Rhodes was. “He did so much. Apart from the Michelin Star restaurants he was one of the first to open an accessories line and frozen foods – with Tate and Lyle. We had so much fun. He was one of six of seven TV chefs from that time and he kept producing beautiful books pretty much every year for the BBC.
The chef put his mark on British food, Garson said. “He transformed British food and really put it on the map, he made it something really special. He was a real icon and he was a real legend in the industry. He was very forward-thinking and a rebel in his day and was very prolific. I remember one day he said I am going to make Christmas pancakes and he just did them…He was very enterprising.”
She believes that his influence and inspiration helped create the current mould for TV chef authors, which now forms a huge part of publishing. “It paved the way for Tom Kerridge and others,” she said. “He absolutely helped pave the way for the current TV chef authors. Before the BBC would put cookery shows on the education department and because of his cheeky style he was put on the entertainment department this opened the doors for Jamie Oliver and all the others like him. He transformed how cooking shows were presented.”
Gilly Smith, is a food journalist and presenter of the delicious podcast for delicious magazine, echoed this. Smith told The Bookseller: “Gary Rhodes who died this week, was a rather unsung hero in the story of British food. Many people believe that it was Jamie Oliver who kicked away the formality of TV cookery in the late 90's, but the woman who created 'The Naked Chef' had been carefully watching Gary Rhodes's TV tour of Britain in a series commissioned by BBC Education."
Smith revealed how her research for her forthcoming book Taste and the TV Chef: How storytelling can save the planet (Intellect, 2020) revealed the extent of Rhodes’ influence. “The late great Pat Llewellyn who would not only launch Jamie Oliver but Gordon Ramsay as TV chefs, had spotted Rhodes's very British adventures in local produce in his series, Rhodes Around Britain. His braised oxtail, Lancashire hotpot, and boiled bacon with pearl barley and lentils in the series and accompanying book in 1994 created a national conversation about what it meant to be British at a time when meat and farming seemed very scary indeed. It made Llewellyn think about what food TV could be. She told me for my book Taste and the TV Chef that he was‘ very anti supermarket.. his values of proper food and buying British did feel very different to what was going on the telly’.
“Llewellyn would go on to create 'Two Fat Ladies' in 1996 which would blast quirky British storytelling about food around the world, and change the mood in food TV from education to delight, arguably opening the door to the culture of Brit Chef who has transformed the way we eat.” Smith added: “I wonder if Gary knew how much he had influenced the queen of food TV.”
Rhodes also wrote all his own books by hand, which Garson described as unusual. “With his books he would sit down with a big ringbound notebook and pencil and would write all his books himself and that is quite rare. And then me and his mum would help proof read them.”
“He was very impressive and one of the most dedicated TV personalities I have ever worked with. There were so many people who mentored or touched by him.”
Despite from his dedication to work, Garson said that Rhodes was “a very fun-loving person” and that when she last saw him three years ago for dinner she “spent the whole evening laughing”.
She added: “He did everything in his own way and we are going to miss him a lot. I regret not having a chance to thank him. He was a mentor. I would never have had formed the agency on my own without him.”
Rhodes was most recently published by Penguin Random House including Gary Rhodes 365: One Year. One Book. One Simple Recipe for Every Day,published by Penguin in 2008, and The Complete Cookery Year (Ebury, 2005).
Rhodes sold 1.08 million books for £15.5m through Nielsen BookScan TCM records since monitoring began in 1998. His two biggest sellers are New British Classics with 197,515 copies sold, and 2000’s Gary Rhodes at the Table, at 128,365 copies (both published by BBC Books). Following news of Rhodes' death, food writer Jay Rayner on social media described New British Classics as "one of the greatest cookbooks of the last 30 years".
Rhodes was well known for fronting programmes such as “MasterChef”, “Hell’s Kitchen” and “MasterChef USA”.