Sadly chef Rose Gray passed away at the end of February after a long battle with cancer. With her partner Ruth Rogers, she opened the River Cafe in Hammersmith way back in 1987, when chef celebritydom was unheard of and Italian cooking was lasagne and spaghetti bolognese and a checked tablecloth highlighted by a candle in a wine bottle.
The Michelin-starred restaurant became the forerunner of seasonal, ingredient-led cooking which also turned our notion of Italian food on its head and gave Luigi's lasagne a good kick up the posterior as they closed the door behind it. Purists would argue their cooking was not strictly regional Italian, but more an ambience, evoked by their passionate pursuit of the best and the most authentic.
We've come a long way baby, as they say and now who doesn't know their Pecorino from their Parmeggiano; their San Daniele from their Parma ham, but it's a curiosity on the high street that – unlike many cuisines, including Chinese and Indian – truly authentic regional Italian restaurants are only just finding their feet. The success stories of Murano, Giorgio Locatelli, who at least differentiates between his regions, and Polpo, the first Venetian bacaro are tantalising hints that perhaps at long last we are getting a grip on the complex and diverse cuisine of an even more complex and diverse country.
Gastronomically we've had a long love affair with Italian food, stretching back to Elizabeth David and her taut and authoritative prose on regional diversities, but we've never really seemed to seek out its differences, explore what Matthew Fort insists can't be called 'Italian food' but the food of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Calabria and so on. Let's hope that Rose Gray's legacy is one of continued pioneering inquisitiveness into the country and ethos she championed.