If someone needed help, English-born chef Jeremy Strode was always one of the first to put his hand up. As well as running Sydney's critically acclaimed Bistrode CBD restaurant for the Merivale Group, Strode gave of himself tirelessly for charity, cooking at a range of events to aid others.
In 2015, four years of planning by Strode resulted in a star-studded dinner cooked by some of Australia's best chefs for suicide prevention organisation RUOK.
Jeremy Strode died in Sydney today. He was about to turn 54.
Merivale CEO Justin Hemmes said he was heartbroken at the news.
“Jeremy was such a kind and quietly thoughtful man. He was a friend and mentor to many at Merivale, always so generous in sharing his exceptional talent. We are very lucky to have been part of Jeremy’s life for many years and we are all going to feel his loss enormously," he said.
"Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are of course with Jane, his wife and partner, and their boys."
"Jeremy was my friend. I wish I had the words to express the loss."
Strode was in the middle of planning the next RUOK dinner in September this year. Explaining his motivation for the event two years ago, he said the hospitality industry was becoming much more aware of the need to look after one another.
“Having the foresight and taking the time to have a conversation with someone you may or may not know and asking if they’re ok, is a wonderful thing,” he said.
Liquid Ideas founder Stu Gregor, who worked with Strode on the RUOK dinner, said his passing was a "massive loss".
"Jeremy was so aware of the dangers of mental health and depression from his own experience and he was so committed to helping the industry," Gregor said.
"He was such a phenomenal supporter of RUOK. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause and was busy planning the next dinner."
"The news is so very, very sad."
Strode's career began in rural England in his teens, surviving a punishing industry for nearly 40 years.
After learning his trade in London's Hyatt Carlton Towers under the chef who also trained Marco Pierre White, Strode was working for the best in the business, including three Michelin star restaurants such as Michel Roux's Waterside Inn, his brother Albert's Le Gavroche and Pierre Koffmann's La Tante Clair as well as the legendary French Cuisine de Soleil (of the sun) creator Roger Verge at Moulin de Mougins.
His move to Melbourne 25 years ago was the beginning of his outstanding reputation at local institutions such as Langton's, St Kilda's George Hotel and The Adelphi.
His first solo venture, Pomme, would shape Strode in another profound way after a chef who worked there took his own life.
As he explained to Good Food in 2015: “This younger person, who was working alongside [the chef who killed himself] noticed the problem. Just before he resigned, he said, ‘You need to keep an eye on him. He’s drinking to forget.’ I’ve never come to terms with the fact that we didn’t keep a better eye on him, and we ended up losing this kid.”
After a decade in Melbourne, Strode and his wife Jane were lured to Sydney in 2002 to run the legendary three-hat MG Garage in Surry Hills. After it closed, they opened Bistrode in a skinny and small, heritage-listed former butcher's shop in 2005. Two years later, as the editor of the Good Food Guide, this writer declared it Sydney's best bistro. Strode was ahead of his time in offering clean, unfussy and bold flavours and secondary cuts of meat and offal at a time when the city was still in the thrall of fine dining and degustation.
In 2010, the Strodes threw their lot in Merivale Group and opened Bistrode CBD upstairs at the CBD Hotel, drawing heavily on his British heritage and elegant French bistro style. It was the very best of British cooking and an instant hit with both critics and the public. Strode also embraced his adopted homeland in dishes such as kangaroo tartare with pickled radish alongside corned beef with white sauce.
Strode would call on the early days of his career once again to launch The Fish Shop in Potts Point for Merivale, putting a fish cake on the menu.
His unexpected death has shocked many in the industry to whom he was a friend and mentor.
In an industry at times full of ego, bluster, rivalry and shouting, Jeremy Strode was a gentle and wise chef with the talent to match. He was simply a lovely bloke, loved by so many he worked with or simply had the pleasure of meeting him.
Strode is survived by his wife Jane and two children and his son from an earlier marriage.
The Strode family have asked for privacy. Instead of flowers, they ask for donations to be made to RUOK.