12 June 2010

Egon Ronay dies

Legendary restaurateur Egon Ronay died, aged 94, on this day in 2010. During his seven decades in London he did much to improve the capital’s cuisine, and championed many young chefs, including Marco Pierre White, Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. He was an honorary member of the French Academy of Gastronomes, and his palate was insured for £250,000.

As a penniless immigrant from Hungary after the war, Ronay was appalled by the food that he tasted and soon set about changing things. After opening The Marquee, a restaurant specializing in haute cuisine, he was invited to write a regular newspaper column. This inspired him to published a guide to British restaurants, which was an immediate hit, and soon became a national institution.

Restaurants weren’t his only targets: airline food was ‘premeditated gastronomic murder’, while motorway services served ‘pig swill’. During a BBC interview for The Food Programme (below) he recalled an incident that ‘shocked him to the core’…

Ronay enjoys a traditional British cuppa

‘It was in a motorway service station, some time in the late 1960s. I saw a family eating full English breakfasts, and the mother did something extraordinary. She picked up one of those plastic tomatoes full of ketchup and squeezed it directly on top of the grilled tomatoes. Then she did the same thing to the tomatoes on her children’s plates. “This’ll give the tomatoes a bit of taste,” she said. And then – I’ll never forget this – she leant over to put some on her husband’s tomatoes, but he held out his hand to stop her. “Hurrah!” I thought. But no – he picked up a bottle of brown sauce and put that on instead. I have seen many awful things in this country over the years, but that sticks in my mind.’

Picture: PA

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