Late Chef Gary Lane
Late Chef Gary Lane

His food was a love affair

I am in awe of great cooks.

Those who turn into masterpieces of exquisite taste, every time they are done in the kitchen with the same ingredients that we all have. 

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I can cook alright, but then you don’t have a choice but to know how to cook if you are Mrs Ohene’s daughter; and my son recommends his mother’s jollof to his friends and tells me my corned beef stew is worth coming home to.

But that really is as far as it goes, when it comes to my cooking.

Plus, there is a difference between those who love to cook and are imaginative and every meal they prepare is a love affair and those who are simply efficient in the kitchen and see cooking as the job that it is.

I am waxing lyrical about food today because I want to celebrate the late Chef Gary of Labadi Beach Hotel who passed on in South Africa last month.

On Sunday, I attended a memorial celebration of his life at the hotel and this larger-than-life man was brought to life in the Omanye Hall of the hotel before an audience of friends, colleagues and officials.

Chef Gary had become an institution in his own right in the past seventeen years that he had been at the hotel.

If you entered a room or gathering and Gary Howard Lane was in there, you couldn’t miss him; he was an outsize man, with a personality to match his size.

He was a chef who wanted you to know he was a chef and proud to be a chef.

At the memorial service, I discovered that he came from a long line of chefs; his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been chefs.

And that surely explained how easily the role seemed to come to him and the passion he displayed for his profession.

Chef Gary at work in his kitchen was truly a sight to behold.

He filled the place with his size, with his temperament and with his voice.

He spoke, no, he shouted, on top of his voice non-stop and the air was usually filled with his swear words and colourful language.

I saw him twice in the kitchen and wondered how the staff could survive such high-tension atmosphere until I realised that if you looked at his face while he was in full flow, there was always a smile in the midst of all the shouting and swearing.

It was a performance and every meal he produced was a love affair.

He loved to cook and tried to transmit his passion for cooking and for food to those who ate his food.

It did not take long after Chef Gary arrived at Labadi Beach Hotel for his presence to be felt.

Food was not something that you just ate to fill your stomach.

Presentation was important for him and he went to great lengths for the foods in the dining areas to be laid out in the most attractive and interesting manner.

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Each meal was an event, each item on the menu had to be dramatic.

The hotel soon got a reputation for serving tasty food and their dining rooms were always filled.

Beyond what they served in the hotel, they soon became the caterers of choice at all high-end parties in town.

It helped that it was known that no order was too small to escape the attention of Chef Gary himself.

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But it was interesting to find that he himself was insistent on propagating the idea that he worked with a team, even though he was such a dominant figure.

Indeed, for all his flamboyance and distinctive style, he appeared to perform best in a group rather than by himself.

Cooking was fun, he said, if you had other equally interested people with you in the kitchen.

A hard and demanding taskmaster he was, but he soon got a reputation for being a generous teacher and an excellent communicator.

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He therefore attracted a lot of young people who wanted to fine-tune their cooking skills under the tutelage of Chef Gary.

He was reported to be quite a favourite with food suppliers for the hotel.

“Once they recognised and accepted that I must have the topmost ingredients and there would be no compromise on freshness and quality, the vegetable and fruit suppliers become my best friends”, Chef Gary said famously.

He is reported to have helped many food suppliers improve upon and sharpen their business practices and made friends out of many of them.

And he made lots of friends in Ghana in the 17 years he lived in this country. He claimed he got his satisfaction from watching people enjoy his food and eating with the same gusto and happiness that he got in cooking the meals.

I certainly shall be missing this big man, with the big appetite who managed to produce such delicate tastes in his foods and brought something new and different everyday out of the same ordinary, everyday ingredients.

Chef Gary always boasted loudly about his team and how the foods he served were products of the team effort and not his individual brilliance.

I must say that his team did him proud with the reception that was laid on after the memorial event on Sunday.

It was exquisite fare, it was beautifully set out and, not to put too fine a point on it, the food was glorious.

It was food Chef Gary would have been happy to serve and provided proof he has left a lasting mark on the culinary landscape in Ghana.

Not quite goodbye yet

There was another death in South Africa over the weekend that I must write about.

But I really must take a deep breath before I am able to write about one of my old sparring partners, Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, unchallenged leader of Kwazulu, bitter foe of the ANC, Home Affairs Minister under Nelson

Mandela and the first term of Thabo Mbeki and a Member of Parliament until he died over the weekend at age 95.

I do recall the first time I summoned courage and approached him to ask for an interview about a statement that had been put out by the IFP.

Why did I want an interview when I have the statement, he asked.

Because, I wanted to hear it from the horse’s own mouth, I ventured.

“Oh, do I look like a horse to you”, he said, and as I couldn’t immediately see any smile on his face, you would understand that some 30 years later, I still have to take a deep breath before I get onto the subject of Chief Buthelezi.

But I will.

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