Gourmet's 50 Women Game Changers in Food: #26, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray

Ruth Rogers was born in America and Rose Gray in Great Britain. It's always fascinating to learn how two women, neither of them trained chefs, got together to open such a fabulous restaurant. Their backgrounds certainly didn't point in that direction.
Ruth attended Bennington College and the London College of Printing where she got a degree in graphic design. Later, she moved to Paris with her husband and worked on exhibitions at the Pompidou Center. 
Rose attended Guildford College of Art, where she gained a BA in Fine Art. She taught art at a state-run school in East London and then started a business making paper lampshades.

The two first met in 1969 when 21-year-old graphic artist Ruth turned up at Rose's home with her husband. Although they saw each other occasionally, Rose and Ruthie's extraordinary partnership still lay almost 20 years in the future.

In the early 80's, Ruth and her husband moved to Tuscany. It was here that Rose began to take a serious interest in Italian cuisine. 
Then, in 1985, while her husband's exhibition was shown in New York, Rose received an invitation to cook there at a newly opened fashionable Italian-style restaurant, Nell's Club. She found she loved it. 

On her return to London, she worked a while at Carluccio's and it was at this time that Rose and Ruth's paths crossed again. The story is that Ruth's husband had set up his office in Hammersmith, and he wanted someplace for everyone in this area to eat. Rose said: "From the beginning we had huge ambition for the River Café, it was just restrictions on the premises that forced us to start small."

No matter how it began, Ruth proposed the idea of a restaurant to Rose. And so The River Cafe was born in 1987. (Ruth on the left, Rose on the right)

Their partnership was close; their uncompetitive and generous spirits became the guiding force of the restaurant. Ms. Gray was a maternal presence and a dynamo in the kitchen; a number of well known chefs passed through their kitchen on their way to celebrity. They focused on fresh ingredients and authentic Italian country dishes; their wine list was entirely Italian. 

Both Rose and Ruthie were self-taught. Ruth said: "Women who used to want to cook went into catering or they gave dinner parties for rich businessmen. The chefs and the managers in the River Café are 50% women. I'm really proud of that." 
The River Cafe earned a Michelin Star in 1998. And kept it.
Ruth and Rose published their first cookbook in 1995 which led to a TV series. They have published 10 cookbooks since then. Both were awarded MBE's in 2010.

Sadly, Rose was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and passed away in 2010.


I chose to make Chocolate Nemesis. The exact definition of nemesis is:  one that inflicts retribution or vengeance and truer words were never spoken. How The River Cafe manages to plate it (I've eaten there but for some reason did not order the "nemesis") I don't know, but there are lots of problems with this cake and I can only tell you how I got it to work.
First of all, a little bench note: the full recipe below easily makes enough for two cakes. So halve the recipe and you'll have plenty for one. (Although as it turned out, I was relieved to have enough batter to make the second one......as I truly messed up the first one!)

When the cakes had fully cooled, which is done while the cakes remain in the bain marie and in the oven, I removed them and cut into the first one. It collapsed into a puddle (a rather delicious puddle, but a puddle nonetheless) and I partially blame the foil liner. If I make it again....which I doubt 'cause I'm not a chocoholic....I will line the bottom of the pan only. It resembled a pudding/cake rather than a cake and we enjoyed eating it, but still, it was nearly impossible to cut into any kind of neat wedge.

So I turned to the Internet and did some research on this cake. One person inverted it onto a platter. I can't imagine how that would work, considering the puddle problems I had with the first cake and wondered if her recipe was different in some way. Perhaps she cheated and added flour? Another refrigerated the cake over night. Now that sounded like a sensible plan so that's what I finally did. 

When it was fully chilled, I cut the cake in wedges, placed them on serving plates and let them come to room temperature before serving. It worked. It's unbelievably rich and you need the creme fraiche or some unsweetened whipped cream to cut the sweetness. It's rather like eating candy, so don't cut big slices!

The River Café’s Chocolate Nemesis 

675g dark chocolate 70%
450g butter
10 whole eggs, room temperature
675g caster sugar (I weighed this to be accurate)

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bain marie. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 160 C or 320 F and line a 27cm springform cake tin with foil.

Beat together the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer for five to eight minutes until they’ve quadrupled in volume. Fold the chocolate and butter mixture into the eggs and sugar and stir thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Either I beat this too long or my springform wasn't large enough because I had too much batter and made one regular spring form pan and one small one and still had a little batter left.

