Adelaide’s food and wine scene has lost one of its greatest characters.
The Adelaide Review’s much-loved and respected food writer Howard Twelftree (aka John McGrath) recently passed away. Our current issue was originally going to celebrate The Adelaide Review’s feat of reaching the 400-issue milestone. But this is no time to brag. Instead we will celebrate the life of Howard, whose unique wit and wisdom appeared in almost every one of those 400 issues. Howard was the doyen of food writing. No one reviewed restaurants like him. He was this city’s finest. Away from the page he had a wicked sense of humour, was a brilliant storyteller and an extremely generous and humble man. I only knew Howard for a couple of years. His support and advice (as well as to The Adelaide Review’s Tamrah Petruzzelli) was invaluable. Even though Howard always handed his copy in well after deadline, you instantly forgave him after you read his magical words. His left-of-centre reviews, which would lead you through a maze of the most thrilling tangents, were unique, insightful and, at times, pure poetry. He was so good for so long that we took him for granted. He is irreplaceable. The Adelaide Review won’t be the same with John McGrath’s byline absent from its pages. And Adelaide will be less vibrant minus Howard’s gopher parked out the front of one of the many city south bars. The current issue’s cover story on The End was Howard’s idea. He was going to pen the feature celebrating The Adelaide Review’s 400th issue (he was the first and only choice to write this feature). Instead, The Adelaide Review will celebrate Howard. His final food review, completed by his friends and dining companions, is here. Below are some tributes from friends and peers who knew him well. Howard Twelftree was 68. On behalf of myself and The Adelaide Review, we express our sorrow at his loss and deeply appreciate everything Howard added to the publication over the years. David Knight Tributes A true gentleman, a heart of gold and just the right measure of wicked spice! Lambchop (aka Karyn Foster) So, mild mannered restaurant-reporter John McGrath and super man-about-town Howard Twelftree were the same person. Who knew. In a recent review he unwittingly wrote his own memorial: “I sifted through the super-skilled chefs I know and respect – not an arsehole among them.” Someone please find something wicked and scandalous to say about him. He wouldn’t be happy with a hagiography. So long, Howard. We wish you could have stayed. Brian Miller It was the greatest pleasure to know Howard. He was hilarious, wicked, dearly loved and highly respected by so many. His experience and tastes were eclectic, his knowledge of food was encyclopaedic, and he wrote like an angel. It was a privilege to work with him. He’ll be hugely missed. Tony Lewis Howard was the rarest of writers – delightful to read, wickedly amusing and witty, polished and deliberate, and always generous to the reader, imparting deep knowledge and perspective on any subject he wrote. It was a pleasure to handle his copy as editor of The Adelaide Review for two years, but better still it gave me the chance to befriend a truly lovely man and share a sinful amount of good food, booze and conversations with him. His passing is a great loss, and I regret that we won’t be able to read any more naughty reports from John McGrath, nor share any more good times with the lovely Howard Twelftree. With affection, David Sly I read John McGrath for the writing first, the information second. No one will write with such ease and wit about food and restaurants ever again. Lance Campbell Howard is loved for many things, his wit, encyclopaedic food and wine knowledge, his wonderful writing and perhaps most of all his unlimited capacity for naughtiness. Ann Oliver Food writer, bon vivant, mad punter and best of all, my dearest friend. God bless you Howard, you have given me so many great memories, filled with joy and laughter… so many plates filled with good food, and so many glasses filled with great drink. You have seen me through some dark times and offered help without judgement. You also taught me about horses with ‘parrot mouth’ and that it is best not to feed a trotter a beef and pickle sandwich before a race… invaluable information I will use wisely. I love you as a brother, and you know that is true. There is a piece of my heart that has gone missing, but there is always a place at the table for you. You will be missed more than words can say. Goodbye my friend, I love you… thank you for everything, for always. Timothy John Howard, the platter is full, I have little