Britain's top 50 foodies

The Michelin man from hell , a priest of yeast, the goddess in an apron, one naked chef and the top cocktail crusader ... these are a few of the culinary characters in our definitive - and unranked - list of Britain's Top 50 Foodies. All are gastronomic giants, fighting to improve the quality of your food; some are jet-set stars, other's unsung heroes. Enjoy

Sunday 13 June 2004 00:00 BST

Nigella Lawson for being a kitchen goddess

Nigella Lawson for being a kitchen goddess

While Delia (qv) has us all on our best behaviour, Nigella (she no longer needs that oh-so-connected surname to fly high in the recognition league) drags us kicking and screaming with delight into the kitchen for a full-on gastronomic tour of the senses that is almost literally, well, orgasmic. "Mmm," she drools, as chocolate sauce drips down her fingers. "Wow!" she exclaims at the colour of a saffron risotto. "Aah," she sighs in delight as her signature slow-roasted garlic and lemon chicken is whipped out from her unbelievably chic and clean oven. We can carp, of course - the girl was born with a silver mezzaluna in her mouth - but we love her still and we're soon rushing out to run up the "trifle than ends all trifles" because we know we simply cannot survive without Nigella in our lives.

Nigella, the cook, brand, woman, is often compared with Shirley Conran, but she's really a female Graham Kerr, a prophet of that two-headed god of food and sex. And while Kerr, with his winks and grins, was the master of seduction, Nigella assumes the seduction is done and we are ready for the main course. With Nigella you know you are in for fun.

Mourad Mazouz for pioneering innovative restaurants - at any cost

Algerian-born, Mazouz learnt his trade working illegally in Los Angeles' Ma Maison, before opening his first restaurant in Paris in 1988. His intention was to use the proceeds to travel, but it didn't work out like that. The restaurant was crowned Paris Bistro of the Year and led to Mazouz opening 404, his first North African restaurant.

In 1995, after falling for an English girl, he moved to London. Amazed to find a dearth of restaurants serving North African cuisine, he opened his own. Momo was an instant starry hit. In 2002, Mazouz caused an even greater tizz with Sketch in Mayfair. With starters running to £48 and a guest list that has boasted Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew and Helena Christensen on the same night, it gives new meaning to exclusivity. Mazouz still owns 404 in Paris, as well as a new bar in the city's Marais called Andy Wahloo. He recently started a record label.

Vineet Bhatia for taking the flock wallpaper out of Indian cooking

As a child in Bombay, Bhatia claims to have had two ambitions. Alas, he never made it as a pilot, deciding instead to concentrate on his other passion - cooking. Bhatia studied at catering college in Bombay, picking up an economics degree while he was about it, before being recruited by the Oberoi hotel group. He stayed with them for several years until moving to London as a fully trained chef in 1993.

Disappointed with the perception of Indian food in the UK, his was a more progressive approach. For the next seven years he worked in kitchens before teaming up with the restaurateur Claudio Pulze to opened Zaika, in Kensington, in 1999. His determination to elevate Indian cuisine from its vindaloo image was rewarded two years later, when Zaika became one of only two Indian restaurants ever to be awarded a Michelin star (the other is London's Tamarind, under head chef Atul Kochhar).

In June this year, Bhatia opened his first solo venture, Rasoi Vineet Bhatia in Chelsea. And while he might not have made it into the sky, his food has - his dishes are now served in BA first and business-class.

Renée Elliot for her really super market

It's not easy buying organic, which is why Elliott wants us to do it more often. The founder of Planet Organic - two huge organic supermarkets in west and central London - she has brought together virtually every organic product you can think of and put them under one roof. It's not cheap but it's convenient and there are few other organic outlets in the country where you can find everything from cookies to cosmetics with cleaning fluids in between.

Antonio Carluccio he's the pasta master

With bestselling cookbooks ( A Passion for Mushrooms; An Invitation to Italian Cooking), TV appearances and his popular Neal Street restaurant in London's Covent Garden, Carluccio's name has become synonymous with fine Italian food. Born in Piedmont, he began his career studying languages in Vienna, before making the eminently sensible decision to become a wine merchant. After working in Germany, he moved to London, where, in 1980, he and his wife Priscilla took over what had been Terence Conran's Neal Street restaurant.

His love of wild food has reportedly had him scouring building sites for unlikely delicacies, and his restaurant has developed a reputation among lovers of funghi in particular.In 1999, he was made Commendatore of the Italian Republic, one of Italy's highest honours.

