Well-known chef and restaurateur Gerard (Gerry) Russell has died. Mr Russell died unexpectedly on September 2. He was 51.

Many across Fermanagh will be familiar with his culinary offerings from Café Merlot where Gerry had been proprietor and head chef for almost 20 years after taking over Café Merlot on the bottom floor of Blakes of the Hollow in 2003 alongside his then business partner, John Donnelly.

They also had a premise on Darling Street, Russell and Donnelly which ran until 2013. Previously Gerry had ran the Le Chateau restaurant off the Irvinestown Road in Enniskillen. He had been a chef all over the world before coming to Enniskillen including South East Asia and Australia.

His sister Maureen led family tributes to Gerard.

“Gerard was a gentleman, he never said much he was a quiet authority. He only had to look at you. He was just a fantastic person. He wasn’t showy and didn’t want to be in the spotlight. A friend on Saturday described him as a star who didn’t want to sparkle. We’ve had so many messages from all around the world. He was such a talented chef, talent just oozed out of him. He was also a very protective older brother.”

Gerry left his native Belfast and began working as a chef under Marco Pierre White and alongside Gordon Ramsey when they were both starting out as young chefs. At 20 years old he left for Australia where he opened his own restaurant in Perth and remained there for ten years before returning to Belfast where he then worked as an executive chef for Wine Inns in Belfast before moving to Enniskillen.

Gerry was a highly regarded chef across both Northern Ireland and the entire island of Ireland. Proprietor of Blakes of the Hollow, Pat Blake spoke of Gerry’s talent and said: “Gerry was the author of the success of Café Merlot. He won a series of awards including a mention in the ‘Irish Times Top 100 places to eat in Ireland’ listings. He was a very accomplished chef and was well regarded across the country.”

Among Gerry’s many achievements included being a Michelin rosette winner.

Gerry’s funeral took place on September 6 in St. Peter’s Church, Lurgan and was widely attended by friends, family and present and former colleagues. His sister Anne and brother Brian couldn’t attend the service due to Covid-19 restrictions as they live in Australia and America respectively.

Café Merlot will remain open with the existing chefs hired and trained by Gerry. He is survived by his daughter Mia, his son, Oistín, mother, Bridie and his siblings Anne, Jim, Brian and Maureen. His funeral arrangements were carried out by Jack McLearnon, Lurgan.

“Gerard was a gentleman, he never said much he was a quiet authority. He was just a fantastic person