Chef championed fresh ingredients and inspired a new wave of culinary stars

Rose Gray, one of Britain's most influential chefs and the co-founder of the River Café, died yesterday. Tributes paid last night described her as a pioneering chef who helped revolutionise cooking in Britain.

Gray established the River Café in Hammersmith in 1987 with Ruth Rogers, wife of the architect Richard Rogers, and for the last 12 years it has held a Michelin star.

Many of the country's top chefs, including Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, worked there before going on to open their own restaurants.

Both Gray and Lady Rogers were appointed MBEs in the most recent New Year Honours for services to the hospitality industry.

Oliver said: "Without question the world has lost one of the most important chefs of our times, she will be sorely missed." He added: "I'm so saddened by the death of Rose. She really was one of life's very' very special, natural, genius chefs; a true pioneer of delicious simple cooking.

"It was my honour to have worked with her – a really great boss, a wonderful person who gave me some of my fondest cooking memories and great funny times.

"The quality of food and chefs that have left the River Café over the last 20 years speaks for itself and is all credit to the partnership, love and values of Rose Gray and Ruthie Rogers."

Fearnley-Whittingstall said last night he was both proud and "ridiculously lucky" to have "shared a stove" with her.

He said: "I learned more from Rose than from anyone I have ever cooked with. And I suspect most chefs who've done a stint at the River Café would say that."

When it opened the River Café was staffed just by the founders, a single waiter and one dishwasher, and planning restrictions meant it could only offer lunch but it quickly built up a reputation for culinary excellence and was able to expand.

She and Lady Rogers were strong advocates of freshness and seasonal ingredients and their approach has influenced many of today's top chefs. A series of River Café cookery books that sold millions helped to seal an international reputation.

Gray was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 but, after battling back to health, doctors discovered brain tumours last year. "She died at home surrounded by her family in Marylebone," her friend and business partner of 23 years, Lady Rogers, said.

She is survived by her husband David MacIlwaine, the scupltor, with whom she had a son. She had three other children from a previous marriage to David Gray.