Now with his hit chain of Carluccio's Caffés, a combination of traditional Italian caffés and delis, his culinary empire seems set to expand even further.

Alan Yau for making chopsticks trendy

While Yau has long since sold the Wagamama chain (which spearheaded the UK invasion of noodle bars) that he started in 1992, he's continued to lift British perceptions of Asian cuisine out of its stereotypical fried-rice rut. Next came Busaba Eathai, followed by Hakkasan, the UK's first Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant. This year, Yau launched another ambitious venture: Yauatcha, a tea and dim-sum house in Soho.

Wendy Fogarty our Slow Food champion

Farmers' markets, organic produce, tomatoes that actually taste of tomato: the British food world has come a long, long way. And Fogarty, founder of the UK's Slow Food movement, deserves much of the credit. She set up the British branch of what is now a worldwide movement in 1996, and continues to tirelessly travel the country organising tasting sessions and rooting out fine local produce.

Jamie Oliver for being everywhere

Oliver started cooking at his parents' restaurant when he was eight, and not very many years later was "discovered" at the River Cafe (see "Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray"). Sometimes derided as an irritating cockney, he's nevertheless helped make cookery fashionable for a new generation with his television work and recipe books. In 2002, he opened Fifteen, a not-for-profit restaurant training unemployed youngsters.

Randolph Hodgson a big cheese

Since 1979, cheese lovers have been following their noses to Neal's Yard, Covent Garden, where Hodgson based his first and now legendary cheese shop. He sells only British and Irish cheeses, and while his longer maturation approach shocked some traditionalists at first, he's now credited with resurrecting British artisan and farmhouse cheeses. Hodgson also helped form the Specialist Cheesemakers Association.

Eric Treuille and Rosie Kindersley for cooking the books - in a good way

Books for Cooks has to be the best smelling bookshop. In almost absurdly tiny premises in Notting Hill, London, Treuille and Kindersley have packed in shelves of cookbooks, a test kitchen, café and, upstairs, a demonstration room for ladies who like to learn before they lunch. This is a golden resource for anyone who likes to eat, cook, read or any combination of the three.

Monika Linton the UK's champion of Spanish food

Having lived in Spain, Linton returned to the UK in the 1980s to find a country where Spanish food meant little more than deep-fried squid. In response, she set up Brindisa to import the best of Spanish produce. Her stall at foodie Borough Market in London serves a great chorizo bap on Fridays and Saturdays. She also has a store next to Moro (see, "Sam Clark and Sam Clark")in London's Exmouth Market .

Sue Lawrence for showing Sassenachs there's more to Scotland than haggis

Neeps and tatties; clootie dumplings, Cullen skink... Author Sue Lawrence has done more than any other person to promote Scottish food. As well as celebrating traditional dishes, she pulls some surprises out of the hat: lentil and garlic soup sounds pure Mediterranean until you combine it with roast haunch of venison. Just no jokes about deep-fried Mars bars, please.

Guy Smith the farmers' outspoken friend

Not the sort of person you want to lock horns with if you are not entirely sure of your facts, Smith is the awesomely sharp advocate of farmers' rights and current National Farmers' Union "Farming Ambassador of the Year". In a debate in which arguments are usually crude, and facts short on the ground, this GM-supporting Essex grower provides a welcome (if sometimes uncomfortable) injection of reason.

Marguerite Patten for being the mother of all cooks

The next time you see a dish described as "like gran used to make", take a moment to think how gran learnt to cook and thank Marguerite Patten - 88 years old, 165 books under her belt and the woman who helped a benighted generation put healthy and appetising food on the family table. Patten is the toast of almost every food writer this side of the Atlantic and she should be yours too.

Lizzie Vann for baby talk

In 1992, Vann had a simple idea: let's stop feeding babies processed foods, stuffed with additives, and give them organic ingredients, cooked as you would at home, and free from colourings, flavourings and extra sugar. Since then, her company, Baby Organix, has branched out into cereal bars and snacks, and now almost one in two UK children are eating organic foods in the first year of their life.

Peter Gott for making boar no bore

Visit the farmers' market in London's Borough and you can't miss him: bowler hat, red handkerchief round his neck, braces and a girth that will brook no arguments. Gott of Sillfield Farm in Cumbria, is the man who makes you proud of British meat. His sausages will satisfy any grown-up Billy Bunter, but his speciality is wild boar and for that you really should go nowhere else. Who knew there was boar in them there Cumbrian hills?

