Last bite: Marco Pierre White
The celebrity chef on life's simple pleasures
Renowned chef, Marco Pierre White, tells Caterer why he insists on simplicity and generosity over fine dining when it comes to food.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I was born in the north of England in the 60s into very humble beginnings and what boys did then when they left school was follow their fathers’ footsteps. My grandfather is a chef, my father is a chef, so therefore, when it was my time to leave school I just followed my father.
Was there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you were interested in?
In those days in England, hotels and the restaurants were mainly French, and when you went to catering college, it was French cuisine, so I've always belonged to the school of French cuisine.
What is the best career advice anyone has ever given you?
The best career advice I was ever given was when I was 19 years old. I was working at Le Gavroche in London, and Albert Roux said to me, ‘Marco, you can cook as well as anybody in that kitchen, if not better. But don’t let the stove intimidate you. Because if you allow the stove to intimidate you, you don’t cook, you’re too scared. It’s all about grabbing the bull by the horns and just pushing.’
How do you plan your menus?
In the end, the customers write the menu, not you, because they tell you what they want just by the way they order. It’s quite interesting, the majority of people are quite simplistic creatures, and I am one of those simplistic creatures. I just want very simple food and a generous portion. I don’t want some little nick knacks on the plate. And generosity is important. I think that people will put their hands that little bit deeper in their pockets to have a proper sized, quality steak. The biggest insult you can give a customer is to charge high prices and give small portions.
What is good food?
For the food, I always say keep it simple. The more you do to food, the more you take away from it. By the time some restaurants have finished working on the plate and sent it to you, the food is cold. So what they are saying is that presentation is more important than eating, which is wrong; the food is the most important thing. Allow food to present itself. If you're serving a steak, be generous with it, caramelise it perfectly and serve it hot; allow the generosity to impress.
What is your ideal dining experience?
I like eating at home. I love my home, and when I’m at home, food is really simple. So if I had people over for dinner tonight, there would be a big pot of risotto with a roast chicken chopped up whole, in the middle of the table and we’d help ourselves. I don’t serve food on plates. I like food in the middle of the table so people interact and the food stays hot.
If not a chef, what would you have been?
My options as a young boy were quite limited and in those days, when you left school, the world was a much larger place than it is today. There weren’t as many opportunities as there are today. But if I could have a choice, I think I would have liked to be an old fashioned toy maker, or I would have liked to be a landscape gardener on the scale of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, where you design estates and landscapes rather than gardens.