Interview with Marco Pierre White
Exposed Meets Marco Pierre White.
Widely regarded as the UK’s first celebrity chef, Marco Pierre White recently returned to his Yorkshire roots to visit his latest restaurant here in Sheffield. Exposed caught up with the enfant terrible to chat about his incredible career to date.
Surrounded by adoring fans, Marco sits like a king holding court in his new castle – Marco’s New York Italian adjoined to the Hampton by Hilton hotel.
What’s more… he seems to actually be enjoying it.
“Wednesday or United?” he beams as I shake his hand. “Erm, Wednesday, mate,” I splutter, discarding my extensive Wikipedia notes and settling myself down for a more informal chat.
“Ah, I’ve always had an affection for Wednesday. I’ve been an arsenal supporter since I was 10 and I remember in the 70’s/early 80’s when they met each other in the old League Cup. They ended up having five games against each other as you didn’t have penalty shoot-outs back in the old days Wednesday were a very good team back then.”
He strikes a very different figure from the one I was expecting. There’s no hint of his renowned fiery temper. Instead, I’m greeted by a contemplative, intelligent, downright pleasant character who seems comfortable in his own skin – and who’s relishing his time back on his old Yorkshire stomping ground.
“I like coming back to Yorkshire. It’s my home county and I have lots of memories here – some happy, some sad. I left Leeds in ’78, and Yorkshire in ’81, but the apple hasn’t rolled far from the tree. My humble beginnings of the North have stood by me well. It’s very easy to get lost… very easy to think you’re something that you’re not.”
He’s referring to fame, of course. Being, at the time, the youngest chef to nab three Michelin stars, its something that would inevitably follow. Hanging up his apron in 1999, Hell’s Kitchen, The Chopping Block, Kitchen Wars and Masterchef Australia all saw him gracing the small screen – whilst a selection of publications, including influential cookbook White Heat and autobiography White Slave have added to his allure. Aside from this, there’s his stunning success as a restaurateur…
“I suppose, out of all of them, I’m the most reluctant to step onto the stage… to put myself in the spotlight,” he muses, as I point out he’s the first celebrity chef to open a restaurant in Sheffield’s city centre. “What I’m doing here today is my job. I always appreciate all the people who spend their hard earned cash in my restaurant. One thing you’ll notice is the length of time I spend with each customer. I think that’s very important. You have a responsibility and a duty to care about the people who come to your restaurant – it might be my Yorkshire upbringing. The back bone of Britain is the Northern working classes – the blue collar. Mr Cameron, in my opinion, should ask for the support of a few more blue collared people.”
It’s clear that politics play a major part in Marco’s life – and he’s certainly not backward in coming forwards with his views.
“When I was a boy, there was such a thing as a working class Tory. That’s what I consider myself. The collaboration of weak governments and the breakdown of industry has created the Britain we know today. There’s not much we can do about it – the damage is done. It’s all about making the right decisions.”
So, talking of right decisions… why Sheffield for this latest venture?
“You know what? Sheffield was city that lent me £67,000 to buy my share in Harvey’s. I got it from the Yorkshire Bank and Mr Fischer was the bank manager,” he smiles. “I’m a great believer that nothing happens by accident. There’s no such thing as coincidence – everything happens for a reason. “
I take this as my cue to whip out my pièce de résistance – a bottle of Hendo’s!
“Henderson’s Relish!” he laughs. “You’ll not believe this, but this is actually the second bottle I’ve been given. The first, incredibly, was in Dubai. I did a radio show and the DJ was originally from Sheffield and gave me a bottle. He used to use it at least twice a week. I’ve seen it used by other chefs… I’d consider adding it to my cooking…
Seemingly the perfect conclusion to a thoroughly pleasant chinwag, I wrap things up by asking what he thought the key to his uber-success was…
“Success to me is discovery – although luck does play a minor part. What really counts is self-discovery and accepting who you are – that’s the only way you can be truly happy. When you’re happy, you then have the opportunity to realise your full potential – whether that be as a writer or a chef. Discovery equals success.”
Find Marco Pierre White’s New York Italian next to the Hampton by Hilton Hotel at West Bar Green. Open daily from 12pm-10pm, to book a table or for more information, visit www.marcossheffield.co.uk.
White Hot: Marco’s Climb To Career Success:
1961: Is where it all began. The renowned Celebrity Chef comes into the world and begins his life in a modest council house in Leeds.
1978: Plucky teenage Marco ventures to South London age 16, with nothing more than a handful of change to his name, to try his hand at breaking into the competitive catering sector. He commences his classical training under Albert and Michel Roux, where he became Albert’s ‘little white bunny’.
1986: Marco opens Harvey’s, his first restaurant in London. Just a year later he bags his first Michelin star. Not only was his reputation for being a fantastic cook blossoming, but so was his reputation for being a rock ‘n’ roll sex god of the kitchen. The ruggedly good-looking Romeo, with his mass of curly locks, started to find ladies knickers appearing in his mailbox.
1988: Saw the arrival of Marco’s second Michelin star.
1992: Marco’s speedy success to stardom continued as he became chef-patron of The Restaurant Marco Pierre White at Forte's Hyde Park Hotel.
1995: Marco becomes the youngest British chef to bag three Michelin stars. During these years he had the likes of Gordon Ramsey and Philippe Messy working for him.
1999: Despite the horrified gasps of the restaurant business, Marco makes history as he hands back his hard-earned Michelin stars. He cooked his last dish in December that year and packed up his frying pan and spatula for early retirement.
2006: Sees the publishing of Marco’s autobiography White Slave, which threw his readers into the heat of the kitchen with sharp-edged wit and a sizzling anecdotes.
2007: Marco replaces his former protégé, Gordon Ramsey, as head chef on highly-strung cooking TV series Hell’s Kitchen.
2013: Marco becomes a principle judge on down-under’s Masterchef: The Professionals.
2014: Marco stars in a week long appearance of Aussie’s favourite cooking show, Masterchef, mentoring the chefs in the elimination round – Marco takes no prisoners!
“I borrowed a quote from Oscar Wilde and put it at the top of the menu: ‘To get into the best society nowadays one has either to feed people, amuse people, or shock people—that is all.’”
“If you are not extreme then people will take shortcuts because they don't fear you.”
“A tree without roots is just a piece of wood”
“To know how to eat well, one must first know how to wait.”
Hellraiser! Marco’s More Controversial Moments…
Cut-throat Cooking: Marco famously slashed a trainee’s whites at Harvey’s after he complained about the heat in his kitchen. His boiling rage has also seen glassware and crockery routinely fly through the air. Since then he has said to have expurgated swear words – and his boiling temper has been reduced to nothing more than a gentle simmer.
Gobbing with Gusto: Marco is certainly not a man afraid to speak his mind. His public scraps with former protégé Gordon Ramsey have been messy – resulting in the pair not speaking to each other – whilst he referred to Jamie Oliver as: “a fat chef with a drum kit”.
Chip on Your Shoulder?: One brave customer asked if he could order a side order of chips with his lunch. White kindly hand-cut and personally cooked the chips – before charging said customer £25 for his time.
Marco’s Marital Madness: Marco’s relationship problems frequently hit the headlines, kind of like a child’s scooter hitting the windscreen of a 4×4… actually, that’s exactly what happened! In 2012 Marco’s estranged third wife damaged his car in a fit of anger. Don’t mess with Mr OR former Mrs White!
Words: Carl Reid.