Top Australian chef and industry favourite JEREMY STRODE tragically passed away on July 17 and his long-time friend LOK THORNTON looks at the life of the man so many adored and respected.
Many words have been written since Jeremy Strode’s tragic passing, some with precision others with raw emotion, most reflecting on the traits that made him great – patience, warmth and passion.
I’m reminded now of a piece I read many years ago in The Age that diagrammed Melbourne’s dining scene in terms of orbits of influence. There was the focus on quality ingredients among Stephanie Alexander’s alumni, the precision of Hermann Schneider’s acolytes and the slightly more esoteric but equally sensational characters from Tansy Good’s brigade. There were honourable mentions from those who worked with Mietta O’Donnell, Bill Marchetti and Walter Bourke. These next-generation chefs established Melbourne as one of the world’s most exciting food cities in the early 90s. I was there and I worked for most of them.
Then came tectonic shift. The Britpack invasion began. Some of the invaders were British-born – Paul Wilson, Ian Curley and Jeremy Strode – while others, such as the brilliant Dean Cambray, were Australians who had returned from working in England. Suddenly the game had changed.
They cut a swathe through the Melbourne scene. As I recall it was the Adelphi Hotel that was one of hottest of the hotspots – there was a buzz and a brilliant light that shone onto the adjoining alley. As a member of the club at the time I walked past that light hundreds of times, peering through the massive windows at a throng made up in equal numbers of the expectant and satiated.
This was a time when Melbourne was evolving through the post-Niewenhausen report years, from when hotel restaurants had reigned supreme for decades. People like Donlevy Fitzpatrick, Maurice Terzini and the boys at Marios were simplifying and democratising a once-stuffy scene. Out of the blue a small boutique hotel grew out of the decrepit Flinders Lane and changed the concept of hotel restaurants forever. Jeremy Strode drove that narrative at the Adelphi, he drove it with verve, panache and most importantly with stupidly great food. The brass-and-marble crowd didn’t stand a chance.
I never personally worked with Jeremy Strode outside of events and one-offs, though I ate at every restaurant he has ever cooked at and kept going back. The lack of pretentiousness to his cooking, the quality of flavours and the sheer sense of hospitality was compelling. To quote the great London chef Pierre Koffmann, “he served me a pig’s trotter, and it was perfect”. If you know anything about Koffmann that’s about as high as praise gets.
At Strode’s memorial last Sunday (July 30), many spoke eloquently and from the heart about a man who changed their lives. The number and quality of chefs represented in the room spoke volumes about the regard in which he was held by his fellows in the trade. If the roof had fallen in that night, Australia would have lost 90 per cent of our great chefs in one hit.
Jeremy Strode is survived by his wife Jane Strode and his three children. The family has requested that any donations in memory of Jeremy be made to R U O K?.