“There are no rules in gas­tron­omy”

af­ter what some might call a lengthy hia­tus, en f ant ter­ri­ble—no longer an enf ant—Marco Pierre White is go­ing back to ba­sics with his new cook­book… and he has more than a mouth­ful to say about the miche­lin guide and to bud ding chefs

WKND - - Top Chef - by ro­hit nair

“He’s just a Bri­tish bloke named Mark White,” is what the pub­lisher of Marco Pierre White’s lat­est cook­book Es­sen­tially Marco tells me while I wait to speak to the man him­self. I’m sure that’s what he says to ev­ery­one who is about to meet Marco. Per­haps it calms the nerves. Maybe I can use that if he starts shout­ing at me, al­though that might back­fire. Ter­ri­bly. I’ll stick to Mr White, thank you very much.

Marco cer­tainly ex­udes some of his en­fant ter­ri­ble per­sona when you’re up close, par­tic­u­larly be­cause of his tow­er­ing height. But a smile and warm hand­shake says an­other story. Marco, like many great artists — he cites how Andy Warhol or Pablo Pi­casso went from cre­at­ing highly tech­ni­cal pieces in their youth to looser and sim­pler art­works in their later years — has reached a phase in life where less is def­i­nitely more. “This book is not about try­ing to turn cooks into Miche­lin starred chefs. That takes years and you can’t hope to be­come one through recipe books. This cook­ery book strips away all the com­plex­i­ties of restau­rant cook­ing, keeps things sim­ple and shows peo­ple what I like to make at home.”

He is quite proud of this cook­book and is happy to be in Dubai for its launch ( which hap­pened a few weeks ago — in­ci­den­tally it was launched here be­fore other mar­kets). “Cook­ery books are not about the recipes. It’s about giv­ing peo­ple in­spi­ra­tion, and that’s what Es­sen­tially Marco is sup­posed to be,” he says. “If you like the ideas, you can adapt them to your own tastes. There are no rules in gas­tron­omy. The palate should dic­tate, not the cook­ery book. The point of a cook­ery book is to guide and in­spire you, not to im­press you. If you want to im­press, cook with heart,” he says.

There are plenty of recipes out there to tell you how to make a hol­landaise sauce or to teach you how to make a type of stock, he ex­plains with dead se­ri­ous eyes. But Marco is keener on chang­ing the way peo­ple cook at home and how they pre­serve cook­ing sim­ple food. “If I make a risotto at home, I bring it out in the pan to the ta­ble. I serve peo­ple at the ta­ble. Food should al­ways be on the ta­ble like that, which is why I quite like the way peo­ple eat here — ev­ery­thing is served to­gether and you take what you want, how much you want, when you want. Also, if you serve your food in the pan or pot it was cooked in, at least it con­tin­ues to stay warm. Most cook­ery books have all these great pic­tures of plated food, and home cooks try to repli­cate that. But they don’t re­alise that they don’t have the in­fra­struc­ture to make that hap­pen at home. The food doesn’t take cen­tre stage.”

He also laments about how things have got­ten too for­mal for him in the West, when com­pared to the big fam­ily- style shar­ing meals more com­mon here. “You sit down and they bring you your first course, and then you wait for your main course and then you

The point of a cook­ery book is To guide and in­spire you, not To im­press you. if you want To im­press, cook with heart

wait for the next… It’s lit­tle por­tions, and 18 cour­ses of them! Who wants to eat that? They’re al­ways tepid and cold. I hate cold food,” he says, dis­miss­ing it with a wave of his hand.

But wait a minute, isn’t that what he did all those years ago? And what about all the chefs who are learn­ing to do this very thing as you read this? “I go to culi­nary schools and tell the young chefs to stop try­ing to repli­cate that. I ex­plain to them why it’s very im­por­tant to cook what you want to eat.”

Of course, he doesn’t dis­miss the tech­ni­cal skills you learn in culi­nary school. “When you’re young, you put all your en­er­gies into learn­ing the tech­ni­cal de­tails, like an artist who has to learn to be a draughts­man first. Once you’ve mas­tered that very tech­ni­cal as­pect, then your con­fi­dence grows and you start to dis­cover your­self. You start to draw and paint, and cook, out­side the lines. And you start do­ing what you en­joy. You have to learn the tech­ni­cal abil­i­ties, of course, but that’s the road to sim­plic­ity,” he ex­plains. “Our par­ents and grand­par­ents didn’t fid­get around with their food. They just cooked with what they had and of­ten it was meat on the bone, with the skin, with all the odd bits. That’s what cook­ing at home needs to be like.”

