Interview: Marco Pierre White

Interview: Ash Dilks
Illustrations: Thomas Goodwin
Thursday 15 August 2013
reading time: min, words

Dubbed the enfant terrible of British cuisine, Marco Pierre White trained the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsey and was the youngest chef to gain three Michelin stars. We paid him a visit at his Nottingham steakhouse and discovered he likes his food piping hot and hates small portions...


You officially retired as a chef in 1999. Do you still jump on to the line if the chefs are in trouble or is it a strict retirement policy?
When you make that decision, you make that decision. The reality is that you can never allow that situation to occur and if it does you have to work around it, there’s always tough moments in the kitchen.

The last 25 years of your life have been pretty chaotic, do you seek a life less ordinary or does it just come to you?
I’m not seen in public unless I’m in my own restaurants. You’ll never see me at parties or award ceremonies - it’s something I stay away from.

But drama still seems to come into your life in various guises?
Drama comes into everyone’s life. I’m not the only person to have a divorce; I’m not the only person to have a lawsuit. My life is the same as everybody else’s the only difference is that I’m in the public eye so it hits the headlines.  Simple as that.

Have you had a chance to eat at Sat Bains’ restaurant in Nottingham, he has two Michelin stars there...
I work seven days a week so I never dine in other people’s restaurants. If I take a night off I tend to visit one of my friends and I’m not interested in that whole Michelin star world anymore. I’m not into twelve courses and lukewarm food, I like my food hot and it’s impossible to serve something hot that’s that small. There’s more emphasis on the presentation and making it look pretty than on the eating. I had the pleasure of experiencing a Michelin starred restaurant in Nice, France, at a place called Restaurant Flaveur...

And it was good?
Phenomenal. The French are the masters you see, you go to a lot of those one star Michelin places in France and they are very basic. We think (in England) of one stars or two stars being rather posh but in France they are very down to earth restaurants, with fantastic, straight forward, simple food and no fuss. All the energy is on the plate, in the cooking of the food and serving it hot.

Where did it all go wrong when we migrated the idea to England?
Cuisine Nouvelle means ‘new cuisine’. It doesn’t mean small portions. It doesn’t mean fruit with meat. The man who invented it was Fernand Point who owned a restaurant called La Pyramide, which had three Michelin stars. He took classical food and simplified it and lightened it and that was Cuisine Nouvelle. It wasn’t  little dribbles of this and little bits of that and small portions. The English totally misinterpreted it and they think to have a Michelin star it’s got to be posh. You look at them now and they’re all the same, there’s no individuality.

I’ll have to take your word for it because I’ve only been to the one...
Trust me, they’re all doing little slivers of this, tiny dribbles of something else, foams and all the rest of it. They don’t feed you anymore. Four of you are sitting down and you all have the same starter, you all have the same fish course, all the same main course. How boring is that?

If I popped round your house unannounced and you had to whip up a meal from the cupboard in twenty minutes, what would you make?
Firstly, the door wouldn’t be open. But I’d go for something like an omelette a la Swiss. The most delicious omelette in the world. Greyure cheese, double cream and eggs. Cooked to perfection - and when I say cooked to perfection, an omelette cooked without colour and baveuse inside. And a green salad. It’s actually one of my favourite suppers.

The art of cooking a good omelette is not an easy thing. It sounds simple but is it the mark of a good chef?
It takes a lot of understanding. Understanding in the sense of what you’re doing and understanding the temperature of the pan. You have to have an omelette pan, when people make omelettes in a basic non-stick pan they aren’t heavy enough. You need an old-fashioned omelette pan which has been salted and baked in the oven. And you never wash an omelette pan only ever wipe it clean.

Where do you source your meat from for the Nottingham restaurant?
I’m a great believer in supporting local economy. So whether it’s in Nottingham or my pubs in the countryside, we’ll buy local where possible. Whether it’s local asparagus when it’s in season, local crayfish, we even get the duck eggs from the farm down the road. The meat for the Nottingham steakhouse is from a fantastic Derbyshire butcher, Owen Taylor.

If you could only have one steak dish again for the rest of your life what would it be? You can have it as little or as often as you like?
I would have the great French classic, pot au feu, it’s an amazing dish, like a broth. Made with chicken and ox tongue, and beef, and whole vegetables, leeks and carrots. I like a good broth and I love big vegetables.

I’m not sure that counts, it’s not really a steak dish...
Ok, if it has to be steak, I’d go for tournedos de rossini.  A base of pomme maxime, very thinly sliced potatoes cooked in butter into like a cake, topped with fillet steak, foie gras, a slice of truffle and truffle sauce, and I’d have that once a month. You wouldn’t want it every day, it’s one of those beautiful, old fashioned, classic dishes - the emotional impact it has on you, it explodes in the mouth.  It’s heaven.

Has that featured on any of your menus?
We do it on Saturday night as a special because it’s a very expensive dish to make. I’d much prefer that than some thin lukewarm slivers of beef. It’s a dish where all the energy goes into the cooking rather than tiddleywink cuisine.

That must have been a big transition for you  - to get to your three Michelin stars you must have had to produce so much tiddleywink cuisine but now you say you’re not interested in it?
I kept it very simple. I’m interested in the great classical dishes. I believe we live in a world of refinement not invention. A lot of chefs think they’ve got to be different to be noticed but if you cook the best tournedos de rossini in the world, if you cook the best cote de boeuf with sauce bordelaise and marrowbone, you’ll become famous. If you cook a perfect chicken en bastille, all the energy is going into the cooking. The more you do to food the more you take away from it and that’s what the modern world doesn’t realise.

What’s the most expensive knife you’ve ever bought?
I use one knife for all jobs. I have a Mac Sashimi knife 10.5” and I do 95% of my work with it. It’s just a great knife; I can carve with it, slice with it, chop with it. Knife sets are a waste of money, you’ll never use most of the knives and you get a silly little steel. Buy a proper steel and buy a proper knife.

OK, so how much did it cost?
£350, but you buy a box set it might cost you £200 and they’re no good. The Mac knife is beautifully balanced and by using the same knife all the time you’ve got much less chance of cutting yourself because you get used to the weight and feel of it.

You like to fish, when was the last time you went?
I went on Wednesday 6 March on the river Test near Romsley. What was interesting was that the friend who invited me looked in his diary and said he’d caught his biggest fish ever on the same date in 1997 which was 32lbs so I might catch a big one. I said no chance, but within one hour I’d caught my biggest ever fish, a 33lb 7oz pike. Amazing. On the same river and same day, lightning never strikes twice but it did that day.

I once caught mackerel off the back of a friends boat, I found some rosemary on the beach path on the way back and used that to flavour the fish on the BBQ.
Brilliant. Rosemary and mackerel is a fantastic combination. A fresh fish, a bit of olive oil and a little lemon. What more do you want? It’s the whole romance of times like that; the best meals a lot of the time are with a wonderful person in a special place, it might not be the greatest cuisine in the world but it works.

Marco Pierre White Nottingham Steakhouse and Grill bar is situated inside Alea Casino, 108 Upper Parliament Street, NG1 5FW.

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