Gary Rhodes, OBE, made a name for himself in the early Nineties, bringing traditional British classics such as braised oxtail, fish cakes and bread and butter pudding into the realm of fine dining. He earned his first Michelin star as head chef at the Greenhouse restaurant in London’s Mayfair in 1996, and opened his own restaurants, City Rhodes and Rhodes in the Square, a year later. He has since launched an array of restaurants around the world, and traveled far and wide to present such TV shows as Masterchef USA and Rhodes Across China. His newest venture is Rhodes 44 at The St. Regis Abu Dhabi.
What’s your earliest food memory?
I’ll always remember the first dessert I made when I was about 13. It was a steamed lemon sponge with lemon sauce, and I’ll never forget turning it out in front of everyone at Sunday lunch. I just sat there admiring the faces around the table as this lovely thick lemon sauce dribbled down the sponge. I thought to myself then, “I want to be a cook.”
Who taught you to cook?
My mother was really accomplished in the kitchen, and I was one of those children who wanted to help out a lot. Even today I still don’t believe I can match her lasagne. Peter Barratt, one of my tutors at catering college, was a genius, though – anyone who was taught by that man would say he was an amazing chef.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten?
Guy Savoy in Paris makes an incredibly creamy globe artichoke soup, with shavings of black truffle and Parmesan cheese, served with truffle brioche buns that are lightly toasted and spread with melted truffle butter. It makes me go weak at the knees. I’ve been to his restaurant six times to eat it.
What do you like to cook at home?
When I’m working in a restaurant I taste all the time, so by the time I get home I’m sick of the sight of the stove. People come over to our house expecting a big Michelin-star meal, but I’m not that kind of guy. I’ll just do a bit of fish, a bit of risotto and a big platter of cheese. Fish is the only thing I insist on cooking at home because I am fussy. Otherwise my wife, who I met at catering college, does most of the cooking. Try as I might I cannot match her roast. She manages to do the meat and all the trimmings such as cauliflower cheese, runner beans, carrots, gravy and lovely Yorkshire puddings all by herself – I’d need four other cooks with me.
What do you find most rewarding about being a chef?
You never stop learning. If people give me advice on our Arabic dishes, for example, for which there will be any number of recipes from all over the Middle East, and I think that those comments will improve things, I will definitely make that change. I never, ever want to stop cooking – it’s a continuing education and it keeps your mind alive.
What’s your favourite food?
I’ve always loved cheese, especially gorgonzola or a really runny brie de Meaux with truffles running through it. Years ago my wife Jennie wouldn’t touch cheese, and now we’ll both sit there together, munching into cheeses and tucking into a good bottle of wine. I find that quite romantic sometimes, just sitting, eating and chatting, without any pressure.
What style of food are you serving at Rhodes 44?
I wanted to do great British classics – my braised oxtail with mashed potato has been unbelievably well received – but at the same time venture into some local Arabic dishes, too. For afternoon tea we’re doing little pecan pies, Victoria sponges, scones with clotted cream and jam, and tiny quail’s-egg sandwiches. I’ve also done my own interpretation of a mezze platter, which has been very popular. We’ve made our own baba ghanoush, our own falafel with a tiny bit of melting feta cheese in the middle… Just as my scallops with a devilled sauce were on the menu in London for ten years, I’d like to think that our mezze platter would last a lifetime with us here.
Is there anything you would never put on the menu?
Tripe. I cannot abide it.
How do you find inspiration for your new dishes?
Sometimes I just wake up in the middle of the night and there’s a new creation in my mind. I’ll tell my wife, and she usually says, “Give it a go.” But she’ll also tell me if it sounds awful.
Who would be at your last supper?
Marilyn Monroe – she was stunning. Bill Clinton is a man I’ve always wanted to meet, too, and Martin Luther King would have to be there. Also Stevie Wonder. Oh, and I’m a massive Manchester United fan, so Sir Alex Ferguson [the legendary former manager] should definitely be invited.
Your address: The St. Regis Abu Dhabi
A corner of England in the Middle East
The tea lounge at The St. Regis Abu Dhabi,
where guests can indulge in anything from quail’s-egg
sandwiches to Rhodes’s interpretation of a mezze platter