THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARCO
Marco Pierre White, once dubbed the ‘original gastro Godfather’, has cooked for Madonna and Johnny Depp, feuded with Gordon Ramsay and. was the youngest-ever chef to win three Michelin stars, before he handed them back and walked away. Over a bottle of wi
When Marco Pierre White started talking four hours ago, it was bright out. Now, as it gets dark in the courtyard outside his restaurant in Donnybrook, the chef ’s words are literally coming out of the shadows. Marco is beginning to resemble Hamlet, when the Prince asks: “What is this quintessence of dust?”
“I never met a man who worked harder than me,” the gobby gastronomic godhead, and soon-to-be resident critic on TV3’s The Restaurant, begins. “It’s a little like Ali. I’m not comparing myself to him, but there will never be another Muhammad Ali. There will never be another Cassius Clay. Because the world will never allow it.
“And there will never be another Marco Pierre White, because the world will never allow it,” he adds.
Asked why the world won’t allow another, Marco smiles — his eyes vivid with the passionate intensity that characterises him and his life.
“Because you can’t push to that extreme any more. Boxing is 13 rounds, not 15. If it all gets a bit bloody, they stop the fight. I gave back the Michelin stars because the world had changed. When I was a boy and you went for an interview, you never asked how many hours,” Marco says, meaning the fateful day, when, as a 15-year-old, he knocked on the back door of the Hotel St George in Harrogate, and got a job.
“You never asked how much money. You never rang in sick. You were never late. You always said, ‘Yes, chef ’. The world changed. And I no longer believed in that world. I lost my belief.”
At 33 years of age, Marco was the youngest-ever chef to win three Michelin stars. He handed them back to Michelin five years later. He had had enough. The driven, volatile genius — dubbed Britain’s original gastro Godfather — grew up on a council estate in Leeds. He says that his father Frank “thought Michelin made tyres”. I ask him if he’s joking. He says it very much isn’t a joke.
I ask Marco if being from the north of England protected him from some of the bullshit of London, where he made his name. He answers that Dublin reminds him of Leeds. “It reminds me of my home,” he says. “The people are very down-to-earth. They’re very honest. They’re very giving, very giving . . . very forgiving. Good people are always forgiving. They close an eye to one’s failings.” What are your failings? “I’ve got a mountain of them.” Give me five. He gives the flippant request some serious forethought, before giving the requested five personal failings as he perceives them. “One: I’m too soft. “Two: I’m too trusting. “Three: I’m too giving. “Four: I’m too accepting. “Five: I’m too loving. Really? “Of life,” he explains. “And,” Marco continues, “when you have those qualities, they become failings, because people take advantage of them. But you know something? You still have to stand by them, because you believe in life. You have to give people the benefit of the doubt.”
Do you feel you haven’t been given the benefit of the doubt, and, in fact, have been judged? “That is not important. I have been judged by many people. Many, many people. You have spent many days with me over the years. You read what The Observer wrote about me,” he says referring to what he terms a “hatchet job” in that newspaper in January of this year.
“Am I that man? Am I? How nasty she was,” he says of Rachel Cooke, the journalist who wrote the Marco-offending article, in which she said, “His manner is so hilariously disdainful, I can’t help feeling that it’s not a Michelin star he’s missing, but an Oscar”.
“I’ve been called controversial in my life,” he continues, on a roll. “Why? Because I fought for what I believe in. Because I stood up for what I believe in,” he smiles, adding with a typically, massively over-thetop, even poetic, Marco flourish: “That’s who Marco Pierre White is. That’s the kind of man I am.”
He continues, “You know, I have never had a low point in my life. I’ve had lots of painful points. Lots of sad points. But not low points, because life is a wonderful, wonderful thing. That’s how you have to look at life.”
He has been married three times. The wives, in order of appearance in his life, are Alex McArthur, Lisa Butcher, and Matilde Conejero, the mother of his three children — Luciano, Marco Junior and daughter Mirabelle.
Do you look at the break-ups of your three marriages in a philosophical way?
“The reality is, if I reflect and I look back on my life, it’s . . .” he says, and pauses. “When we’re young, a lot of our decisions are born out of insecurity.” He takes a sip of wine.
“That’s why we make so many mistakes, because we don’t have sufficient knowledge to make a decision.”
This is the same philosopher who once jested that he perhaps knew on his wedding day, at Brompton Oratory, on August 14, 1992, that marriage to his second wife, then 21-year-old model Lisa Butcher, was a mistake, because she looked as if she had dressed to go down the catwalk rather than the aisle.
“I treated the Catholic Church like a supermarket,” he jokes now.
“When we are young, we have all the correct intentions in the world, but we are ruled by our emotions. As we get older, we start to understand life and start to accept life. That’s when we can make decisions. Our emotional growth is limited when we are younger. Our understanding of one’s self is minimal.
“So how can we make a decision? We can’t! And that’s why we end up in failed relationships. That’s why we end up in broken marriages. That’s why we end up the way we are. The system forces us to make decisions too young.”
Marco is 53 now and a lot wiser, presumably. Would he get married again?
“Of course! Of course! But, you know, I don’t believe it is necessary to get married. I think to prove your love for a person doesn’t mean you have to walk down an aisle. It means you have to go home on time. It means you have to do what’s right. And, you know — we boys are easily led astray. Another bottle of wine! Another pint of Guinness! We always turn up late.
“We have to be strong and say no,” he continues. “I have been very guilty in turning up late; where I’ve sat at the table with the boys too long; lunch has been too long; dinner has been too long.”
Would you apologise when you get home?
“How can an apology be accepted when you are intoxicated? And an apology the next day, when you are sober, is too late. Be strong. Be brave. And go home,” advises Marco, who lives in Salisbury in Wiltshire, “by the cathedral”. (He has two basset hounds — one is called Mouton, the other, Rothschild — to protect, he says, his hens.)
“That’s what I’d say,” he continues. “It is too easy to get lost with the boys.”
Is that what you’ve learned along the way?
“Of course. Being a restaurateur, midafternoon — ‘another bottle’. Down the pub — ‘another pint. Another plate of cheese. Let’s have the menus for dinner’. Boys are