appetite. Our Christmas table will never be the same. We will always have your psychedelic electric flowers… until we meet again. With love Lorraine Lorraine Nelson Howard was never very good at meeting deadlines. In fact, for him they didn’t seem to exist. And so we lived in hope that this final deadline would be long delayed, as with all the others. Very sadly it was not to be. His knowledge, wit and sly humour will be much missed by all of us who loved and valued him. Nigel Hopkins It’s the twinkle in the eye and the bon mots I will always remember. Also the ability to order the most appallingly rare, mysterious and frequently indigestible dishes at the many restaurants we visited. Lunch will just be lunch from now on. Adam Wynn Howard Twelftree. A truly peerless man. An unusual man. A rare bird. To me, he always showed a touching tenderness which I treasured. For the world, he was the important writer for whom food criticism was a vocation. He was a rare bird – interesting, generous – spirited, fun, warm, and ever refreshing to read. Vale. Samela Harris I will miss him but more so I will remember the twinkle in Howard’s eyes on greeting, a wit beyond all wits, a chance to have a drink whenever and whatever for! Not him so much, but when I wanted one I would go looking for him around Adelaide town… I am better for having known and laughed with Howard. Bob Mclean When Howard attended our wine tasting events we’d often send ourselves away with a shot of a 10-year old Strega (aged or reserve). Howard’s expression was of genuine excitement, like a baby in a candy shop. A true gentleman. John Caporaso Even as the best and dearest friend, one always knew his reviews could be danger, never sparing if he found a weak spot, a short cut, a typo, misinformation or bullshit. The only joy was to revel in the rapier wit and the rich narrative while gently being put to the sword. May we remain true. Timothy Gregg He was the best food writer and restaurant reviewer in the country and will be missed by his devoted readers. Howard has been a great inspirer of cooks and a godfather to the hospitality industries. We all loved him for his encouragement and friendship and good humour, and the extraordinary stories he came out with. His mum had a mixed deli in Goodwood and Howard would help out after school and when she sold and moved to the old King William St hotel to cook, the kitchen staff would spoil him. I’m sure this started him on the food road. It was his guidance and inspiration that encouraged me to contribute to his food pages in The Adelaide Review for five years. We cooked, tasted, talked and photographed dishes at Cheong’s Kitchen in Unley. I’ll miss his gentle nature, Van Gogh-like looks and his wicked humour at our regular lunches and conversation on Gouger St. Cheong Liew What a loss on so many levels; as a friend, as a combatant, as a food writer beyond all. Howard’s humour, his wit, his knowledge, his prose made him so unique among writers that I never understood why his influence didn’t extend outside our borders; except he never did like deadlines! Howard loved food, wine, women and friends, so there are so many of us who will miss him beyond measure.I strongly feel he will always be with us. Maggie Beer The master has gone. No more witty commentary, cunningly disguised as reviews, on the ebb and flow of Adelaide’s food scene. No more skillful use of language to point fun at our sillier dining foibles while offending no-one, nor to emphatically congratulate those few who manage to stand out from the average crowd of victualers. Howard was both an editor’s dream and nightmare. My heart would leap when his email finally pinged into my inbox. Of course, there was little I could do to improve his words. The pain came in trying to work out which bits to leave out if his enthusiasm for a new joint led him to overstep his word count. Sharing his table was always an adventure – childlike in his curiosity to see what a new kitchen would do to a recipe that no doubt he had sampled in many forms already, delighted when he discovered that someone could still surprise him. Vale Howard! I hope that wherever you are they are serving the best Cognac – in fact, just leave the bottle on the table eh? Amanda Pepe Howard, the name conjures up a man with a sweet smile, which hid a quirky, wicked sense of humour. A man comfortable in his own skin with the rare talent of being able to be friends with a woman, as well as enjoying the scenery! He had a way with words and was a joy to know. Lyndey Milan Photos: Tony Lewis
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