Gary Rhodes: the smiling, spiky-haired saviour of the British menu


With his trademark enthusiasm and gravity-defying haircut, Gary Rhodes was among the bevy of Michelin-starred chefs to become household names following the soaring success of the television cookery show format in the 1990s.

At a time when Britpop dominated the music scene, Rhodes was credited with injecting the “laddishness” into the kitchen.

His effervescent and affable on-screen persona made him a hit with would-be chefs, though his serious culinary credentials were earned long before he was beamed into the front rooms, and kitchens, of millions of Britons through regular appearances on the likes of BBC series Ready Steady Cook.

Garden Party/Gary Rhodes
Garden Party/Gary Rhodes

And he stirred a renaissance in traditional British cooking, giving it a new image abroad.

He died, aged 59, in Dubai, his home for more than a decade.

Colleagues said he had been working in the kitchen up until the day of his death, the cause of which has yet to be confirmed.

His friend, fellow television chef Ainsley Harriott, said Rhodes was “the first to make cookery the new rock ‘n roll, and will always remain a true icon for all of us”.

Gary Rhodes was born in Dulwich, south east London, in 1960, and grew up in Gillingham, Kent.

His father left home when Rhodes was six, leaving his mother to bring up their children solo.

Investiture ceremony
Investiture ceremony

Rhodes began cooking for his family at the age of 13, when his mother returned to work as a secretary.

He left school at 16 to go to catering college and worked as a cleaner to pay his way.

After graduating, he got a job as a commis chef at the Amsterdam Hilton.

But a potentially career-threatening intervention occurred not long afterwards, when he was hit by a van and smashed his head on a kerb, leaving him in a coma.

He recovered, but the incident affected his sense of smell.

After six months, his sense of smell, and taste, had returned and he was back at work.

At just 26, Rhodes retained a Michelin star for the Castle Hotel in Somerset, and in 1996, he won a Michelin star for the Greenhouse restaurant in Mayfair.

Rhodes is often credited with reinvigorating British cooking with a modern twist.

He made his first foray into TV at the age of 27, on the programme Hot Chefs.

Gary Rhodes (left) was sometimes mistaken for violinist Nigel Kennedy due to their similar hairstyle (PA)
Gary Rhodes (left) was sometimes mistaken for violinist Nigel Kennedy due to their similar hairstyle (PA)

He was given his own series with Rhodes Around Britain, his trademark spiky hair making him instantly recognisable – though the coiffure meant he was occasionally mixed up with violinist Nigel Kennedy.

As well as his legion of adoring fans, Rhodes made several industry friends along the way, citing Gordon Ramsay as “a true gentleman”, Tom Kerridge as “a really good young lad in the kitchen”, and Nathan Outlaw as “talented – one of my old boys”.

Reflecting on his career in an interview earlier this year, Rhodes said: “When I first started on TV I think I was the very first professional chef to have his first full BBC series.

“Today, I suppose I have a little bit of pride watching chefs on TV – the reason for that, many of them worked for me.”

He also tipped vegan food as an emerging trend for 2019.

“More and more people are wanting to become vegan and wanting to become as healthy as they can,” he said.

“That’s not a bad thing at all and I think that will spread across the whole of the world.”

Strictly Come Dancing
Strictly Come Dancing

Rhodes appeared on Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef and Great British Menu and had a short-lived foray on Strictly Come Dancing in 2008, though his television work took more of a back seat when he moved to the Middle East.

He received an OBE in 2006 for services to the hospitality industry, something he described as “just unbelievable” and even had “the edge” over a Michelin star.

He said at the time: “It makes me feel very proud that British cooking has been recognised.

“Thirty years ago when I started training at college I remember serving the Duke of Edinburgh.

“I was only ever allowed to serve vegetables.

“I remember looking around and seeing the Queen at the top table, and lo and behold there’s now some kind of connection.”

Manchester United supporter Rhodes moved to Dubai in 2007.

He had two restaurants, Rhodes 2010 at Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa, and Rhodes W1 at the Grosvenor.

He met his wife Jennie at Thanet technical college and the couple married in 1989.

They have two sons.