Sam Clark and Sam Clark the duo who started the Exmouth Market revolution

In the days when Clerkenwell was just another rundown London backwater, Sam and Sam Clark, a husband-and-wife team who spent their honeymoon digging out fantastic new recipes in Spain and Morocco, opened Moro - simply one of the finest Mediterranean restaurants in Britain. From the stunning sopa de ajo, through their classic slow-roast lamb to the heavenly Malaga raisin ice-cream (all expounded in a bestselling book), the Clarks blazed a trail for southern Spanish/north African cooking. Sales of wood-smoked paprika have never looked back.

Dan Lepard for being the rising star of bread

Fay Maschler, the London Evening Standard's famously fierce restaurant critic, describes Lepard as "the bread supremo". From establishing the in-house bakery at Conran's Mezzo, to honing the perfect bubbly focaccia for Locanda Locatelli, Lepard has worked tirelessly to bring fine, world-influenced breads to top tables. And he's not just a restaurant consultant, you'll find his influence on supermarket shelves too - though he refuses to pinpoint the loaves he helped produce. His website (, meanwhile, is a vital resource for those in search of artisanal millers or bakeries.

Delia Smith the public's favourite eggspert

She took a lot of stick for her recipe for how to boil an egg, but Smith's simple, direct and schoolmarm-ish approach to cooking has converted many a food-phobic into a deft hand in the kitchen. Her TV series showed there was more to the kitchen than the fridge and the microwave, and she persuaded the supermarkets to catch on too. Her recipes may seem simple and patronising ("put the kettle on to boil some water for the pasta...") but underneath the airiness there is a master mind at work.

Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray for making us all want a little extra-virgin in our lives

American-born Rogers (wife of architect Lord Rogers) and Gray, who used to run the kitchen in New York's Nell's Club, had both lived in Tuscany before opening their Thames Wharf restaurant in 1987. With its emphasis on high-quality ingredients and seasonal produce, the River Cafe's re-interpretation of rustic Italian cooking (and the off-shoot cookbooks) has proved both popular and influential, although arguably the highest-profile emergence from their kitchen was Jamie Oliver, discovered there during the filming of a television documentary.

Colin Spencer foodie renaissance man

Playwright, novelist, columnist, recipe writer and historian who happily wears his dilettantism on his sleeve. Probably the only man who can make a vegetarian diet sound as appealing as a bacon butty, he is never short of a wry observation when it comes to the stuff we eat. His food books are riveting reads.

Simon Woodroffe for setting us on a sushi roll

In 1997, when the first Yo! Sushi opened, taking raw fish from a conveyor belt seemed an odd way to dine. But the buzz created by founder Woodroffe was infectious. An entrepreneur first and foremost, he puts much of the success down to the rhyming potential of "yo" (his bar is Yo! Below, the delivery service is Yo! To Go). M&S, Tesco, et al, all now ride the sushi wave. *

Dr Joan Morgan the apple of our eye

A prime mover behind the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale, Kent, Morgan is the person you want if you need a rare apple or pear identifying. The collection houses almost 3,000 varieties of apple and pear, plus plums, cherries, berries, nuts and vines. What's more, the NFC will propagate almost any of them for your garden.

Oliver Peyton he's the coolest restaurateur

A former textile-student, Irish-born Peyton found opening nightclubs to be more interesting than poring over fabric weave. He helped change the UK's drinking habits by importing Absolut vodka into the UK in the 1980s, and in 1994 gave A-list celebrities a home from home when he launched the Atlantic Bar & Grill in Soho. Other successful restaurants - Mash, Coast and Isola - followed. His latest venture is Inn the Park in St James's Park, which offers great British fare to tourists and local workers.

Prue Leith queen of the roulade

Novelist, speaker and founder of Leith's School of Food and Wine in London, Leith has done more than anyone else to improve the cooking (and manners) of chalet cooks and corporate caterers around the world,while arming legions of eligible young women with the culinary skills.

Craig Sams and Josephine Fairley for those indulgent organic treats

There was a time when eating organic meant palate-defying lentils, jaw-breaking breads and sugar-free tofu shakes. Then came Sams (pictured) and Fairley and their company Green & Black's, which produces some of the finest chocolate imaginable. The cocoa content is 70 per cent and the growers get a decent price.

Sir Terence Conran for providing the food and the dining-room furniture

Amazingly, there was a time when the phrase "Conran restaurant" just didn't exist. Not content with revolutionising British design tastes in the 1970s, in the 1990s the founder of Habitat went on to cater for epicurean ones by launching his chain of restaurants. After transforming the London gastronomic scene with the likes of Quaglino's, Mezzo, Almeida, Bibendum and Coq d'Argent, Conran restaurants have now opened in Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow. He also has outposts in foodie capitals Paris and New York.

