Alastair Little Obituary | Food
Alastair Little, who died aged 72, was a chef who for many symbolized the surge of energy that revolutionized British cuisine in the 1980s and has been called “modern British cuisine”. Cooks looked beyond the Anglo-French model to the dishes and methods of other cuisines. In the London restaurant that took his name and opened on Frith Street in Soho in 1985, diners could encounter sushi, tataki, carpaccio, pizza, chorizo, couscous or Thai or Chinese spices, served the same day alongside seafood products. French and English basis. vigils.
Alastair was also a harbinger of deeper trends, such as the postwar infiltration of retail services by the hitherto professional middle class. In the past, actors, to name just one profession, had often become restaurateurs, after years spent in other circles. Alastair was well-educated, Cambridge-educated and young: he jumped straight into his chosen profession. Nor did he follow the well-trodden path of apprenticeship or professional studies. He was self-taught and only ever chef in his own kitchen (except for the first few weeks of part-time skivvy).
Its restaurants have set milestones, especially for London. Menus, depending on inspiration and supplies, were composed twice a day, rather than relying on long printed catalogs of classic variations. Decor has been stripped down: paper napkins, black wooden tables, white walls, and no thick carpeting. Coverage and service charges have been waived. Servers wore street clothes, not uniforms. In Alastair’s kitchen, too, trends have been set. There was a diversion from “the sauce of concealment…the contrived image on a plate”, as he described it, and a lack of pretentiousness – all explained in his inspirational cookbook Keep It Simple (1993 ), written with Richard Whittington.
Alastair was born in Colne, Lancashire, one of two children of Robert, a Royal Navy submarine officer, and Marion (née Irving). A love of food was nurtured early on by good home cooking, a deep horror when he encountered institutional catering during his boarding school at Kirkham High School (and, later, Downing College, Cambridge, where he studied anthropology and archaeology), and the pleasure of eating out. consumed on a family driving holiday to mainland Europe – navigated by young Alastair, Michelin guide in hand. He first tried his hand at the stove in lodgings during his final year at Cambridge, with a borrowed copy of French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David.
He had considered a career in film editing, but the low initial salaries were soon eclipsed by those he earned serving at the fashionable Small’s restaurant in Knightsbridge, owned by Alasdair Scott-Sutherland. When that closed in 1974, Little followed his employer to another family business, the Old Compton Wine Bar in Soho. After the leader’s hasty departure, Alastair volunteered to replace him. It was a baptism of fire indeed – a passing reporter noticed the young man “setting some lamb chops on fire” behind the bar.
He was recruited from there by the owner of the Routier, a Suffolk village restaurant in Wrentham, for two years, then moved to Simpson’s restaurant in Putney, where he got his first public notice. The sudden closure of Simpson’s led to a stressful year as leader of Nicholas Lander’s L’Escargot before moving to Tony Mackintosh’s new wine bar at 192 Kensington Park Road.
At 192, Alastair has perfected his market-driven improvisational cuisine. There he met Kirsten Pedersen and Mercedes André-Vega, who were in front of the house. They offered to go into business together and Alastair Little at Frith Street opened in 1985. Pedersen also became Alastair’s life partner for 10 years.
This restaurant was galvanic. It attracted young recruits such as Juliet Peston, Jeremy Lee and Dan Lepard, it was a beacon of adventure and fun in its range of offerings, and it operated in a style far removed from the cushy slick of Michelin contenders.
Over the years, the focus of cooking has leaned more towards Italian, partly inspired by Alastair’s own reading of writers such as Marcella Hazan and his involvement with a cooking school, La Cacciata. , near Orvieto in Umbria, to which he retired every summer. to lead sometimes chaotic, always inspiring classes, leaving Peston in charge of London’s kitchen.
A second Alastair Little restaurant opened off Ladbroke Grove in 1995, which was largely under Pedersen’s responsibility. The partnership was fraying around the edges as Alastair had met Australian marketing manager Sharon Jacob in Italy in 1995 – they married in 2000. It was only dissolved in 2002, however, when Alastair lost use of his own name for business purposes, and his involvement with the restaurants ended.
The following year, he and Sharon opened Tavola, a tableware and delicatessen shop, in Notting Hill, for which he cooked mainly Italian dishes arranged in large bowls and tubs on uneven rustic tables.
In 2017, the boutique’s lease expired and the Littles moved to Australia. Alastair launched a pop-up in Sydney’s CBD hotel, then partnered with Et Al restaurant in Pott’s Point, a stone’s throw from Sydney Harbor Bridge. He retained a connection to Britain by setting up a home delivery service called ByAlastairLittle in 2019, which was reminiscent of the dishes he cooked for Tavola.
Little has written a handful of books as well as Keep It Simple, including Food of the Sun (1995, with Richard Whittington), Alastair Little’s Italian Kitchen (1996), The Modern British Cookbook (1998, with Richard Whittington) and Soho Cooking (1999 ). His television appearances were intermittent and he never achieved that general stardom now coveted by chefs.
He is survived by Sharon and their son Alexander, as well as George and Frederika, his children with Pedersen.