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The Carved Angel Cookery Book

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Food writer and broadcaster Simon Hopkinson describes Molyneux as having "a very, very special approach to cookery, which is one of exceptional good taste, a natural understanding of ingredients and how they are best prepared, cooked, consumed and enjoyed". I loved her cooking, lots of kidneys, oxtail, brain fritters, rabbit, saddles of hare as well as great scallop dishes and wild salmon, in short a real understanding of good English cooking, for which she was awarded a Michelin star. She was great British cook. After she sold the Carved Angel, she used to come to the Seafood quite often and we would sit and chat about local suppliers more than anything else."

In the 1980s The Carved Angel Cookery Book by Joyce Molyneux was published, becoming an instant classic. Most of the staff were young, middle-class women, who looked on it as a finishing school. But they always worked flat-out, and there was tremendous team spirit. Joyce survived her time waiting at table and concentrated on the kitchen. Here she was soon often in charge. As the years rolled by, and Perry-Smith took a more executive role, she was eventually offered a junior partnership, together with Heather Crosbie (later George’s fourth wife). When the restaurant was sold in 1972, it was expected that she would join her two partners in a new venture. Leaving college (where she had to resit her cookery exam), she was found a job by her father in a canteen at W Canning & Co, manufacturers of electroplating equipment. A fellow student alerted her to the chance of a job at the Mulberry Tree in Stratford, where she was taken on in 1951 as general assistant by the chef, who worked alone. Douglas Sutherland was classically trained, very well regarded, and gave Joyce a thorough grounding in professional cooking over the next eight years. It was good enough for her to be able to teach Perry-Smith (an amateur) a thing or two when she joined him at the Hole in the Wall. Photograph: CollinsHer contribution to Britain's WWII food culture really can't be overstated," said Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner. Molyneux was banging the drum for cooking with fresh, seasonal produce way before the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls and Jamie Olivers of this world were even born, though to judge from the press they get you would be forgiven for thinking this was a thoroughly modern mindset. TV chef James Martin described her as "a pioneer of the UK food scene" while HOSPA president Harry Murray said she was "a true legend of the culinary arts". She was one of the first female chefs to be awarded a Michelin star, in 1978. Her kitchens were open to view from all parts of the restaurant, and were never sullied by the bouts of bad behaviour that were almost expected in the rumbustious 80s. She made an early stand in favour of creative local sourcing of ingredients: a photograph from 1984 portrays Joyce and her small staff in front of three dozen purveyors, all drawn from a five-mile radius.

Joyce was born in Handsworth, a suburb of Birmingham, the middle child of Irene Mary (nee Wolfenden) and Maurice William Molyneux, assistant chief chemist to the firm of W&T Avery, scale makers. In 1939, as war threatened, the three children were evacuated to Worcestershire, where Joyce was billetted with a family of three girls and attended the local Ombersley primary school and, when she was 11, the Birmingham King Edward VI grammar school for girls, which had been evacuated to Worcester at the same time. She returned to Birmingham in 1943.

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During a period when the Roux brothers, Pierre Koffmann, Nico Ladenis and Raymond Blanc were transforming the culinary landscape of Britain, Molyneux was a lone female figure at the forefront of the revolution. She was a homegrown talent, without classical French training, but in possession of an instinctive understanding of ingredients and what worked.

Bath-based baker Richard Bertinet, said: "Sad to hear that the legend and our neighbour in Bath has passed away, I'll miss her stories and smile." Bryan Webb, chef-patron at Tyddyn Llan in Llandrillo, Denbighshire, described her as "a fantastic cook" and "a great inspiration to all of my generation". It was a great combination, but more than that Joyce was a valuable source of advice, understated, as was everything about her but always wise. It was also the first restaurant I had been to where the kitchen was open to the diners, very trendy in those days. She went on to make the Carved Angel – now the Angel – her own until her retirement in 1999, and famously became one of the first British female chefs to earn a Michelin star while there. In doing so she put the restaurant, and herself, at the forefront of the growth of modern British cookery in the 1970s and 1980s.

