Why We Will Miss Chef Legend Richard Shepherd

On Friday of last week the hospitality industry last week lost another of its chef legends: Richard Shepherd. What few obituaries there have been have focussed on Shepherd being one of the first British chefs to receive a Michelin Star while he was at the helm of The Capitol Hotel in the early 1979’s. However, great though that achievement was, we will remember him for a different reason and one that we included in our new book The Chefs’ Knowledge.

At Langan’s Brasserie which opened in 1977 and became one of the best-known celebrity restaurants in London Shepherd perfected a menu that broke all the rules and wrote some new ones.

With his unique experience of working in France, in Provence, Shepherd brought new ideas to Langan’s and fused them with the classic repertoire he learned at The Savoy Hotel. Soon, the menu at Langan’s was the envy of London and the wider world. It would be much copied. It still is.

The one sheet menu that also contained the wine list and was printed every day has still never been bettered and from that evolved a method of menu writing that is worth study.

Because Langan’s was so busy at peak periods Shepherd realised that customers read menus in a unique way. Language was important but so was where a dish was positioned on the menu. Chefs don’t pay much attention to this today but both things are very important.

At Langan’s if Shepherd wanted to sell a dish he put it at the bottom of the starters or at the top of the main courses. And, furthermore, if he got the language of a dish wrong it wouldn’t sell and this is where a sort of hybrid menu language evolved.

Once upon a time soupe de poisson would have been written on a classical menu. But that didn’t sell. Shepherd translated it and simply called it Provençale fish soup. It sold. But, the reverse was also true. Some translations didn’t work. Chilled leek soup, for example, never sold as well as Vichyssoise. Apple tart sold better as Tarte Tatin. On a typical Langan’s menu you might find Entrecôte béarnaise on the main courses next to cold ham and potato salad.

To Shepherd the menu was romantic and customers had understanding and were familiar with parts of the classical menu but not others. We will miss Richard Shepherd but always celebrate his unique vision and understanding of what made good food – and the way to sell it.