Jancis Robinson for her no-nonsense love of wine

For more than 25 years, Robinson has been helping us sort our Bordeaux from our burgundy with plain English explanations. If you know about wine, she is the perfect companion on a shopping trip. If you don't, read one of her books and you'll soon will.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for teaching us where food really comes from

HF-W has made it his goal to remind us that tuna steak once swam the oceans and crown of lamb used to frolic around a field. Best of all, he ,does the slaughtering for us. And if we ever decide to chuck it all in for a life of rural self-sufficiency, Hugh's TV cottage adventures will persuade us to hold out in the city just that little bit longer

The Roux brothers the godfathers of immaculate cooking

Simply two of the finest chefs in the world. Not only did Albert and Michel Roux give us Le Gavroche - the first restaurant in Britain to be awarded three Michelin stars (it now has two) - but they followed it up with the Waterside Inn in Bray. Almost any British chef of note has worked or trained with the Roux brothers and they influence every aspect of restaurant life.

Anita Le Roy she knows her - coffee - beans

Not only the saviour of coffee lovers, Le Roy, founder of Monmouth Coffee Company, is also one of the saviours of Covent Garden, which, when she set up shop back in the 1970s was heading for oblivion. Monmouth is home to the best cappuccino, thanks in equal quantities to Le Roy's inspiration, skilled roasting (done on the premises), superb ingredients and great staff.

Tim Lang the food consumers' champion

Professor of Food Policy at City University, London, this is the man who blew the lid on BSE and who is now telling anyone who listens that we are eating ourselves into an early grave. A former sheep farmer, Lang advises the government and the World Health Organisation on food issues and has written extensively on food politics. He is "unconvinced" about GM foods but more concerned about the impact of big business on the world's food supply.

Paul Heathcote the man behind the great north-west revival

Having trained at the Quat' Saisons and under Michel Bourdin at the Connaught, Heathcote could have had his pick of London restaurants, but instead, at 29, he headed home to the north-west and opened Heathcote's, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Longridge, near Preston. Since then, the Heathcote empire has brought top-flight cooking to Preston itself and to Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Wigan.

Henrietta Green for making us amorous about real food

Green's Damascene moment came on a visit to a food market in New York City in the 1980s. Determined that regional produce should also be sold over here, she tracked down every speciality food producer in the UK to include in her Food Lover's Guide in 1993. She now organises Food Lover's Fairs and, in 2000, received the Campaigner of the Year award from BBC Radio 4's Food Programme.

Sir Stuart Hampson for showing that supermarkets can care

As chairman of the John Lewis/Waitrose group, Hampson has provided an example to other chains by having Waitrose stock quality and often local produce instead of factory-farmed rubbish. A former civil servant and private secretary to Roy Hattersley, he gave up his Whitehall career to work at John Lewis.

Joanna Blythman for her non-modified opinions

Three times winner of Glenfiddich Awards for her food writing, print, TV and radio journalism, Blythman is also the author of books such as How to Avoid GM Food and The Food Our Children Eat. She started out selling speciality foods in her own shop, which proved a financial disaster but useful training.

Madhur Jaffrey for showing us there's a lot more to Indian food than curry

There's something a little passé about Indian cooking today - we're now into Thai and Vietnamese. But Jaffrey, who showed an astonished British public in the 1970s and 1980s that you could make tandoori chicken at home, brought about a revolution in cooking that still resonates today. With her fool-proof recipes, Jaffrey had a generation of home cooks swapping hints on garam masala. Her imparted knowledge has also made us a lot more savvy when ordering in an Indian restaurant.

David Lidgate the butcher who's a cut above the rest

When he was only 19 years old, Lidgate's father died and the family butchers in Holland Park, London, passed on to its fourth generation. That was during the Second World War, and thanks to David, the 140-year-old meat business continues to maintain its old-world approach (now with other-worldly prices). Rare breeds, organic farming, welfare and proper hanging times have kept it consistently ahead of the herd.

Rick Stein for... well, fish

When his quayside nightclub was closed down by police due to brawling fishermen, Stein turned to his childhood passion for seafood and opened a restaurant instead. Three decades on, Rick's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow has become one of the best known restaurants in the UK, and Stein is recognised as one of the country's foremost seafood experts - as his many books and TV programmes prove.