Jaine once said: "If you cook beyond 40, there must be something wrong with you. It's so punishing." Yet Molyneux didn't hang up her apron until she was 68. "I just loved cooking," she says. "So many talented people passed through our kitchen. Seeing them all go off and set up on their own, as chefs, producers or whatever, was wonderful. It made it all worthwhile." It is small wonder that Molyneux's peers hold her in such high esteem. Angela Hartnett – one of the few women to have followed in Molyneux's Michelin-starred footsteps – says: "Hers was the first 'proper posh' restaurant I ever went to in this country – and the first place I had basil ice-cream, long before today's big boys discovered the Pacojet." That's as may be, but in 1978 this "simple" approach saw Molyneux become one of the first women anywhere to be awarded a Michelin star – even today, you can count on two hands the number of similarly garlanded female chefs working in the UK, and one of those is French.

So how did this middle-class woman from Birmingham become such a pioneer? "It's funny," Molyneux says, "but after leaving school I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do. I'd enjoyed cooking as a child, so decided to try my hand at the local domestic science college. After that, I was at a loose end – this was prewar, a time when one's parents had more influence over the choices you made – and my father, who was a chemist, got me a job in the works canteen of a local industrial plating firm." Molyneux with, from left, Angela Hartnett, Nigella Lawson and Jay Rayner, 2017. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian In the event, this proved to be two new ventures: a restaurant-with-rooms in Helford, Cornwall, looked after by George and Heather, and a place with sensational views of the mouth of the river at Dartmouth in Devon, soon to be christened the Carved Angel. This was run by Joyce in the kitchen and myself (Perry-Smith’s stepson) front of house. I stayed in the post until 1984 and, after a year or two’s interregnum, Joyce was joined by Meriel Matthews (George’s niece), with whom she had a most warm, profitable and satisfactory business partnership until her retirement. In Dartmouth, a small town, her work was no longer viewed with suspicion (‘Such prices!’) but as a matter of pride When there was a change of regime in Stratford in 1959, she saw an advertisement for staff at this restaurant in Bath in the Lady magazine. Her application was successful and she soon realised it was no ordinary business. Perry-Smith dressed like a bohemian, had a commanding presence, insisted that his staff work both in the kitchen and front of house (purgatory for Joyce, who was quite shy), and cooked food of generosity and spirit that did not abide by the rules of classical cuisine. Before securing her place in British culinary history at the Carved Angel, Molyneux had worked at the Mulberry Tree in Stratford-upon-Avon and the groundbreaking Hole in the Wall in Bath, which had also been owned by Perry-Smith.

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But what joined these three women at the hip was more than recipes, it was a style of refined and observant cookery that respected the locale while never giving up on adventure or, most important of all, the taste of things. This is what made Joyce such a favourite with home cooks – and the many thousands who dined at her tables. Her Carved Angel Cookery Book, written in 1990 with Grigson’s daughter Sophie, sold well given that Joyce’s exposure to media attention was so slight. Restaurant history is not invariably marked by seismic shifts in culinary fashion. Some reputations are honed by quiet persistence in that most elusive field of all – providing a broad constituency of diners with food that is readily comprehensible, but every bit the treat that we hope to find in eating out. The long career of Joyce Molyneux, who has died aged 91, was testament to just that culinary virtue. Joyce Molyneux, one of the first British female chefs to earn a Michelin star, has died at the age of 91. In her years at the Hole in the Wall, where she was employed from 1959 to 1972 by George Perry-Smith, the founder of the restaurant, her (and his) cooking was associated particularly with the books issued from 1951 by Elizabeth David. Neither would deny David’s influence, but in truth their sources were far more eclectic than a single writer. This association continued to be mentioned when Joyce moved to the Carved Angel in 1974, where another intelligent writer, Jane Grigson, was included as a mentor. Again, Joyce would not have disclaimed her admiration for Grigson.

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