A WASHINGTON chef is cooking up a storm after taking his place at the industry’s top table.
Richard Bell has cooked for royalty, worked in some of Britain’s leading hotel kitchens, and is friends with famous chefs including Gary Rhodes and Michel Roux.
Now retired, the 66-year-old has been appointed an emeritus academician with the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts (RACA).
His new-found position among the academy’s main body of chefs and restaurant managers sees him rub shoulders with the likes of Brian Turner, Rick Stein and Heston Blumenthal.
He was nominated for the title for displaying great culinary skills over many years, teaching up-and-coming cooks and for fund-raising.
The honour comes almost 55 years after he first set foot in a kitchen after leaving school and joining the Royal Navy as a junior assistant cook aged just 15 in 1964.
Dad-of-three and grandfather Richard, of Spout Lane, Washington Village, said: “It is a great honour and I am very proud to have achieved this.
“I have won many awards, including international medals, and I’m proud to describe myself as a professional chef.
“I’ve worked in many of the best hotels and I know a lot of today’s famous chefs and am good friends with many, including Albert and Michel Roux.
“I was invited to this position – I feel it’s a little like being put out to pasture and the academy not wanting to lose you.”
Just a year into his career with the Navy, Richard was appointed to the Royal Staff aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, serving dishes for the Queen and Prince Charles among others.
Richard then became senior Admiralty Retinue Chef, serving senior admiralty figureheads, including the First Sea Lord and Admiral of the Fleet.
He also rose to become a warrant officer first class and head of the UK’s armed forces cookery school at Chatham and then Aldershot.
Richard left the forces in 1976 and quickly established himself in London, working at five-star hotels Browns and Cafe Royal as second chef.
His career in the capital brought him into contact with the Rouxs and such household names as Gordon Ramsey, Rhodes and James Martin, whom he judged in competitions.
In 1980 he became an academician of the RACA, which is Britain’s leading professional association of head chefs, pastry chefs and restaurant managers.
After returning to the North East in the early 1980s, Richard, who is married to Vivienne, 62, worked as executive chef at the Seaburn Hotel in Sunderland and the George Washington Hotel in Washington. He was also private chef to former owner of Newcastle United Sir John Hall, and was development chef for the Tesco Extra brand.
Despite organising no-expense spared banquets for the rich and famous, Richard insists his own tastes remain more down to earth.
He added: “My favourite dish is probably fish and chips, as long as the cook has done them properly.”