Michelin-Starred Chef Nico Ladenis Dead At 89

Nico Ladenis
Nico Ladenis - YouTube

Nico Ladenis, the Michelin-star-winning chef, cookbook author, and restauranteur, died Sunday, September 10, 2023, at the age of 89. Described by The Evening Standard as a "field marshal of classical cuisine," Ladenis earned several awards in British gastronomy, including a perfect score in the Good Food Guide. He also mentored some of Britain's greatest chefs, including André Garrett, and Marco Pierre White. 

After a brief apprenticeship in a Greek café owned by a family friend, Ladenis opened his first restaurant in 1973. Called simply Chez Nico, it was located in East Dulwich in South London. There, according to The Guardian, Ladenis banished salt and pepper from the dinner tables, refused to print menus, cooked steaks rare, and became highly regarded for his chicken with Vin Jaune du Jura with morel mushrooms. After a visit to the iconic Vergé in Provence, he returned to London with new enthusiasm, entirely transforming the menu there, and won two Michelin stars in 1981 and 1984, respectively.

Though his career was generally regarded as successful, Ladenis' romantic decision to open a restaurant in a former rectory in rural Shinfield (rather than London) proved foolhardy, as his style of cooking was not received with much enthusiasm by locals. But eager to make up the loss, he, with the help of a generous corporate backer, established a Chez Nico at 90 Park Lane in the early 90s, which would prove to be his crowning achievement.

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The Quest For Three Stars

Chef preparing steak dishes
Chef preparing steak dishes - Gins Wang/Getty Images

What most distinguished Ladenis from his peers in the U.K. was that he was completely self-taught. Born in Tanganyika (today Tanzania) in 1934, Ladenis' first life was in the oil and gas industry, and he didn't manage to open a restaurant until he was nearly 40, according to The Guardian. It was Ladenis' goal, from the very beginning, to win three Michelin stars, which he considered the pinnacle of classical French cooking. Despite winning two in the 1980s, he pushed himself desperately to win a third. With the opening of the 90 Park Lane location, a luxurious establishment of the Grosvenor House hotel in the heart of London, Ladenis achieved his goal, becoming, in 1995, the first self-taught chef to earn this coveted status in the U.K.

The flame of excitement was not to last, however. The pressure of maintaining the three-star status and an ongoing battle with prostate cancer made Ladenis return his three stars to Michelin in 1998, per Metro U.K. This act would be repeated by his pupil, Marco Pierre White, several years later. Though retired from the kitchen, Ladenis remained a legend amongst London chefs. He helped transform the city's food scene through his famous restaurants, personal derring-do, and hard work. He is survived by his wife, Dinah-Jane Zissu, and daughters, Natasha and Isabella.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.