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Latvia mourns loss of Celebrity Chef & Cultural icon Martins Ritins to COVID 

Written by Aksel Ritenis

Latvia mourns loss of Celebrity Chef & Cultural icon Mārtiņš Rītiņš to COVID 

 

In Memoriam

(19 October 1949 – 11 February 2022)

By Axel Ritenis  

Publisher of  Connoisseur Magazine “For the Finer Things in Life” and  Editor of The Sydney Times-News, Lifestyle & Hyperlocal Community News 

 

Chef,businessman and unofficial cultural ambassador Mārtiņš Rītiņš died at the age of 72, (19 October 1949 – 11 February 2022)  losing a fight against Covid-19 .Rītiņš was admitted to  the ICU of Stradiņš Hospital before Christmas last year after being diagnosed with Covid-19. Whilst his  health improved in the middle of January giving some hope to relatives,. His  condition deteriorated a few days later. And he was in an induced coma for several weeks and  passed away on the 11 February.  Interestingly the chef had been vaccinated and received a Booster but it is believed that he had some underlying medical conditions.  

Ironically on December 1 last year, he organized a presentation for his  autobiographical  book  – “De Profundis” which was written by a close family friend Linda Apse, which revealed hitherto unknown details about the life and personality of the legendary chef and communicator including, about the tragic loss of a male partner in earlier years and revelation of a past history of alcoholism. 

Rītiņš had been running the legendary restaurant “Vincents” since 1994, and was the initiator of the “slow food” movement in Latvia.  Rītiņš was born on October 19, 1949 in Cheshire, England. From 1984 to 1992, he lived and worked in Toronto, Canada, but in 1993 he came to the homeland of his ancestors, where in addition to working for Vincents, he also starred in TV culinary shows, gaining the affection of the populace.  Mārtiņš Rītiņš was a British-born Latvian who grew up in the industrial town of Corby, before moving to London to become a chef. 

In 1971, he graduated from the Westminster Technical University in London. From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, he worked at various catering establishments including  the Grand Metropolitan Hotels. From 1984 to 1992, he was the owner of Toronto’s Martins Catering Ltd. before  moving  to Latvia. In 1994 M. Rītiņš became the director and chef of the restaurant “Vincents” and starred in  the Latvian Food television program (Kas var but labaks par to?)“What Could  Be Better Than This?.

In 2007, he was awarded the Latvian Order of the Three Stars for his “services to Gastronomy and Culinary education in Latvia”
 

Mārtiņš attending an Italian Trade event in Riga with the Italian Trade Commissioner

When Mārtiņš Rītiņš , the director of  Restaurant Vincents, unexpectedly retired from the restaurant, on 1 July 2017, the restaurant’s management was  taken over by the European champion sommelier Raimonds Tomsons, with whom Rītiņš has been working since 2000.

At the time he stated:  

“I have spent half of my professional life in Vincents, and together with my team, we have achieved a great deal. It took a lot of work and a lot of strength. So, I’m taking a break to relax – to enjoy Latvia during the summer and visit South Korea and India to explore new inspiration in the autumn.” 

 Becoming bored and restless with his retirement however, he  made a successful comeback to head the famed Vincent Restaurant in Riga in 2020. 

He continued to run “Slow Food” in Riga, 

As he had  spent many years in Toronto, Canada, where he acquired a fondness for organic food, he brought this wisdom to Latvia.

 

“Mārtiņš maintained a close relationship with many of Latvia’s small-scale organic farmers and purchased ingredients for Vincents’ dishes directly from the farmers whenever possible thus becoming the local champion of  the provenance concept.He was obsessed about sourcing  only the best and freshest organic products, which means that Vincents’ menu reflected the seasons,..using  the fruits, vegetables, berries and mushrooms that are in season at any particular time.” 

As previously mentioned, Mārtiņš for many years has hosted his own cooking television show on Latvian State Television “Kas var būt labāks par šo?”, where he travelled the “gastronomic world” and introduced foreign taste experiences to a Latvian audience. 

He remained the president of Latvia’s Slow Food Association  

His book, “Eating with Martins”, was notable for using only the products that were available in Latvia at that time, and is now a collector’s item. 

His special brand of British humour and wit and knowledge  made him an excellent and witty communicator whose presentations were enjoyed and even revered by the Latvian public,.. who eagerly copied his Recipes,..and sought out the opportunity to visit his restaurant and meet him personally.

 Mārtiņš together with his highly efficient and loyal staff  organized  the many official State Banquets and dinners,.. for all the VIP’s,..Kings and Queens, Presidents and Celebrities  including the Emperor of Japan, President of China, Queen Elizabeth ll, George Bush, Tony Blair, Romano Prodi, Angela Merkel,.etc.,. not to mention global music celebrities like Sir Elton John!

