If it is true that we are immortalised by the work we do then, it’s safe to say that Wendell Rodricks is still among us. The veteran fashion designer passed away in his home in Goa on February 12, 2020 leaving many from the fashion, food and Bollywood frat shocked and saddened and not without reason.
The 59-year-old Padma Shri awardee wore more than one hat and has left many legacies behind – from bringing resort wear to India and planning the first-ever Lakme India Fashion Week (LFW) in 2000 to vociferously advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights, becoming the first Indian to open at the Dubai Fashion Week in 2001, to being a revivalist, a keen art patron and promoter of Goan talent, and being an environmentalist who lent his voice for many social causes – he left many trails.
In 2012, Rodricks forayed into writing with his book Moda Goa: History And Style, which drew praise from all corners for bringing to light forgotten aspects of Goa’s costume history. Call it irony or fate, but Rodricks passed away just days before opening the eponymous museum in Colvale. The Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre – set to open in March – was Rodrick’s true passion project and an homage to his beloved Goa, which he had been busy supervising till the end
Although little known to the common man, the celebrated couturier nurtured a keen interest in food and all things culinary. In fact, before entering the world of fashion, he took a graduate diploma in catering from Mumbai. Remnants of being a fabulous cook linger surreptitiously on Rodrick’s Instagram feed and in the memories of all those that he fed so lovingly at his Goan home.
Chef Manu Chandra, also the co-curator of LF Epicurean Guild Awards, shares fond memories even as he mourns, “Unfortunately, I never took him up on the offer of dining at his home, but ‘foodie’ is not the right word for someone like Wendell because he delved deep into the history and nuances of it. He and Jerome [Marrel; Rodricks’ long-time partner] were very particular about what they ate and how they ate it. They travelled the world for food. And you meet very few people like that.”
Chandra knew Rodrick and Marrel well and what struck a chord was their innate understanding of how restaurants and food works. “We would often exchange notes on cuisines and cooking techniques. I remember there was one particular dish – the pork belly, which he would crust with salt and bake. I tried it and it was a tremendous success,” Chandra remembers.
Chandra, however, isn’t the only to rave about Rodricks’ cooking tips and culinary delights. Back in 2016, when chefs Hussain Shahzad and Floyd Cardoz were touring Goa as part of the R&D for the then soon-to-open Goan-Portuguese restaurant O Pedro, the two spent valuable time with Rodricks. Shahzad recalls, “We would exchange a bunch of mails talking about Goan food. He shared his grandmother’s chorizo recipe with us and when I visited him in Goa, he showed us how to cook pork assado, which is a Goan-style roast pork.”
Shahzad echoes the sentiment common to all those remembering Rodricks today, as a man who never minced his words, but who was also warm, knowledgeable and insightful. “It was always interesting talking to Wendell because he was actually one of the few people who knew culinary jargon. When you’re discussing food with people, not everyone uses the right terms to describe things. Whereas, he was the kind of person to say sear as opposed to fry,” Shahzad elaborates.
Rodricks’ penchant for perfection was known to all those who knew him, be it his friends in the fashion industry or the food biz. Journalist and founder of the food and wine magazine, Upper Crust, Farzana Contractor reiterates, “I have known Wendell forever. Apart from being a designer he was a whole lot of things, and yes, he was very bona fide food lover. His love for food didn’t emerge from the need to love it because everyone else did; he was genuinely into it. And it got enhanced when he met Jerome, who is an equally authentic gastronome, because he was into catering in a big way overseas.”
The news of Rodricks’ demise left Contractor in shambles, like most of us, until it cascaded into a flurry of wonderful memories with the celebrated personality. From spending days together in his Goa home to relishing homecooked Goan food with Rodricks and Jerome, Contractor has many tales to share. “Once, I was visiting them in Goa and both Jerome and Wendell were so particular about everything, including the way the table was set,” she shares. “He was so meticulous about everything. He would ensure that dishes like chorizo, poie, moringa, karvandas and other local foods were always there when I visited,” she concludes.
And that brings us back to Rodricks remaining etched in our memories forever, lingering like the powerful aroma of a good pork vindaloo, and in the elegant charm of his minimalist designs.