Chef, 51

Esquire (UK) - - Contents -

The superstar chef on the lessons life has taught him, and how he avoids get­ting his fin­gers burnt

De­sign­ing my coat of arms took about seven years. They ask you for your motto — you can choose it in English or Latin — and mine is: “Ques­tion ev­ery­thing.” Be­cause the op­po­site of ques­tion­ing ev­ery­thing is ques­tion noth­ing.

Eat­ing is a mul­ti­sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence. When I started as a chef, I had a mem­ory of this restau­rant, L’Ous­tau de Bau­manière in France, that I went to as a teenager. We were sit­ting out­side; there’s this big rock that’s lit up at night, the smell of laven­der, the crunch of the gravel, the noise of the crick­ets… I just fell down this rab­bit hole into a mul­ti­sen­sory won­der­land. From there, when I started cook­ing, I re­alised I was chas­ing the feel­ing I had as a teenager.

I have a sweaty head. I can tell the tem­per­a­ture of a room by what my head does. This is re­ally sad, but I’ve spent a lot of time in Aus­tralia, so I know the tem­per­a­tures of the air­lines that fly to Aus­tralia. Yeah, BA is, I think, 21°C. Emi­rates is higher… It’s even worse when I hear it com­ing out of my mouth.

I’ve got at­ten­tion deficit hy­per­ac­tiv ity disor­der, I found out re­cently. It was a mul­ti­ple-choice test and if you scored more than 20 you were ADHD. I was 60-some­thing. I saw a friend af­ter­wards and he said, “Ahh, I’m re­ally sorry about that, it’s OK.” And I replied, “What do you mean, ‘It’s OK’? I love it. I’ve just been given an ex­pla­na­tion.”

Am I dyslexic? On. [Pause.] I’m not very good at telling jokes ei­ther.

I’ve been lucky — or un­lucky — enough to eat some very weird foods. Whether it was leeches cooked in goose blood or fer­mented shark — which made me think I was hav­ing an ana­phy­lac­tic shock. And I don’t even know what an ana­phy­lac­tic shock feels like.

The flavour pref­er­ences in Ice­land are in­ter­est­ing. They have this fish called stein­bí­tur [At­lantic wolff­ish] that they used to uri­nate on to stop it break­ing down. I popped it in and it was like my throat had taken over and gone: “I’m not do­ing that!” I couldn’t have spat it fur­ther if I tried. It was like: “Ar­rru­alayyy!” Prob­a­bly that’s what comes of a coun­try that spends half the year in dark­ness.

I love ta­ble ten­nis be­cause I don’t think about any­thing else when I’m play­ing it. I’ve got a coach. Peo­ple say, “I’ve had a ten­nis les­son,” and no one bats an eye­lid. But you say, “I’ve just had a ta­ble ten­nis les­son,” and ev­ery­one laughs at you. Ac­tu­ally, it’s very good for de­fend­ing against Alzheimer’s and de­men­tia, though I think it might be too late for me.

You have to em­brace fail­ure as an op­por­tu­nity to learn. There’s one car man­u­fac­turer in Ja­pan where if some­thing goes wrong on the pro­duc­tion line, there’s a siren and a light above the sta­tion of the per­son where the mis­take hap­pened. Ev­ery­one downs tools and they all go over to this per­son. You’re think­ing, “Oh, this is ter­ri­ble,” but, in fact, they then cheer. Be­cause that’s be­ing hu­man and now they can learn from it.

Nos­tal­gic moments are in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant. Auschwitz sur­vivors said the most pow­er­ful tool they had in their box — af­ter they were stripped of ev­ery­thing — was the nos­tal­gic moments. It warmed them up.

I used to think I was Knight Rider. I kick­boxed for 17 years. I have a bit of a tem­per on me. And I would try to bring jus­tice to oth­ers. But I re­alised what I was scared of was vul­ner­a­bil­ity. I was scared of say­ing “no”. I was a peo­ple-pleaser and, in fact, that’s the big­gest bit of abuse any­one can do to them­selves.

I don’t know how busy any­one else’s head is, I just know my head gets re­ally, re­ally busy. But when it’s in the zone, or if it’s some­thing I’m in­ter­ested in, I join dots and make con­nec­tions.

Our pa­tience lev­els are fall­ing off the cliff. When I was a kid, if you wanted in­for­ma­tion, you had to get on the bus and go to the li­brary. It was a two-and-a-half-hour round trip. Now all you do is press a but­ton. And we’re free­ing all this time up to do what? To fill it with more things that we want to speed up.

Work­ing for a re­ward gives you longterm con­tent­ment. A friend of mine was in the Eng­land team that won the Rugby World Cup in 2003. I said to him, “What would have hap­pened if Aus­tralia were dis­qual­i­fied just be­fore the fi­nal?” He said, “I’d have prob­a­bly had the same amount of ela­tion, but it would have lasted for a short time.” Then he thought about it and said, “I wouldn’t even want to be alive now. The thought of hav­ing that taken away.”

Eat­ing is the only thing we need to do con­sciously to live. Yet we see food as a fuel. When peo­ple say, “I’m not in­ter­ested in food,” it means they re­ally are in­ter­ested in food but in a neg­a­tive way.

Ein­stein, who also had ADHD, said that if you judge a fish by its abil­ity to climb a tree, it will spend all of its life think­ing it’s use­less. So many kids are di­ag­nosed with spe­cial needs and if they are stuck in the frame­work of the cur­rent ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, they go to school think­ing they’ve got a brain de­fect. But in fact, lots of these kids will be able to do things that com­put­ers will never be able to do.

My great­est achieve­ment is the work I’ve done on me. I’ve man­aged to turn around some fairly strong mem­o­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences that I had at­tached neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions to.

The en­ergy we’ve cre­ated, [even] in this room, will stay on this planet for­ever. It’s like a law of ther­mal dy­nam­ics: you won’t get rid of en­ergy but it will dis­si­pate, be­come smaller and smaller. So, if you lose a loved one, you can say their en­ergy is still here, be­cause tech­ni­cally from a sci­en­tific point of view, it will be.

My aim is to leave this world even in­finites­i­mally hap­pier than when I found it. And even if I don’t, if I spend my life try­ing then that will be good enough for me.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.