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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Russell Hotel London Chef Raymond Zarb 1962

This is an homage and a thank you to one of my early mentors, Raymond Zarb. He was the Chef De Cuisine at the Russell hotel in London when I worked there around 1965 or so. He was an imposing figure with an electric personality and a very demanding and precise idea of how things should be done. He was a big man who made the air move as if to make room for him when he entered the kitchen. There was no mistaking his presence even if you didn't see him right away. He was there! He was a walking encyclopedia of cuisine, he seemed to know everything and we young lads would watch him whenever he made something in the hope that some pearls of knowledge would somehow make their way into our brains.

We as youngsters were all in awe of him and when he came into the kitchen everyone stood up a little straighter and were just that much more careful not to make a mistake. Even the seasoned chefs who were in charge of us were on their guard.

He also had the eye of an eagle. Nothing escaped him, he could spot a mistake in the kitchen while sitting in his office. He was amazing. His attention to the smallest detail , from the size of a trimmed vegetable to the preparation of any dish was always exact.

This is what we all wanted to be.

He wore his chef's toque in Napoleonic fashion with the flat side facing outward. This gave him an air of authority that could not be challenged. I can still see him entering the kitchen in the Russell Hotel glancing left and right as he moved his great stocky frame forward as a ship would in high seas, making sure that all was in order. He was indeed a presence.

He was extremely demanding and only wanted the best. Anything less would not do. He was an inspiration to us all.

He also did not suffer fools very well. I remember one day a little waitress, she must have been in her sixties, came down to the kitchen while Monsieur Zarb was working. He had his back to the waitress and a ten bob note in her hand. The waitress said " Chef, one of the guests sent you this as a tip" There was a great intake of breath from the cooks around him as they knew that this was a gross breach of protocol. Without missing a beat the chef said " Tell him to stick it up his ar#*%. The waitress smiled, said " Yes chef! " and put the ten bob note into her purse.

He had very little patience with politics and what would now be called PC. If he thought you were doing something wrong he didn’t hesitate to tell you so in no uncertain terms. He was a force unto himself.

He had a very warm heart and really cared about us. If he thought he had been too harsh he would come back a little later and put his arm around your shoulder and tell you that it was for your own good. I was given personal proof of this as one day I cooked a roast too much and he threatened to throw me out---- headfirst ! On another occasion I had the temerity , being a young lad who already knew everything, to question one of his directions. That was a mistake. After each of these incidents he put his arm on my shoulder in a fatherly way and told me it was for my own good. Many years later I realized that he was right. I have used his example and told tales of his legend to my own employees in all corners of the world and they are always fascinated by the stories.

He was really the first super chef in London. He had huge articles in The Observer newspaper long before these things became commonplace and he was the first Maitre Cuisinier to come to London.

Raymond Zarb definitely left his mark on me and on many other 20 year olds who thought they knew everything. I am sure that there are many chefs in London now and like myself, around the world, who owe him their careers. Hopefully some of them will see this.
I have not seen a Chef since with the amount of notoriety and reverence  that Raymond Zarb had at that time.

I remember him with great fondness and gratitude.

I still have his menus from the Russell Hotel. As soon as I can find them in my files I will post them.


Colin M. Walsh said...

This is a very nice article. A window into the way things used to be before we were all jaded by the politics and correctness of it all. This pride of work, and responsibility to teach seems to be turning into a thing of the past. I think the 20 year olds are still as anxious, eager and willing, it is the great shortage of mentors that is the problem. I hope many people read your article, and become inspired by it.

James P. Walsh said...

Very well put Colin.

Zarbio said...

It's a very touching and quite moving recollection of my Father. It's so nice you recall him so fondly. My brother said he would have made a good third world dictator! He certainly had big heart and always sought perfection. The number of times I was over visiting him in Spain after he retired, when I would be preparing food for my two (then) young children and I was brushed aside shown the correct way are countless. My daughters fondly recall the afternoon he sat for what seemed like hours making them the most delicious chicken goujons. There was no McDonalds to buy them from (not that he approved of McDonalds a four letter expletive beginning with 'S' summed up his view of the food they served).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this fine tribute to Chef Zarb. While living for several years in London in the 1980s my wife and I would regularly visit a Country Home B&B in Abergaveny to enjoy the sumptuous cuisine there, and I was wondering if the Monsieur Zarb we knew there was the same Chef you describe here. Seems so - from the warmth to the exactitude for preparation and presentation of the food to the girth of the man. Yet as there was no mention of the Welsh connection I had to ask. Thank you for taking a moment to respond. He inspired in me a great love of cooking which to this day, without pursuing this professionally, I continue to enjoy with great passion. With kind regards, David Cassidy

James P. Walsh said...

Thank you for visting the blog. I only knew one Raymond Zarb while I was in in London and the name was so uncommon that I would not be surprised if it is the same Raymond Zarb. He was not the kind of man you forget easily by any means.
As I said in my post he left the Russell Hotel in London to open his own restaurant but I think it was in Weterman Kent although he may have moved after that.
Again, thank you for the visit.
You will find more pictures of him at this site as well as pictures of the restaurant he moved to so it will be easy for you to determine if they are one and the same.
Best regards
James Walsh

Don't hesitate to contact me with any further questions.

Anonymous said...

