Richard Shepherd obituary: Langan’s Brasserie legend and chef to the stars
Published 05 December 2022

Richard Shepherd C.B.E. 1945 - 2022 (Credit: Wikipedia)

The great chef Richard Shepherd died on 23 November 2022, aged 77. Here, hospitality veteran Brian Clivaz remembers a restaurant giant, and an icon of cooking in Britain.

Richard Shepherd was born in 1945 in Weston-super-Mare, a place he was always very keen to promote. He started his career in the kitchens at the Mount Pleasant Hotel in Great Malvern. After three years, he moved to London, and joined The Savoy Group, working in the kitchens at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand under the renowned master cook Joe Curly. It was here he met his lifelong friend and fellow star chef Brian Turner.

Shepherd’s early talent was spotted at the Savoy Group, and he was promoted to work as chef de partie at The Savoy Grill under the tutelage of the great chef Louis Virot and then maitre chef Silvano Trompetto.

In the mid-1960s, Shepherd then travelled to France to work at the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, and after at La Reserve de Beaulieu, where he became their first English chef-de-partie. He returned to London as sous chef at The Dorchester under Eugene Kauffler.

By 1971 Shepherd had been head-hunted by David Levin to become chef de cuisine at the new Capital Hotel, where he made an immediate impression. It was here he began winning accolades, and he soon became the first Englishman in London to be awarded a star. In the 1972 Guide, Shepherd’s French – or more strictly speaking, Provençal – cooking was lauded as ‘serious’, with ‘outstanding merits’.

‘The a la carte menu is short and serious – an invitation to the kind of consistency that this chef regards as the sine qua non of his trade’, our 1972 entry said. ‘Several discerning critics praised it during 1971 and in November a Guide party descended in force for a test meal’.

Peter Langan opened his eponymous Brasserie in 1976 on the site of the Coq D’Or restaurant, but soon realised he needed help as he was making huge losses. Michael Caine agreed to invest and suggested Langan recruit Richard Shepherd, as the actor had enjoyed his food at The Capital. And so began the beginning of a magical partnership. The triumvirate went on to create, arguably, the most fashionable restaurant in the world.

By 1983, Langan’s Brasserie was voted ‘Brasserie of the Year’ by The Good Food Guide, and in the citation, editors wrote: ‘This is a copiously stylish place run with train time-table precision, noisily ebullient, and with food which can, on occasion rival that of anywhere in London.’

The hand-written menu at Langan’s, which changed daily, was huge, with 26 starters, as many main courses, and up to 20 desserts. Notable dishes included the soufflé aux epinards, sauce anchois (which is still on the menu today), and the croustade d’oeufs de caille, which the Guide noted was better than the same dish at The Connaught. The brasserie served up to 1,000 customers a day, and Shepherd proved to be as excellent a businessman as he was a chef – although prices were low, he maintained a hawk-like control of costs and the restaurant became hugely profitable.

Back then, Langan’s had no dress code, which was highly unusual at that time, and its relaxed, electric atmosphere attracted celebrities from around the world. HRH Princess Margaret, HSH Princess Grace of Monaco, David Hockney (who drew the masthead for the menu), Muhammad Ali, George Best, Bobby Moore, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Spike Milligan, Dudley Moore, Liza Minelli, Kate Moss, and Naomi Campbell all visited, often more than once. After Langan died in 1988, Shepherd continued to run the brasserie successfully for another 30 years.

Shepherd did a tremendous amount for charity and had a passion for inspiring and educating the young; he loved the hospitality profession and was a great believer in apprenticeships and vocational qualifications. The chef also helped develop the national NVQ standards and was a long-term supporter of The City and Guilds. He was an Hon. Professor at Thames Valley University, and was a founder, and for many years, president of The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts. Shepherd was appointed a CBE by HM The Queen in 2000. He was a Fellow of The Institute of Hospitality, a Chevalier de Tastevin, a Commander of the Coteaux de Champagne, and a Freeman of the City of London. In 2007 he received The Caterer Catey Lifetime Achievement Award. He even appeared on the very first episode of MasterChef – as a guest judge alongside Caine in 1990.

Perhaps best of all, Shepherd had a mischievous sense of humour; he was a great raconteur and owned an infectious smile. He brought joy with him wherever he went, and he will be much missed by us all. RIP, Chef.