Place the cake in a large roasting tin in the oven, then pour enough boiling water into the tin to rise 3/4 up the side of the cake. Cook in the preheated oven for over an hour, then turn the oven off and allow to cool completely before removing. Serve with crème fraiche and raspberries

Join Mary from One Perfect Bite and all the other participants in this fun series.

Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Kathleen Van Bruinisse - Bake Away with Me 
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Lines from Linderhof
Amy - Beloved Green

 Ciao Chow Linda


  1. This cake looks ever so luscious and irresistible! A devilish dessert.



  2. You are really courageous! I was a coward and walked away from this the challenge of the chocolate nemesis :-). I loved the easy flow of your post today and you photo of the cake is stunning. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  3. Bravo! I am in awe of your perseverance. I would have collapsed into a heap on the kitchen floor and given up. And then eaten the whole puddled cake.
    Your photo is fantastic, i can just taste the chocolaty richness.

  4. I love flourless chocolate cakes!!!

  5. Well, that is completely and totally sinful, isn't it!? I'd love a slice. We used to make flourless chocolate cakes at the restaurant, and we always refrigerated them before cutting...and kept them refrigerated...as well. I'm glad you kept at it, because it looks fantastic!

  6. I was afraid of it. I really, really wanted to try this - and chickened out. We are a family of chocolate-lovers so I think this will have to get made. The photos keeps asking me.

  7. For some reason, I love stories of problems with recipes... we all have them and not to share what caused so much distress seems just wrong.

    Yes, I was was saddened to hear of Rose's death... they were quite a team and ran quite a joint... against the advice of everyone who told them it was a bad location... Good for them!

  8. Ce gâteau est magnifique.
    J'en mangerai avec plaisir.
    A très bientôt

  9. How appropriately named! This looks worth the effort for sure. I really enjoyed your introduction to these ladies.


  10. I'm not a fan of chocolate cake and have NEVER made one, German Chocolate aside. That being said... I think I have to try this one.

  11. Good for you for sticking with it and working on the challenging problems of this cake. And thank you for sharing the results with us!

  12. What a great story! I'm a fumble-bum when it comes to complicated baking. I'm envious of your willingness to take this one. It looks scrumptious! Two amazing women, I must say.

  13. Not all the recipes we imagine turn out the way we want them to that's for sure Barbara. I am glad thjat someone tried this dessert si ce it was one their signature dishes!

  14. Glad it finally worked out in the end! Looks delicious, and I'm sure even the puddle cake was fantastic.

  15. what a great story these two have (expect for the cancer part, sadly!), and what a great way to represent them. this cake sounds sensational, regardless of the slop factor!

  16. The story of these two friends-cum-restauranteurs is amazing. Too bad about your cake malfunction. I'm with you on chocolate--not too into it. Nevertheless, the ingredients look so rich, that the challenge of creating this devilish treat is almost irresistible.

  17. Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my keyboard!

  18. I am also a big fan of the River café. I ate there 2 & I had a fabulous time!
    The food is all natural, real flavours & organic too!

    I have 2 cook books of them! My favourite book is River café cookbook Green!

  19. The catering business has been experiencing a boom for a long time now. Catering services should need to get the idea of modern catering needs and demand of customers. Recently finger food have become an important part of catering business.Seems to be a very promising catering services.Great catering is dependent on two factors: excellent service and unforgettably great food which I think you can provide both.. ration MREs meals ready-to-eat
    large scale catering

  20. Oh, how I love this series...I loved this story in particular because, two women working together, with great sinergy must be outstanding!! I sometimes feel a bit lonely in my job...It would be great to share with someone else, at your same level...

  21. Nemesis Schmemesis19/12/11 6:18 PM

    Refrigerating it may have provided a solution but, unfortunately, it totally changes the texture of the cake. Still delicious, but not the same. It's supposed to be partway between a cake and a mousse - dense, but still airy. You really have to try the original to grasp what it should be like. It's amazing.

    The recipe's instruction to cook it for "an hour or more" is useless. Just cook it for as long as it takes to set and stop wobbling when the tray is shaken... this might be 90 minutes or more at 160C for the large version. Also, if using a springform pan, make sure it is absolutely watertight. A single, large sheet of foil should suffice as long as it reaches past the rim on all sides. Multiple sheets with joins often leads to disaster. Water will always find a way.

    I usually halve the quantities and bake in a 23cm pan for 90 minutes at 120C.

    Good luck if you decide to engage the beast in battle once more. And I'd recommend a visit to Hammersmith to see how it's done properly. It's a useful measure against which you can gauge your efforts.



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