Talk­ing about Es­sen­tially Marco, Marco weaves in sto­ries of his child­hood and why there’s a sense of ro­mance in cook­ing and why you have to love what you do. “A recipe can con­fuse you, but a story can in­spire you. When I used to watch my mother and my grand­mother cook, they’d al­ways tell me sto­ries. Those sto­ries have al­ways had a strong con­nec­tion with food for me. And that’s where the ro­mance of food comes in — the sto­ries that they in­spire. But most im­por­tantly, you have to love cook­ing,” he adds, “Be­cause if you don’t, you’ll taste the dif­fer­ence. You can tell when a menu is de­cided by ac­coun­tants and when it’s done by a chef. You can go to great restau­rants where ev­ery­thing is tech­ni­cal. That’s not food be­cause it’s not love.

“My favourite restau­rant in Lon­don — Koff­mann’s at The Berke­ley in Knights­bridge — doesn’t have any Miche­lin stars. The chef used to be my boss years ago. He cooks food that you want to eat. And that’s what a true three Miche­lin starred chef does — cooks food you want to eat on a daily ba­sis.”

At the end of the day, cook­ing is within you, Marco tells me, which sounds like some­thing a 50- year- old chef who just hap­pened to be, at the time, the youngest chef to be awarded three Miche­lin stars would say. “But,” and there’s al­ways a but, “you have to bring it out of your­self. No one can teach you, they can only show you. You teach your­self. You make mis­takes and that teaches you how to be per­fect. You have to un­der­stand food and be able to an­a­lyse it. And re­mem­ber that it’s not about im­press­ing peo­ple, but in­spir­ing peo­ple. Most cook­ery books are about try­ing to im­press your guests. But that’s not the end goal. It’s about the emo­tional im­pact of food.”

Great chefs, he says have three things in com­mon. First, they ac­cept and re­spect that mother na­ture is a true artist and they’re just the cooks. Sec­ond, ev­ery­thing they do is an ex­ten­sion of them­selves as in­di­vid­ual peo­ple. And third, they give you, the diner, an in­sight into the world which in­spires us all.

Marco is also very vo­cal about ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pen­ing in restau­rants these days, and for a mo­ment re­vis­its his ‘ 18 course of cold and tepid food’ com­ment. “The more you do to food, the more you take away from it. Just stop with the strange com­bi­na­tions and try­ing to do what you’re not,” he says. Chefs, you have been warned.

And while his blood is at this el­e­vated pres­sure, he takes the op­por­tu­nity to lam­bast the Miche­lin guide for dis­tort­ing its sole pur­pose of ex­is­tence. “Miche­lin to­day is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from what it used to be. In the old days, to win a star you had to work re­ally hard. To win two stars, you had to prove that you were con­sis­tent. To win three stars, you had to do that over many, many years. To­day, they go to New York or Tokyo and on year one, some new restau­rant has three stars! Last year, there were 150 restau­rants in the guide, and guess how many had stars?” he asks, but I’m a bit afraid of get­ting the an­swer wrong. “All of them,” he quickly in­ter­jects. “I have no re­spect for Miche­lin any­more,” he adds be­fore talk­ing about his ex­pe­ri­ence at a restau­rant in New York re­cently. “About half­way through the meal, which was just av­er­age, I was in­formed that the restau­rant had a Miche­lin star. The next day, I went and bought a Miche­lin guide and I was hor­ri­fied to find it was true.

“Ear­lier, you never got a star if the wait­ers wore jeans — you had to have a uni­form,” adds Marco. “I know what you had to do be­cause I won three of the bloody things! You had to be con­sis­tent over a pe­riod of time, too.” But, the most im­por­tant thing about be­ing a Miche­lin starred chef, ac­cord­ing to Marco, is be­ing be­hind the stove. “If I’m go­ing to go a three Miche­lin starred restau­rant, I want the man whose name is above the door to be cook­ing for me be­hind the stove. I’ll pay my Dh500 a head to eat there.” It was the rea­son he left the kitchen in 1999. “I didn’t want to be be­hind the stove any­more, and it was not the right thing to do to keep my name up there if I’m not cook­ing. When you have those stars and you’re not there, then how can you hold your head up high? I would ques­tion my in­tegrity.”

But now there’s more clar­ity, says Marco. “I can do what I want to do and go where I want to with­out hav­ing that pres­sure. I was able to put this cook­book to­gether and think about all the things I had learnt from all my years be­hind the stove… And I hope that the lessons in here will help guide and in­spire peo­ple to cook and share sto­ries of food.”

ro­hit@ khalee­j­times. com

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.