His name-brand Soho restaurant, which first opened in 1985, was instrumental in setting the wheels of contemporary British food in motion.
Chef restaurateur, cook, and cookbook author Alastair Small passed away at 72. The man who was called”the “grandfather of modern British cooking,” Little was, remains, and will be among the top chefs throughout the long history of British food.
Modern Jeremy Lee, who once said of Little as “the original pin-up chef, devastatingly handsome,” made tributes to the London food world, stating of Little:
Alastair Little Died at 72
“Alastair Little was the great ancestor for modern British cooking and a proponent of simplicity. His cooking was amazing and exemplary. Amazing, charming, and unique x an absolute pleasure to cook with x an enormous source of inspiration x great friend and an excellent boss x lost far too soon x too quickly x greatly missed and never forgotten x »xxxxxx x”
Dan Lepard, who also worked with Little Dan Lepard and a co-worker, has reprinted a quote from his work that illustrates his cooking method.
After working as a waiter and later chef, with the former working at L’Escargot at Soho in 1981, and then the 192 restaurants at Notting Hill in 1983, Little was to open his restaurant, located on Frith Street, also in Soho in the year 1985.
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Alongside his then-partner Kirsten Pedersen, it had some of the traits of London establishments today, including a kitchen opening in the dining room with bare tables and napkins in the paper; and, more importantly, a two-day-a-day changing menu that was introduced more than 35 years back.
There was a place that nobody wanted to go to “you could go to straight from work,” not the rigid dining rooms that swivel imperceptibly across the Channel to France. Its elegance and breathtaking food, including Juliet Peston as a chef and the chef in charge, was a huge hit and received praise from the public.
He cooked subtraction and simplicity by asking what could be eliminated from an item to let the rest of the dish shine brightest.
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It was two years before the time that Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray opened The River Cafe in Hammersmith; two years before the time when Rowley Leigh moved out of their kitchens at the Roux brothers to join Nick Smallwood and Simon Slater’s Kensington Place; and two years before Bibendum in which the late Sir Terence Conran installed Simon Hopkinson on the pans.
It’s a humorous fact that most modern British food is contemporary European food with an accent and traditions that originate from France, Spain, and Italy that have been adapted to Britain’s changing tastes and are available in this country.
None of the three who ate at Little’s restaurant as a quartet did cook British food. Tiny, as a chef and baker Dan Lepard, recall the “Full English” podcast, mainly following the recipes he had learned from Italy and Marcella Hazan.
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The pasta and Tuscan soups were served alongside the classic French seafood stews and occasionally Japanese tataki. Little would take a break between emulating his idols such as Hazan, David, and Grigson -to a tee and breaking the rules until they became unrecognizable.
The chefs poured grassy green olive oil with many ingredients, sliced raw meat into carpaccio, and then put Amalfi-style tomatoes and lemons on the kitchen counter like it was the norm.
However, it was something else: until the 1980s, London’s European dining establishments of the highest caliber were still under Escoffier’s control. And were only shaken with the introduction of modern cuisines in France.
This was when Marco Pierre White, Pierre Koffmann, and others were experimenting with their latest creations (White’s Michelin star magnet Harvey’s also opened in the same glorious year of 1988). Little and co. were doing their own.
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The graduates from the River Cafe, Alastair Little, Bibendum, and Kensington Place will shape London and British eating for years into the future. Not only in the restaurants but also in spreading the concepts Little liked across the diner to the general public.
In 1995, another restaurant would open off Ladbroke Grove. Two people named Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver were opening a restaurant called St. John in Smithfield in 1994. Another person, Margot Henderson, was the chef for The French House in Soho, which she founded with Fergus in 1992.
Then, the other person was Jeremy Lee, who had worked alongside Little following “stumbling into his kitchen stinking of martini” following an unforgettable meal, became a partner of Sir Terence Conran to open The Blueprint Cafe in 1994.
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The London food scene was changed by the Hendersons’ aggressive focus on offal and British game and vegetables. It was not a break from Little’s ideas and ethos but an organic development.
Little left the name of his father and his restaurants in 2002. He left the business behind. The restaurant was closed in 2002, and he published five cookbooks in the 1990s before launching Tavola Deli in Notting Hill.
Alastair Little’s shop on Frith Street was shut down in 2009. The Ladbroke Grove site had closed by the year 2003. Tavola ended after the lease expired.
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While Little’s first fame led to TV appearances, he did not become an international culinary star despite the significance of his restaurant and philosophies.
He was more concerned with the food and suppliers he cherished: he frequently stated that his services were turgid, unpleasant, and rough. He would have avoided it if he had the chance to help the situation.
It was Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay from the audience in 1987 to gain fame and fortune. However, Little’s legacy wouldn’t have been needed, as he put it most well in an interview with the magazine in 2018.
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