My best teacher

19th December 2003 at 00:00
I did OK at school, but by the time I was 14 I'd decided I wanted to become a chef, so I left at 16 to go to technical college and do a three-year catering course. That was where I met Peter Barratt, a brilliant tutor who became a close friend.

I had already taken over cooking the Sunday lunch at home and was obsessed with food. Graham Kerr was my hero. He was the TV chef known as the Galloping Gourmet who first put entertainment into food. I was also a great fan of Marguerite Patten, an amazing lady now in her mid-eighties with whom I have since worked several times. It was Marguerite's recipe for lemon sponge pudding that really decided my fate. The look on my family's face when I turned the pudding out of the bowl and poured over the luscious lemon sauce was worth all the effort I'd put into making it.

Peter Barratt was one of the senior tutors at Thanet technical college, and he had an aura about him that commanded respect. He'd been a chef all his life, working in Switzerland and France before deciding he wanted to teach.

Every time you went to one of his lessons you knew you were going to learn something special. He taught us more than cooking; he explained why ingredients were put together and what he was trying to achieve. You could tell by the tone of his voice that he loved what he was doing. We had a lot of good teachers, but Peter stood out.

He was a big chap, tall with broad shoulders, always dressed in full chef's whites with the tall hat and checked trousers - and his shoes were always sparklingly clean. He never raised his voice because he didn't need to. I wouldn't leave him alone. I was always asking questions, always wanting to do something more, try something different, and I was very competitive (I was named student of the year and chef of the year while I was there).

Peter emphasised the importance of food's natural taste and the need to avoid overwhelming the flavour of the basic ingredient. He taught us that success came from consistency - being able to cook classic dishes just right, over and over again.

I was lucky. I was at college when there was no shortage of money, and we were supplied with the very best ingredients. In my final year in Peter's advanced cookery classes, I remember walking in to see a whole venison hanging up, still in fur, which Peter showed us how to skin, gut and butcher as well as cook.

He never panicked in the kitchen - and he taught his pupils to stay calm even when things went wrong. We had a college restaurant that was open to the public, and now and again we would get a bit behind and start running around; Peter would call us over and slow us down. If things went wrong he wouldn't take over, he would show us how to put matters right. When someone overcooked the green beans he showed us how to add cream and shallots and turn them into a delicious sauce sprinkled with toasted flaked almonds.

Like the others, I had my share of disasters. I remember making a sauce hollandaise, which was thick and creamy, and I was pleased with it until Peter came round and tasted it - it was so salty he had to call for a glass of water.

I met my wife, Jenny, at college - she was in the third year advanced cookery class - and she and I have stayed friends with Peter and his wife.

Occasionally, he invites us to his home and cooks us lunch. He's dynamite in the kitchen: a culinary genius with an extraordinary range and superb palette. Last time we went over with our two sons, Peter made us fabulous hors d'oeuvres followed by lobster, cooked to perfection, then barbecued lamb. It was a banquet, but it was easy alfresco eating and the meal lasted all day. I'm a little apprehensive about cooking for him. Even now, well over 20 years after I left college, I want to impress him. I want him to be proud that I was one of his boys in his kitchen. When he visits, I open a bottle of champagne - then take him out to a nearby restaurant.

Chef Gary Rhodes was talking to Pamela Coleman


1960 Born Dulwich, London

1965-66 Primary school in Cheadle, Cheshire

1966-71 Twydall primary school, Rainham, Kent

1971-76 Rainham boys' school (later known as the Howard school)

1976-79 Catering course at Thanet technical college, Broadstairs

1979 First job as commis chef at the Amsterdam Hilton

1986 Becomes head chef at the Castle Hotel, Taunton, Somerset. Wins first Michelin star

1990 Becomes head chef at Greenhouse restaurant in London

1994 First television series, Rhodes Around Britain, broadcast on BBC2

1996 Opens own London restaurant, City Rhodes, which wins Michelin star. Wins Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine's Catey award for contribution to British food industry

2000 Takes over from Lloyd Grossman as host of BBC's Masterchef programme.

Hosts Masterchef on United States television

October 20, 2003 Opens latest restaurant, Rhodes TwentyFour, in central


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