Alastair Little, a chef once dubbed the ‘godfather’ of modern British cooking, has died. It is believed he was 72 years old.
The hospitality industry has been paying tribute to the restaurateur and author, who is considered one of the most influential figures in British food.
Little’s simple, seasonal cooking with European influences pioneered a new style of restaurant in the 1980s and has left a legacy that continues to inspire restaurateurs today.
Quo Vadis restaurateur Jeremy Lee, a contemporary of Little’s, told The Caterer: “Alastair was such a brilliant shining light for all that is good about the restaurant business, gentle, encouraging, with exquisite taste and a palate quite peerless.
“I like to think there is not a corner of these isles untouched and informed in some way by his approach to life and cooking, with great style, a gentle manner, impeccable taste, his cooking was masterful, so seemingly simple, with incredible depth of flavour, and so delicious with the loveliest produce and an infectious smile and great laugh. And his repute goes far beyond these shores.”
Little, the son of a naval officer, travelled widely across Europe as a child, which ignited his passion for food. He studied archaeology at Cambridge University before learning his trade in London restaurants, including L’Escargot in Soho and 192 in Notting Hill.
In 1985 Little opened his eponymous restaurant in London’s Soho. It was ahead of its time: floorboards were bare, tablecloths were removed, and customers could see straight into the restaurant kitchen. According to an interview the chef gave to The Independent in 2003, the menu changed twice a day depending on ingredients Little would buy from the shops. The restaurant was named The Times Restaurant of the Year in 1993.
In 2012, Fay Maschler, food critic at the Evening Standard for over 40 years, told The Caterer of her memory of Little gracing magazine covers in the 1980s following the success of the restaurant. “I remember Alastair Little being on the cover of Elle magazine and thinking how terrific it was to have a chef on the cover of a magazine like that.”
In 1995 Little opened a second eponymous restaurant off Ladbroke Grove in West London, which The Times’ critic Jonathan Meades described as feeling “altogether right”.
By 2002 Little had left his original restaurants and started a deli in Notting Hill named Tavola.
The chef also published a number of cookbooks including: Keep It Simple (1993), Food of the Sun (1995), Italian Kitchen (1996), and Soho Cooking (2000).
The Michelin Guide paid tribute to the chef, writing on Twitter: “Alastair Little was a self-taught, intelligent and articulate chef who was ahead of his time. His eponymous Soho restaurant influenced a generation of chefs and restaurateurs and the British food scene owes him so much. We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”
Chef James Martin called Little “one of the true godfathers of British food”. He wrote on Twitter: “I had the honour of first meeting Alastair Little at college as a young kid and later doing stints at Frith Street, which was a Mecca for all foodies at the time…later on Ready Steady Cook and beyond. The man was a legend in so many eyes and mine, and my thoughts go to his family and friends. Chef, you are and always will be a legend to me and many others. RIP.”
Photo and text courtesy of Caterer and Hotelkeeper