Celebrity Chef Gary Rhodes at the Marine Hotel in Salcombe - Flying the British Flag

Forget the Gallic training, Gary Rhodes couldn't be more British if he tried <br/>If celebrity chef Gary Rhodes comes over as Mr Nice Guy on screen, in person he's every bit as charming. Gary was at the Marine Hotel in Salcombe.

Forget the Gallic training, Gary Rhodes couldn't be more British if he tried

If celebrity chef Gary Rhodes comes over as Mr Nice Guy on screen, in person he's every bit as charming. Gary was at the Marine Hotel in Salcombe recently, cooking a meal at a glittering charity event in aid of the RNLI and St Luke's Hospice. It was these causes that prompted his acceptance of the invitation as much as his friendship with the management of the hotel, who are also involved with his new restaurant in Dublin, Rhodes D7.

Devon Life was at Salcombe to meet him and, for such a celebrated chef, he comes over as just a regular chap who happens to cook a bit. From what Gary told me, I gather most of his celebrity-chef compatriots are, too; despite a dose of healthy rivalry, most of them are great friends, though meeting only infrequently at the big food fairs.

He described to me what he was planning for that evening, and it was clear that he was going to be cooking more than just a bit, with a foie gras gammon tureen, lobster risotto, roast lamb and a Jaffa Cake pudding on the menu. The latter is a confection of his own devising and stems from his childhood obsession with the biscuit.

"An obsession that involved dunking and pulling out strands of jelly earned me a few clips round the ear from my mother," he said. He took me through the Jaffa Cake pudding process, but I had to ask him to stop... it was much too sinful, and I hope those who ate it feel suitably guilty.

I rather gathered from our conversation that he has two culinary heroes, the Roux Brothers and Marguerite Patten. You can't get much more down to earth (or British) than Marguerite Patten, and that revelation made Gary something of a soulmate because, out of a cupboardful of cookery books at home, Marguerite Patten's is the only one that is falling apart at the seams.

"I've had the pleasure of cooking with Marguerite many times over the years, and I always have to defer to her," he said with a smile of recollection. "I'll be preparing something and she will come over and say, 'No, Gary, you don't do it like that!' and nudge me out of the way. But that's OK. She's the boss. I just do as I'm told!"

Gary has been cooking seriously since he was at school, and it was actually Marguerite Patten who turned his thoughts towards a culinary career.

"My mother had this Marguerite Patten book of puddings and sweets, and I had decided to do this lemon sponge for Sunday lunch one day. I remember turning it out at table and seeing everyone drool as this intense smell of lemon filled the room and the thick lemon sauce dripped down over the sponge. That gave me such a buzz that I realised I wanted to forge a career as a chef. It wasn't just the cooking either, it was the sense of entertaining people that went with it, because that is what chefs do. We are in the entertainment business as much as anything else."

Scratch almost any chef and you will find him leaking some form of Gallic sauce, because French cuisine is at the heart of any chef's training programme. It was the same with Gary to start with until he came back from a three-year stint on the Continent to work at The Reform Club in Pall Mall.

"It was all very much British cuisine there and that was a huge influence, because I had always thought that we do have some of the greatest dishes of the world in Britain. We certainly have some of the greatest produce in the world. I really do believe that. When I moved on to The Castle in Taunton, I took that influence with me. It was all about British cuisine there, and although the French influence is still there, I try to ensure that there is some British happening in any restaurant I'm involved with.

"If I had to choose my very last meal, it would have to be mashed potato and braised oxtail, and not only just because braising the oxtail would give me a few more hours of life because it takes so long to cook. Bread and butter pudding would probably follow, because I will never tire of that. It's been on the menu at Rhodes 24 in London for over 20 years now, and I don't expect ever to take it off."

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Unequivocal is probably the best way to describe Gary's position on British cuisine.

"I think there's no doubt at all that British cuisine has an international reputation now, and I often find American, and even French, chefs who come over and are literally stunned by what we can put together. Even the Roux Brothers are spreading the word about British cuisine abroad, which all helps us enormously in this country."

Gary isn't that familiar with Devon, although he came down on the odd occasion when he was at The Castle in Taunton, but he was ecstatic about Salcombe and the local produce that he was using for the meal, and was looking forward to exploring a bit more once his stint in the Marine Hotel's kitchen was over.

"Take advantage of what you have down here," Gary told me, "because in the Westcountry as a whole, and certainly here in Devon, there is some of the finest produce in Britain, if not the world. The ingredients are superb, so stand proud, shout about it and show the rest of the country that Devon is one of the best places where you can cook."

Unfortunately, I had to forego the pleasure of tasting what Gary had produced, and had to leave with the haunting thought of that Jaffa Cake pudding lingering at the back of my mind. It isn't all roses reporting for Devon Life!


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