Writing a tribute to Rory Kennedy is difficult, not because his life was short and uneventful, but because he packed so much into his 37 years. Speaking to chefs who knew him, you learn that Kennedy loved life and he loved to cook.
"He was always trouble, but he was great," says David Chambers, a friend and sometime colleague, now Kennedy's successor as head chef at Rules in London's Covent Garden. "We first met 20 years ago, when I was a sous chef at the Hyatt Carlton Tower and he was a demi-chef on the sauce. He was a nightmare to be in charge of because he knew his own mind, but he'd never let you down.
"Throughout his career he would get a brigade to achieve the best by needling. One young chef told me how he was on the veg at Hanbury Manor one night and Rory was on the pass. Rory nagged him mercilessly for some asparagus and, in the end, when the boy couldn't find a spider to lift it out of the pan quickly enough, he put his hands into the boiling water, pulled out the asparagus, garnished it and passed it on. You had to earn your spurs with Rory, but he helped build many a career."
One such protégé is Andrew Turner, now executive chef at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge, London. He has organised a chef's dinner at his hotel in tribute to Kennedy. "I have three young children, like Rory," he explains. "I wanted to try and set up a trust fund for his family. It's not charity, it's a tribute that I am proud to make to Rory. He would have done the same for me.
"I first met Rory when he came from the Connaught to the Britannia as sous chef. I was the junior sous chef. He left to go on to Le Méridien but, after a year or so, he called me to see if I'd be interested in opening Hanbury with him as his number two. That was when my cooking really woke up. He was a great teacher and I have ultimate respect for what he showed me."
About five years ago, I was writing a piece on young British chefs who had worked for the Roux Brothers, and I called Rory to profile him. His cooking was receiving positive attention in the press, but he wasn't exactly a household name. I expected him to jump at the chance of being featured, as had most others. Instead, he insisted I interview his sous chefs, particularly a rising talent called Glen Elie. This approach was typical of him.
One good thing that, ironically, used to come out of the traditional British contempt for food was home-grown chefs without ego. Generations quietly learned their trade from masters such as Albert Roux and Bernard Gaume during decades when being a chef was not sexy. We are lucky enough to have many of them now heading the kitchens of our hotels and restaurants and, often equally quietly, doing a great job. Rory Kennedy was a perfect example of the breed.