Gary Rhodes was an inspiration to me and I owe him everything, says Belfast chef Niall McKenna
Top Northern Ireland restaurateur Niall McKenna has said that his career was inspired by "one of life's gems", television chef Gary Rhodes, following his death aged 59.
The celebrity chef, famed for his signature spiky hair and passion for British cuisine, passed away at his Dubai home on Tuesday with his wife Jennie by his side.
According to TV company Rock Oyster Media, Rhodes had been filming a new ITV series when he was "taken ill very suddenly at home".
McKenna, owner and head chef of James Street South Group, worked under Rhodes at The Greenhouse in London's Mayfair from 1995 to 1996 and attributes his success to the celebrity chef.
"Underneath the persona of a TV chef, he was one of the most organised and creative chefs I ever worked for," he said.
"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be where I am now. Definitely not."
He added: "What I learned from him has stood by me my entire career. I owe everything to Gary."
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Belfast chef McKenna, who last saw Rhodes on a trip to Dubai last month, revealed the celebrity chef had a fondness for Belfast and said the "very good work ethic" associated with people from Northern Ireland was part of the reason Rhodes hired him.
"You needed to be ambitious and hard-working to make it in Rhodes' kitchen," said McKenna, who described the chef as a "perfectionist".
"He would never drop his standards - he was unbelievably tough but he was a perfectionist.
"To me, that's where he came into his own. He was the first in every morning and he was driven. Gary knew what he was doing that day next year. That's how organised he was.
"He was one of the few TV chefs who was really respected."
The Northern Ireland restaurateur said his former boss "broke the mould" in terms of managing a kitchen and how he treated staff. "He was a very respectful person," he said.
"No matter where you're from, what religion, what creed, whatever, he always treated everyone with respect and treated everyone the same.
"That's where I learnt the most from him."
Rhodes was best known for shows like MasterChef, Ready Steady Cook and Hell's Kitchen.
Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and James Martin were among the cookery stars to pay tribute to Rhodes. Oliver said: "Sadly, chef Gary Rhodes passed away. My heartfelt sympathies to his wife, kids, friends and family, sending love and thoughts."
He posted on Instagram: "Gary was a fantastic chef and incredible ambassador for British cooking, he was a massive inspiration to me as a young chef.
"He reimagined modern British cuisine with elegance and fun. Rest in peace Chef."
Ramsay wrote on Twitter: "We lost a fantastic chef today in Gary Rhodes. He was a chef who put British cuisine on the map.
"Sending all the love and prayers to your wife and kids. You'll be missed."
Martin wrote: "Hugely influential in my life and the life of the British food scene. Gent and genius…RIP Gary, I can't believe you're gone."
Rhodes was known as an ambassador for British cuisine.
He received five Michelin stars during his career, appeared on the Great British Menu and took part in Strictly Come Dancing.
Rhodes most recently worked at the Grosvenor House Dubai Hotel and Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort And Spa.