Vale Alastair Little

Portrait of Alistair Little, from the National Portrait Gallery

The chef, restaurateur and writer Alastair Little, one of the giants of modern British cuisine, died this week at the age of 72.

Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis led the tributes, saying: “Alastair Little was a godfather of modern British cooking and a champion of keeping it simple. His cooking was just incredible x peerlesss. Unique, charming, brilliant x a joy to cook with x a huge inspiration x a great pal and a great boss x gone too young x too soon x much missed and never to be forgotten x.” 

Little was best known for the restaurant he opened under his own name in Frith Street, Soho, in 1985. Among the first British restaurants to be named after the chef-patron, it had bare wooden floors, no tablecloths, diners could see into the kitchen, and the menu changed twice a day – all familiar enough now, but ground-breaking at the time.

He had taught himself to cook from Elizabeth David’s books while a student studying archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge. He later fell under the spell of Marcella Hazan, the two writers providing the foundations for the cooking that he championed and that is now generally known as ‘modern European’. His own books included Keep It Simple (1993), which won the Glenfiddich award for best food book of the year.

Little was probably a much greater influence on chefs and food writers than he was on the general public. As he himself observed, his love of letting ingredients speak had such an instant impact on fellow chefs that it became the norm in better places very quickly – which made it hard for him to stand out.

He died in Sydney, the hometown of his wife Sharon, where he ran his final restaurant, Et Al.

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