Glenn Laurie of the Royal Saxon counts himself lucky to have worked at The River Cafe in London. Simplicity, beautiful flavours and seasonality are the valuable lessons learned and Glenn continues this philosophy in his menus today.
On Wednesday the 8th of August at 6.30pm, there will be a special tribute class to the River Cafe, London in recognition of this iconic restaurant and the extraordinary abilities as a chef of the late Rose Gray.
Not to be missed, the class is filling quickly,
bookings can be made by calling P: 9425 9477
Rose Gray, who died of cancer aged 71, was the co-founder, along with Ruth Rogers, of the iconic River Cafe in London, and was one of Britain’s most influential modern chefs and cookery writers. In a 23-year partnership with Ruthie, she revolutionised Italian cooking in this country through an emphasis on freshness, seasonality and simplicity, and, with a bestselling series of ground-breaking and beautifully designed books, established a worldwide reputation for herself and the restaurant.
Rose was tall, worldly and beautiful, and had a well-earned reputation for indomitably. Watching her on the floor of her coolly glamorous restaurant, confident, composed, so obviously enjoying who she was and what she did, it is hard to imagine that Rose had ever experienced a single setback. But setbacks there were, in her personal and business lives. These she overcame with a no-nonsense determination that became one of her defining characteristics. “Rose just got on with things,” her oldest friend, the architect Su Rogers, says of her. “She always made the best of whatever happened.”
In the 80′s, Rose and David started a new business together, importing cast-iron stoves from Europe, primarily France, for sale from their shop at Chiltern Street in London. But after two or three years of fairly successful trading, they over-stretched and went bankrupt. The early 80s were difficult years for the couple. Rose, David, Lucy and Dante moved to Italy, while David worked on an exhibition. They settled near Lucca, in Tuscany. It was here that Rose began to take a serious interest in Italian cuisine, collecting recipes and learning about ingredients and the region’s cooking.
In 1985, while David’s exhibition was shown in New York, Rose received an invitation to cook there at a newly opened fashionable Italian-style restaurant, Nell’s Club. It was the first cooking Rose had done professionally and she loved it. Returning to London two years later she worked briefly as a chef at Carluccio’s – but there was never going to be enough freedom there for a woman of Rose’s strong ideas and impressibility.
It was at this time that Rose and Ruthie’s paths crossed. Richard Rogers had just set up his office at Thames Wharf, in Hammersmith, and he was keen for the development to be not just offices but a community: this meant having somewhere for everyone to eat. Over a cup of coffee, Ruthie proposed the idea of a restaurant to Rose. Rose said simply: “Let’s do it.”
The result was The River Cafe, which opened in 1987, when Rose was almost 50. Her children were grown and she threw herself into the project. She sourced ingredients, cultivated relationships with wine-makers in Italy, and worked long, punishing hours. To begin with there were just Rose, Ruthie, one waiter and one washer-up (later, all of Rose’s children would be involved).But Rose had big ambitions for their little restaurant. In those days, Rose was to say, Italian food in London “was spaghetti Bolognese and tiramisu”. She wanted to cook the kind of food she had eaten and prepared while living in Italy – grilled meats, bread soups, pasta.
The restaurant’s reputation grew quickly. Five years later the premises were expanded, and, Rose, a passionate and hugely respected gardener, created a stunning herb garden, which was graced by David’s sculptures. In 1998 the River Cafe earned a Michelin star, which it has kept ever since. Her partnership with Ruthie was close; their uncompetitive and generous spirits became the ethos of the restaurant.
Initially Rose and Ruthie were reluctant to write a book, insisting they were chefs not writers. But they quickly understood that a book was the natural next step. Once the idea took hold, they threw themselves into it with typical energy and incredible attention to detail. With their backgrounds in fine art, Ruthie and Rose had clear ideas about how they wanted the book to look. Rose’s visual sense was always acute: everything from the design of the restaurant to the waiters’ dress received her careful attention.
The publisher was persuaded to break with the tradition of having an illustration of food on the cover; the text was minimal; the photographs were of food that had just come out of the kitchen. The first River Cafe Cookbook appeared from Abury in 1995, and several more followed. It is impossible to overstate the influence these books have had in shaping our eating habits and our expectations of what we are served in restaurants. In 1998, Rose and Ruthie presented a 12-part series on Channel 4, The Italian Kitchen.
Rose was diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2001. After surgery and chemotherapy she was clear for five years. But in 2009, just as she was finishing what was to be her last book, The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook, doctors discovered brain tumours. She refused to be an invalid, insisting on joining her great friends Su Rogers and Su’s husband, John Miller, on a summer trip to France, even though she could hardly walk the length of the platform at the Gare du Nord. Lovingly supported by David, she bore her illness with a stoicism that was admired by her friends but did not in any way surprise them.
She is survived by David and by her children.
• Clemency Anne Rose Gray, restaurateur, chef and author, born 28 January 1939; died 28 February 2010
This post includes an excerpt from an obituary written by Ronan Bennett of the Guardian on Sunday 28th of February, 2010. The full account can be found at www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/feb/28/rose-gray-obituary