When Marco Pierre White’s book White Heat was published in 1990, the first rock star celebrity chef was born. Marco single-handedly changed the world’s opinion of British cuisine and made his London restaurant, Harveys in Wandsworth Commons, the center of a culinary revolution in the late eighties and early nineties. Born to a British father and Italian mother, he grew up in humble surroundings on a Leeds County estate. Coming up through the ranks, Marco learned his trade working for some of the best French chefs in England, such as Albert Roux, Nico Ladenis, Pierre Koffman, and Raymond Blanc. In turn, he became teacher and mentor to a group of men who would later become some of the most influential cooks in the world. A partial list of these cooks would include Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal, Mario Batali, Eric Chavot, and James Atherton.
His antics in the kitchen made him a media darling in England. The press loved to cover his penchant for throwing out rowdy diners and his take-no-prisoners approach in the kitchen. He practiced stern discipline with his cooks and his tongue lashings, or “bollockings,” were legendarily harsh. So harsh, in fact, that famously derisive and sarcastic celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who cut his teeth in Marco’s kitchen, was once reduced to tears. The London Telegraph dubbed him “the pot throwing, chain smoking, rock star chef of his generation.”
With that said, nothing should ever cloud the fact that he is one of the most influential cooks to ever live. Marco was a man possessed; he had to be the best. Those closest to him insist that his pursuit for excellence went way beyond a passion for food; it was a quest for perfection. In the world of fine dining, the Michelin Guide is the gold standard. Being awarded one or two Michelin Stars is the pinnacle of recognition for a chef. Three Michelin Stars is an award that goes beyond merely being an amazing chef to being a complete restaurateur. Marco was the first British chef and the youngest anywhere to be awarded three stars.
In my cooking life Marco Pierre White is one of the chefs I respect the most. He is a strident proponent of organic food and farm-to-table cooking. Many of his culinary philosophies strike a chord deep within my kitchen sensibilities. Marco likes to say that “we are in an age of refinement, not invention; all the greatest dishes have been done, Mother Nature is the true artist and our job as cooks is to allow her to shine.” It took me a long time to really appreciate the profound wisdom contained in that statement. I appreciate refined dishes, presented beautifully, but do not enjoy overly contrived food. Tagliatelle of oysters is my all time favorite Marco dish. This course was oysters sitting on a nest of tagliatelle pasta with cucumber, caviar, and a rich butter sauce.
The dish pictured above was inspired by Chef White’s classic masterpiece. In my version I use sea scallops. When creating a dish I strive for balance and harmony throughout. Rarely will I put something on a plate that cannot be eaten; in this case I made an exception and used the scallop shell for presentation. To secure the shell in place the base of the dish is a Wakame, or seaweed salad. Now, one of the ingredients used in making my Wakame is rice wine vinegar. I used the same rice wine vinegar to make the butter emulsion sauce that the leeks cooked in. That is what I mean by harmony within a dish. The rest of the course is white wine capellini pasta, fresh savory, and the pan-roasted sea scallop.
Ultimately, Marco Pierre White retired from the kitchen in 1999, never to cook commercially again. Additionally, he became disillusioned with the Michelin Guide, and made history once more by being the first chef to give back his stars. Upon his retirement he said “I was being judged by people who had less knowledge than me, so what was it truly worth? I gave the Michelin inspectors too much respect, and I belittled myself. I had three options: I could be a prisoner of my world and continue to work six days a week, I could live a lie and charge high prices and not be behind my stove, or spend time with my children and re-invent myself.” Obviously, he chose the third option and has since become a fixture on British television with numerous cooking shows. Marco remains an active restaurateur with monetary investments in numerous businesses. Reading his books White Heat and The Devil in the Kitchen made a huge impact on me as a young cook. Marco’s passion for the craft of cooking and his love of Mother Nature is an inspiration to us all.Powered by Sidelines