The Caterer magazine is reporting the death, aged 85, of John Tovey, the former owner, or rather creator, of Miller Howe Hotel near Windermere. While the creation of the country house hotel genre probably lies with Brian Sack and Francis Coulson at Sharrow Bay, John Tovey was certainly a leading player, and very influential. He was one of the first wave of "celebrity chefs" to become famous outside their kitchens. Somewhat larger than life, fussy, and I want to call him bumptious, but that's got too much of a negative connotation: he was a good candidate for our TV screens in the 80s. Dining at Miller Howe was like attending a theatrical performance: Tovey told you when to come, when to sit down, what to eat (and not to smoke - and woe betide you if you did); the dining room was his auditorium, even to the extent of the house lights going down when the performance, sorry dinner, was about to start. At the end of the meal, there was even a curtain call. In the 80s and 90s, much of the food and cooking in the NW was heavily influenced either by Sharrow Bay or by Miller Howe, and there are still graduates of Tovey's Miller Howe kitchen rattling the pans in kitchens around the country. Dinner at Miller Howe was always a five course meal, with no choice whatsoever until dessert, when there was an embarrassment of choice. There was cream and butter aplenty, although the cuisine did eventualy lighten, but the main course remained always surrounded by seven different vegetables around the edge of plate. There was something slightly daring about his championing of South African wine at the height of the sanctions against the apartheid regime, and I remember, on several occasions, a couple of cases going into the boot of my dad's car as we left. He once told me that he tried to limit himself to opening two bottles of wine a day. Attaboy!