Most recently he prepared dinner for  French President Macron and  Madam Macron. He enjoyed “rubbing shoulders” with world statesman and celebrities and because of his “unquestioned gravitas” was even able to engage with the likes of the US President George Bush who escaped the clutches of  his Secret service retinue in the dining room,..  in order to visit Mārtiņš  in his kitchen for a private “tete a tete”!

Mārtiņš legacy is undoubted,. and his presence on the Latvian and European Culinary Landscape will be sadly missed! He has taught a generation of chefs and played a dominant role in introducing “modern eclectic gastronomy” and educating the Latvian public in culinary matters.

His book, “Eating with Mārtiņš”, was notable for using only the products that were available in Latvia at that time and is now a collector’s item. 

At various stages,the Vincents restaurant team had received advice that Vincents was ranked  in the list of the Top 200 European restaurants.  

There is little doubt that if Vincents were in a metropolis whose restaurants were listed on Michelin’s list, such as London or Paris, it would definitely be worthy of a Michelin star.,..according to Andy Heiler, Michelin Food Critic.”

 

Mārtiņš and the author of this tribute Axel Ritenis at Vincents Restaurant

Perhaps unbeknown to many is that Mārtiņš ,in his heyday,..was extremely socially and politically influential,.. in the 90’s and early 2000’s. As he was on personal terms with many members of the the Diplomatic community in Latvia,… he could “hold court” with them in Vincent’s where they happily  “wined and dined”, … and  exchanged ideas about contemporary problems and international relations,..and of course the continuing Europeanization of Latvia. At the height of his influence,he was both a sounding board and a conduit for information for visiting ambassadors and local politicians alike in connecting with the local establishment.  

There was speculation that he was also personally close  to several Latvian Presidents, and in view of his gravitas and good connections and pro-European values,.. he may indeed have exerted a degree of  influence on leading politicians and statesmen in matters of state,which is no small deal for a celebrity chef!

Of course his public profile as a Culinary educator was a powerful symbol  for Latvia to embrace European Cultural values  and standards in general,.. including wine and gastronomy. He was a patriotic and  proudly nationalistic Latvian,.. which also had a ripple effect on Latvian society at large,.. and my own collaboration with Mārtiņš as the leading wine advocate and educator in Latvia during this period,..(1995 to 2000) brought results such as the annual VecRiga Wine Festival,.. and a serious transformation of a predominantly Russian style vodka drinking culture to a more civilized European Wine culture.

Without Mārtiņš help and support we couldn’t have achieved this!

Mārtiņš influence on European ambassadors became clear to me when I received a succession of invitations to attend European wine educational events in Italy,France and Spain,. I proudly represented Latvia in wine judging at the Concorso del vino del Mondo held in Verona  at the  Vintaly Trade exhibition,.for two successive years,…which perhaps proves the old adage that “it is not what you know,.. but who you know” is still applicable even in the fairly traditional European Union countries!

Of course, I probably deserved these opportunities on my own merits as the leading wine authority and  writer/ educator ,.having myself written a best selling wine reference book Vina Pasaule,.but even here Mārtiņš moral support and assistance was important. 

On the professional front,.. being a great communicator and very collegial Mārtiņš was leader of the Slow Food movement in Latvia and engaged with many of the greats of the culinary world including Spain’s Ferran Adria and Britain’s Heston Blumenthal. He also spent time with world respected Wine authority Jancis Robinson and her husband Restaurant critic and FT Correspondent Nicholas Lander and they enjoyed a friendly relationship visiting him at Vincent’s.

Latvia hosted numerous NATO and European conferences and Martins’ as Executive Chef and cultural ambassador was an important member of Team Latvia! It is fair to say that with Mārtiņš presence and involvement , Latvia was able to “punch above  its weight” and exert a much greater presence in European affairs than it was strictly entitled to on the basis of it small population and low GDP.

In conclusion I would observe  that Mārtiņš legacy will be felt for a long time,. and he will be sadly missed in a country that has lost 200,000 of its ethnic Latvians to European migration,. and is currently suffering some Covid induced stagnation,..

The Latvian nation is desperately in search of worthy cultural and political exemplars and worthy thought leaders-Latvia is a poorer place without him,.. and his worldliness, his spontaneous British style humour and his “joie de vie.”

He will will be sadly missed.

 

 

 

About the author

Aksel Ritenis

Axel is the Editor and Publisher of Connoisseur Magazine "for the Finer Things in Life" and has been the custodian of the magazine for over 10 years and leader of a team of freelance Journalists and Community Members who continue to make it all happen!-Join the Team at Connoisseur Magazine!

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