There may not on the face of it seem to be much of a business connection to the sad news that Rose Gray, co-founder of West London’s famed River Café, has died after a long illness. But Gray was a role model par excellence for entrepreneurs everywhere – not only did she manage to run a highly successful business doing something she loved, she was also an outstanding talent manager with a natural gift for spotting diamonds in the rough and getting the most out of promising youngsters.
The open plan kitchens run by Gray and her business partner Ruth Rogers have been a nursery for culinary talent since the day they opened their doors back in 1987. TV chefs like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall started out there, but Gray’s real legacy is in the legions of less well-known but equally well-trained staff who have gone on to people kitchens up and down the country, taking with them the lessons learned from The River Café way of doing things. What business founder could wish to leave anything better behind them than that?
Despite some appearances on TV and a successful series of recipe books, Gray (and Rogers, who will continue to run the restaurant) was not really interested in the limelight. Unlike some of her more media-friendly oppos, Gray preferred to spend her time running the business – sourcing, hiring, training, and most of all cooking. Regular visitors (including members of the MT team, whenever we could raise the not-insignificant funds required) will attest that Gray was more often than not to be seen in kitchen, working with the team, firmly but quietly getting on with the job she loved.
Reality TV material it wasn’t – never mind foul language, there wasn’t so much as a raised voice to be heard. As MT discovered a few years back when we paid them a visit for professional rather than gastronomic reasons. The air of calm professionalism extended to the front of house too – the service was every bit as unshowily effective as the food.
It’s this consistency and dedication as much as quality of ingredients and excellence of cooking which made the River Café into what it is. A great restaurant that has managed to remain at the top of its game for over two decades. In a business where the clamour of fashion, hype and celebrity grows daily louder, Rose Gray was a signal reminder that – for those with the wisdom to realise it - simply doing a great job is one of the more profound rewards which life has to offer.
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