Alastair Little obituary | Meals


Alastair Little, who has died aged 72, was a chef who symbolised for a lot of the spurt of power that revolutionised UK meals within the Eighties and was described as “trendy British cooking”. Cooks seemed past the Anglo-French mannequin to the dishes and strategies of different cuisines. Within the London restaurant that took his title and opened on Frith Avenue in Soho in 1985, diners would possibly encounter sushi, tataki, carpaccio, pizze, chorizo, couscous, or Thai or Chinese language spices, served all on the identical day alongside French staples and English standbys.

Alastair was additionally a harbinger of deeper tendencies, such because the postwar infiltration of retail providers by the hitherto skilled middle-class. In earlier years, actors, to call however one commerce, had usually develop into restaurateurs, after years in different walks of life. Alastair was effectively educated, a Cambridge graduate, and younger: he went straight into his chosen occupation. Nor did he comply with the well-worn path of apprenticeship or vocational examine. He was self-taught, and was solely ever a head chef in his personal kitchen (bar a couple of early weeks of part-time skivvying).

His eating places laid down markers, particularly for London. The menus, relying on inspiration and provides, have been composed twice every day, quite than counting on lengthy printed catalogues of basic variations. The settings have been stripped again: paper napkins, black picket tables, white partitions and no thick-piled carpets. Cowl and repair fees have been ditched. Ready workers wore avenue garments, not uniforms. In Alastair’s cooking, too, tendencies have been set. There was a turning away from “the sauce of concealment … the contrived image on a plate”, as he described it, and a scarcity of pretension – all defined in his inspirational cookery guide Hold It Easy (1993), written with Richard Whittington.

Alastair was born in Colne, Lancashire, one among two kids of Robert, a submarine officer within the Royal Navy, and Marion (nee Irving). A love of meals was fostered early by sound house cooking, profound horror at his encounters with institutional catering when boarding at Kirkham grammar faculty (and, later, at Downing Faculty, Cambridge, the place he studied anthropology and archaeology), and delight at restaurant meals consumed on household motoring holidays to continental Europe – navigated by younger Alastair, Michelin information in hand. He first tried his hand on the range in lodgings throughout his final 12 months at Cambridge, with a borrowed copy of Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking.

He had envisaged a profession in movie modifying, however the low preliminary wages have been quickly eclipsed by these he earned ready at desk within the modern Small’s restaurant in Knightsbridge, owned by Alasdair Scott-Sutherland. When that closed in 1974, Little adopted his employer to a different household enterprise, the Outdated Compton Wine Bar in Soho. After the chef’s precipitate departure, Alastair volunteered to switch him. It was a baptism by fireplace certainly – a passing journalist observed the younger man “setting fireplace to lamb chops” behind the bar.

He was recruited from there by the proprietor of Le Routier, a restaurant within the Suffolk village of Wrentham, for 2 years, then moved to Simpson’s restaurant in Putney, the place he earned his first public discover. The sudden closure of Simpson’s led to a disturbing 12 months as chef at Nicholas Lander’s L’Escargot earlier than a transfer to Tony Waterproof coat’s new wine bar at 192 Kensington Park Highway.

At 192 Alastair perfected his market-led, improvisational cooking. There he fell in with Kirsten Pedersen and Mercedes André-Vega, who have been entrance of home. They proposed going into enterprise collectively and Alastair Little at Frith Avenue opened in 1985. Pedersen additionally turned Alastair’s life companion for 10 years.

That restaurant was galvanic. It attracted younger recruits equivalent to Juliet Peston, Jeremy Lee and Dan Lepard, it was a beacon of journey and enjoyment of its vary of choices, and it operated in a method far faraway from the hushed napery of candidates for Michelin.

Through the years, the kitchen’s emphasis leaned extra strongly in direction of issues Italian, partly impressed by Alastair’s personal studying of writers equivalent to Marcella Hazan and by his involvement in a cooking faculty, La Cacciata, close to Orvieto in Umbria, to which he would retreat each summer season to host generally chaotic, at all times inspirational courses, leaving Peston accountable for the London kitchen.

A second Alastair Little restaurant opened off Ladbroke Grove in 1995, which was largely the accountability of Pedersen. The partnership was fraying on the edges as Alastair had met the Australian advertising and marketing govt Sharon Jacob in Italy in 1995 – they married in 2000. It was not dissolved, nevertheless, till 2002, when Alastair misplaced the usage of his personal title for enterprise functions, and his involvement with the eating places ended.

Within the subsequent 12 months he and Sharon opened Tavola, a tableware store and delicatessen, in Notting Hill, for which he cooked largely Italian meals specified by massive bowls and tubs on uneven rustic tables.

In 2017, the store’s lease ran out and the Littles relocated to Australia. Alastair began a pop-up in Resort CBD in Sydney, then purchased right into a partnership within the Et Al restaurant in Pott’s Level, a stone’s throw from Sydney Harbour Bridge. He retained a hyperlink with Britain by organising a house supply service referred to as ByAlastairLittle in 2019, which harked again to the dishes he cooked for Tavola.

Little wrote a handful of books in addition to Hold It Easy, together with Meals of the Solar (1995, with Richard Whittington), Alastair Little’s Italian Kitchen (1996), The Trendy British Cookbook (1998, with Richard Whittington) and Soho Cooking (1999). His appearances on tv have been fitful and he by no means achieved that normal celeb now coveted by cooks.

He’s survived by Sharon and their son Alexander, and by George and Frederika, his kids with Pedersen.

Robert Alastair Little, chef and restaurateur, born 25 June 1950; died 2 August 2022