James, Thanks. Yes, definitely our beloved Monsieur Zarb! How we enjoyed those delectable soups, brilliant dinners, and sumptuous breakfasts. He had a great sense of humor too, and was so welcoming to us. I was thinking about enrolling in Le Cordon Bleu and my wife said that I should try to look up Monsieur Zarb, knowing he had likely left us all by now, in hopes of thanking him or his family for first introducing us to such wonderful fare and planting the seeds of passion for French cuisine. That's how I came across your blog, and I have already commended it to some other foodie friends in Austin. All the best!

James P. Walsh said...

Thank you for your kind comments. I have forwarded your posts to Monsieur Zarbs son, Paul, who I know will be glad to see them. I still have some of his menus somewhere in my files. As soon as I find them I will post them and notify you.

Zarbio said...

It almost certainly was him, although the hotel he had was the Walford House Hotel in Ross on Wye. A Georgian Country house which had been turned into a Free House and Hotel and now housing!

RobbiepDunn said...

Hi My name is Robbie Dunn an Irishman who now lives in Brisbane Australia.
I went to London to learn sauce work and ended up in the Kensington Palace. The exec chef there was Larry. I was talking to him one day about sauce work and he said would I be interested in working for Raymond Zarb in his restaurant. Myself and my mate Tony Derwin went to work at Zarbs restaurant Le Marquis de Mont Calm in Westerham Kent around the late 60s/70s.
He was a fantastic chef and Tony and myself learned a lot of our sauce work from him. To this day I still teach people the pan work I learned from Raymond. Tony and I went on later to develop our own styles of course.
We had some very funny times there.
I lost my menus in a flood under the house a few years ago and I would dearly love to get copies of them again if that was possible.
He was an amazing man.
Love and peace
Brisbane Australia

Anonymous said...

Zarbio, yes, Ross on Wye. Mea culpa - we would venture to Abergavenny from Ross to stroll through the antique shops. We loved Walford House and we were saddened when, returning some years ago to see the lovely place, saw that is was no longer the restful retreat we had treasured. Monsieur Zarb's fare and friendship were so much a part of our joy in those visits. Thank you for confirming and correcting our memories.

Seamus Beattie said...

Thank you for reminding me of some of the greatest days of my life. I too trained under Chef Zarb at the Russell through 1965 to 1967 and learned many lessons that I still pass on to my students. He was a giant

Anonymous said...

I knew Raymond and Joyce from about 1969 -75 and was very fond of them. Raymond was distinctly a 'character' which nobody can deny. Silly to recall was my being impressed with his 8-track tape player in his Jaguar. There was a huge schemozzle over a pair of wild boar that got loose in his restaurant (?) which were subsequently shot and brought the roof down from the Min of Ag authorities. He had a major accident when a champagne cork at another restaurant almost destroyed his eye and left him effectively disabled.

Alan Connor said...

I worked for Mr Zarb from 1977 to 1980 at Le Marquis de Montcalm in ?Westerham although he had lost a lot of fire by then he was still a formidable character and I learnt so much from him. Paul (Zarbio) was a good guy loved driving his ford pop around the car park so much I went and bought one myself a few years later, I had a minor falling out with Ray jr he seemed to want to punch me for some reason, i think he spilt some sauce in the waiters room and another time he jumped and banged his head on the canopy in the kitchen. Long hour Hard work and little pay I was on £15p/w for about 60 hours I loved every minute of it and each day was like a day out. Oh and I went to college on my day off.
I didn't really know what happened to him after Le Marquis was sold but I was told he was doing consulting. I worked alongside some lecturers from the college and when at college embarrassed them by producing better food than them. i fondly remember the late Alan Blake and John Peart, My mothe bought a property from Mike Wiseman who also worked at Le Marquis before me.
Paul - Nice to see you are well, great to hear about the family. All my best

r zed said...

My Dad could cook like no one else, no doubt about it,he was a genius and if you ever get a chance to speak to a close colleague and friend and of the family John Peart,Chef /Lecturer
he will confirm he had great organisational skills and planning ability, unfortunately a combination of ill health family bereavement the loss of my sister and their daughter Marie Noelle Zarb at the age of 14 really disrupted everything and although he and my Mum Joyce still managed a very good set up in Walford in Ross on Wye the days a the Marquis De Montcalm were very heady for both himself and my mother, when all types of individuals would be client's at the restaurant,Richard Burton,Ginger Rodgers the England 66 football team and David Essex,who will probably not wish to recount his experience of my Dad preventing him from leaving without paying his bill

Dick Davies said...

It's wonderful to read these recollections. I enjoyed many visits to Walford House Hotel in the mid-80s. I loved the atmosphere of the place, but all the food M. Zarb served seemed to me to be some kind of raising of the game -- an apotheosis.

Treasured memories.

Martin O'Brien said...

I worked at the Marquis de Montcalm in the mid seventies. I remember having to cook dinner for the children, Paul, Marie and Raymond Jnr. as well as doing the mise en place and other tasks in that very busy kitchen. As others have commented M. Zarb was a fantastic mentor and a font of knowledge. I went to visit him and Joyce when they moved to Ross on Wye but lost touch over the years. Is he still with us?
Martin O'Brien

Dudley Walsh said...

No Martin, Monsieur Zarb is no longer with us. I was told this by his son Paul. Great loss to many people.

stuart said...

To Martin I was the apprentice with you remember we cooked for R Burton I lived upstairs with Paul and ray jnr. My name is Stuart and there was a chef called Jimmy and Pratrice was head waiter do you remember Sammy the butcher be nice to hear from you I live in Devon