Prince Charles he takes care of vegetables as well as talking to them

Still waiting to take over the family firm, the Prince of Wales has long championed organic farming and been an outspoken critic of all things GM. Having dismissed the claim that GM would feed the world as "suspiciously like emotional blackmail", he's staked firm claim to the moral high ground by having his organic food and drinks range, Duchy Originals, not only promote natural farming but donates all its profits to charity.

Nigel Slater the toast man

Slater's books have helped foster a more relaxed attitude towards both cooking and food in general. The Wolverhampton-born writer began cooking at an early age, and worked in kitchens across the UK before moving to London to become a recipe taster. He won the 2004 Glenfiddich Food Book award for his autobiography Toast.

Pat Llewellyn for creating celebrity chefs

Remember the posh voice that quizzed Jamie Oliver from behind the camera in The Naked Chef? That was Llewellyn. In 1996, she saw him in a documentary, Christmas at the River Cafe, and the rest is hithtory. Head of features at production company Optomen, other successes include Two Fat Ladies, John Burton Race's French Leave and Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.

Heston Blumenthal appliance of science

It has been another good year for the chef whose Berkshire restaurant, the Fat Duck, has made molecular gastronomy a buzzword. Awards heaped on the man responsible for bacon and egg ice-cream have included the Gourmand World Cookbook award, second place in the World's 50 Best Restaurants, Glenfiddich Personality of the Year and a third Michelin star.

David Eyre the man who invented the gastropub

Britain's biggest food revolution for decades began in 1991, on Farringdon Road in London's Clerkenwell, when Eyre took to the kitchens of the Eagle pub. There would be no table cloths, no menus and no pretension. Instead, there was a blackboard, olive oil in bowls on the tables for the great bread, and hearty, well-priced food. The gastropub was born. (Credit is also due to Michael Belben who ran front of house with such great panache). Now, at Eyre Brothers, a rather smarter restaurant in Hoxton, Eyre offers great southern European-influenced food to a slightly grander crowd.

Gordon Ramsay the Michelin man who became our greatest chef - and showman

He may have been spending more time in front of the television cameras than in his restaurants recently, but Ramsay is still the country's most acclaimed chef. So ignore the celebrity antics and let the Michelin stars tell the story. Currently he holds four - three at his eponymous restaurant in Chelsea, one for Gordon Ramsay at Claridges. And don't forget the highly talented protégées in his empire: Marcus Wareing has one star at Pétrus and one at the Savoy Grill, while Angela Hartnett has landed her first at the Connaught. Oh, but then you would have seen them in Hell's Kitchen too.

Dick Bradsell a mover and cocktail shaker

In the 1980s, cocktails were little more than an umbrella-adorned joke. Now the lethal elegance of the Dry Martini is back, thanks to Bradsell. A roaming consultant, he has helped endless London bars (the Player, 6 Degrees, Match). One of the finest, Dick's Bar at the Atlantic (see, "Oliver Peyton"), is named after him.

Mitchell Tonks 21st-century fishmonger

In 1995, Tonks opened fishmongers Fishworks in Bath, "because I couldn't find a good one near me". Later, he added a restaurant upstairs. Now there are three more (Bristol, Christchurch, Chiswick), each selling fresh fish and offering a simple, affordable menu. Tonks has written cookbooks, made his own TV series and picked up awards both as the country's best fishmonger and its best seafood restaurateur.

Fergus Henderson he cooks from the heart

In 1994, chef Henderson opened St John, an offal restaurant next to London's Smithfield meat market. In the middle of the BSE crisis, he launched a restaurant cooking dishes such as chitterlings with radishes, presenting diners with bones from which to suck the marrow. And they loved it. A year ago, he followed up with St John Bread & Wine in nearby Spitalfields.

Peter Kindersley for farming by the book

On 2,000 acres of the Berkshire downs, Sheepdrove Farm has won a clutch of awards for its organic, free-range chickens, beef, lamb and pork. In 1998, Kindersley, who co-founded publishers Dorling Kindersley, printed 13 million copies of a Star Wars book. Just 3 million sold, so he sold up, left publishing and started Sheepdrove. His entrepreneurial spirit is leading the field this time around.

Julian Metcalfe for his let's do lunch attitude

Pret A Manger co-founder Julian Metcalfe changed our lunchtimes diet in 1986 by offering sandwiches made fresh on-site each day. Since then Pret has ensured that crayfish, rocket, vegetable crisps and carrot cake are in our culinary vocabulary for good.

Britain's Top 50 Foodies was written by Christian Broughton, David Baker and Simon Beckett, with additional recommendations from Terry Durack, Sybil Kapoor, Richard Ehrlich, Dominic Prince, Caroline Stacey and Hester Lacey

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