The Godfather of modern cooking, Marco Pierre White talks to RTÉ.ie's Taragh Loughrey-Grant about his kids, his bad-boy rep, why he has never had a driving license and his new book 'Marco Made Easy'.
The 'Hell's Kitchen' star was due to come into our RTÉ TEN studio but was delayed and had to catch a flight home. However disappointment was short-lived when he agreed to do a phone interview en route and one by one, he vetoed all the controversial, negative, bad boy reports of yore and proved to be a charming, interesting, philanthropic interviewee.
I’m so sorry I didn’t make it. Next time, I promise you you’ll be my first port of call and I never break my promises. I’ll be coming in March, God willing, because I’m launching my beer then, it’s called 'The Governor'.
Brilliant, I’m looking forward to it as, no doubt, will your fans. You were the youngest ever chef to be awarded three Michelin stars at just 33-years of age so what made you decide to write this accessible cooking-made-easy book, ‘Marco Made Easy’?
I retired from cooking about 11 years ago, I live at home and I bring up my two boys single-handedly and I like every parent, I have to cook for my family. I’m the same as everybody else, I don’t have any assistants.
I have a kitchen cupboard filled with bottles, jars, packets. So you gotta think how can I make dinner which is tasty, in a few minutes because let’s not forget cooking should be a pleasure and not a chore. And I started just playing with ketchups, with HP’s, with Worchester sauces and that’s what I do.
Like the peppered steak in the book, it's eight minutes from start to finish or the salmon with ketchup, it's delicious and it gets children eating fish. If you look at the Tuna Sicilian, it's capers out of a jar, black olives out of a jar, bit of fresh coriander, bit of crystal salt out of a packet and its delicious.
Food should be simple, it shouldn’t be complicated, even down to making Knorr gravy, a Knorr stock cube and water, bit of parsley at the end, little bit of olive oil. It’s about making the food deliciously tasty.
Also I can’t help it, because I was in a kitchen for 22 years, but for me everything has to have a sense of occasion, it's how can you cook dinner for your friends and your family without too much technical ability and have a sense of occasion.
There’s a great line you have in the book saying "It'll take you less time to make the dishes than to wash them."
[Laughing] It’s true, trust me. Even the sea bass with the soy sauce and the sesame oil, bit of spring onions, bit of ginger, it’s just delicious and it takes no time whatsoever but it works with most fish. What I wanted people to do was cook one fish well, whether it's salmon, tuna or sea bass and I show you five ways to cook tuna for example.
I want to help get rid of the fear of the stove. Look, if it's slightly under cooked, cook it a bit more next time and if it's slightly over done, cook it a little less. A cookery book should be there for inspiration, recipes should be a guideline, and they shouldn’t be cast in stone. It should be easy, some of the dishes you should be able to do with your friends in the kitchen and a glass of wine or a pint, whatever your tipple is.
You mentioned Knorr earlier, what made you decide to promote the brand?
I love Knorr, I’ll only endorse a product that I respect and I love it. It’s like Bernard Matthews [the founder of Bernard Matthews Farms Limited, passed away in November. His company is best-known for farming turkeys.] I loved him as a man, I love the fact that he made turkeys affordable for every family.
I’m a great fan of farmed products as long as it’s done properly because it allows people to be able to afford them. If it wasn’t for farmed products a lot of people wouldn’t eat so well. When you walk around your supermarket you’ve got your shrimp, your trout, the salmon, the sea bass, they’re all farmed. You can’t knock it when individuals start to question modern day farming methods, they’re not living in the real world. It’s very easy when you earn X pounds a year to stand up on your box and preach but let's not forget the less privileged in society.
I came from the most humble side of society and I know what it's like to be poor, really poor and I was brought up in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s very poor and I’m very happy flying the flag for the working man. As my dear mother used to say, a tree without roots is a piece of wood. Never forget where you came from in this life and in my case, the apple never fell far from the tree. [Marco’s mother passed away following a brain haemorrhage aged 38 when he was six-years-old.]
With the dark, curly hair the kids in the Knorr ads are very like you and a lot of people think that they are. Are they?
No, I never use my children in any form of publicity. Everybody did but I just think children are there to be loved and nurtured and not to be used as a vehicle to promote yourself and make yourself look better.
Do you still have a three course breakfast, coffee, cigarette and a cough while in the bath?
