British chef Marco Pierre White says he is an apprentice when it comes to Indian cuisine
Celebrity chef. Enfant terrible. The original ‘bad boy’ of the cooking world. These are just some of the words that have been used to describe 57-year-old Marco Pierre White. The Brit who shot to fame for being the youngest chef to have ever been awarded three Michelin stars (he was 33), made headlines again four years later, when he returned his stars and hung up his apron, to embark on a different kind of food journey — one that allowed him to explore the culinary world as a restaurateur and a TV presenter.
Going by what we’ve seen of his personality on shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef Australia and knowing that he made his protégé Gordon Ramsay cry, we admit to being a tad intimidated on a call with the chef, who was on his maiden visit to India to judge the fourth edition of the World On A Plate culinary festival in Mumbai last week. More so, when we heard that he binned what seemed like a perfectly good plate of his signature dish that he had cooked — mushroom risotto — simply because he thought it wouldn’t photograph well for the cameras at the event. What we hear instead, is a voice that is patient, personal and philosophical. Excerpts from a chat with the controversial chef:
We cannot help but wonder what took Marco so long to come to India, considering he has expressed his love for Indian food repeatedly on Masterchef Australia, where he serves as a guest judge and coach. “I have been very lucky in my life to travel around the world. India is one of the very few countries I dreamt of going to. Through food, you can inspire people, enrich people’s lives and make them dream. As the great Einstein said on his deathbed — everything happens for a reason. There is no such thing as a coincidence. So I believe this was the right time for me to come here,” he begins.
His thoughts on Indian food, we prod. “I regard Indian cuisine when done properly, to be one of the finest cuisines in the world. But I am an apprentice when it comes to Indian cooking. One is never too old to learn. I look forward to learning and being taught how to use spices correctly and the techniques of Indian cuisine,” he says, raving about the sambar he had for lunch earlier that day, and his love for kaju katli. Ask him if he would like to collaborate with an Indian chef, and he humbly offers, “I don’t have sufficient knowledge of the cuisine to collaborate. But I am very happy to learn. It is important to know your position. If I were to ever start a restaurant, then I would still be an apprentice.”
Marco has had many great chefs train under him, including Gordon Ramsay and Australian chefs Shannon Bennett and Curtis Stone. But he doesn’t like to take credit for their success, even if it is due, he opines. “Their success is theirs. I can never turn anyone into a three-star chef. If there was anything that I could give them was discipline — three-star discipline. There are a lot of chefs in this world who have more talent than I do. I was never talented. I just knew the value of something. I knew the value of three stars on a plate. I am not a fantasist and I believe that we live in a world of refinement, not invention. When I put something on my plate, I knew its value. I never had to be told,” he explains.
While on the topic of three stars, we ask him if he has any regrets on returning his Michelin stars, and he says, “Returning the three stars was a stepping stone of discovery. To be brutally honest I was the composer and a conductor and it was my team that was the orchestra that created the symphony. Once I gave the stars back, I just set out to be the boy my mother wanted me to be — a kind person that’s all.”
Mum’s the word
In fact, in his book, White Heat, that came out 25 years ago, Marco describes his relationship with his mother in detail and also talks about how he’d never chosen to be a chef. “I was a boy who always respected his parents. It was my father’s decision to make me a chef. I used that profession to make him proud of me, to make him acknowledge me — not to be a failure which I was, in his eyes, while I was growing up,” he recounts.
We wonder out loud if the world now sees a mellowed down version of Marco. “All men mellow. It is a part of growing old. Through mellowing, you get understanding and patience. If you don’t have patience or understanding at my age, then you live a life of regrets,” he signs off.