Yes [laughing]. It’s the only room in the house I smoke in, my bathroom. I close the door, get in my bath and grab my mobile phone and my cup of tea and I have my fag.
Are you still surviving on four hours sleep?
I’m having a little bit more these days because it’s winter. In the summer I stalk a lot so I’ve very little sleep then.
Deer stalking – explain what exactly it is that you do, do you hunt or do you also shoot?
I do shoot them from time to time, I manage my herd. When they get to a certain age, then it's time to take them out because they’ve passed their genes on and they’ve lived their lives. They’ve alot their territory and it's time to let the young ones in.
Having said that, I’d never shoot anything unless I had a home for it, in the sense of eating. I don’t believe in killing for the sake of killing that’s why I stopped pheasant shooting because I couldn’t justify some of the bags that we shot so therefore I take six days a year now with my boys and all the birds go back to the restaurants and I’m very happy. Pheasants, they’re like a crop, you have to harvest them, you sow your seed, and you harvest them, it’s no different to wheat, it’s a form of farming.
It’s very nice and I love to be out there with my boys, to get them out of London, whether it's pike fishing or salmon or shooting a few pheasants, spending the day with them. As I’ve always said, Mother nature, she’s very special; she’ll always answer our questions.
Aside from off-road driving in your Range Rover, you have never had a driving license and have no intention of getting one?
I don’t drive, I never learned how, I only drive off-road and a Range Rover is very easy, it's like a big bumper car, put it into drive, put your foot on the accelerator and off you go it's genius.
Is Mr Ishii, your chauffeur, still with you?
Ah the great Mr Ishii, he is indeed. He should write his auto-biography, it would be fabulous [big dirty laugh]. He could spill the beans on me. He'll spoil that image that I have of being this bad boy!
Fifteen years he’s been with me. He’s a wonderful man; he’s a Buddhist of the highest order. He has such beautiful qualities. I don’t think I’ve ever met a finer man than Mr. Ishii. He has such integrity and such a beautiful philosophy on life.
Is the reason you don't drive because you don’t like being in traffic or stuck in a car when you could be doing something else?
Yes, I can work in my car so if I drive to the country I can work, I can make phone calls, I write, so it’s like a mobile office, it's my head office. It’s nice.
Belated Happy Birthday, I believe you celebrated your 49th birthday on Saturday [11 December]. Any plans for the big one next year?
You’re very kind. No, it's just another day for me, I thank God everyday that I’m still here to look after my babies.
To add another feather to your cap, you have also appeared on film, appearing in Matthew Vaughn's 2004 'Layer Cake' trailer?
I did the 'Layer Cake' trailer for Matthew. I’ve never seen it. I don’t know if I did a good job or a bad job but I’ve never seen it. My sons saw me on the big screen and they thought it was kind of cool.
They’re really happy that I’m bringing out my pint too, they love a pint. They don’t drink but they love the idea of it. They’re not quite old enough but if they had a chance they’d take a quick sip of mine. Luciano [whom Marco named one of his London restaurants after] is seventeen and Marco is fifteen, nearly sixteen [both sons are from White's third marriage to Mati Conejero]. They’re getting big, they’re both six foot, they’re enormous.
It’s frightening how Luciano now at seventeen, looks like his dad, it's extraordinary. In that famous picture by your fellow Irishman, Bob Carlos Clark which is really the most iconic chef pictures of all time where I’ve got the fag hanging out of my mouth and I’ve got the long hair and I’ve just won my two stars in the Michelin and Luciano is the spitting image of me. It’s quite weird really.
How do you find working with the Irish since you opened your restaurant 'Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and Grill' in Dublin?
The Irish are very honest, that’s one thing I love about them. They remind of the world I came from in Yorkshire, they’re very honest. They’ve very open, they’re very generous of spirit, they're very kind. They welcome you. Honesty is the best form of kindness.
Gordon Ramsay was one of Marco’s protégées, along with Heston Blumenthal but unlike Gordon, Marco isn’t renowned for screaming profanities in his TV show, ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ or interviews.
I think everything we do, we do for our children. People ask me why I don’t swear when I do TV or why I don’t scream or shout or belittle and I always say because my little girl is watching [White has two daughters Letitia and Mirabelle]. Empathy is something I try to teach my boys the meaning of, where they can put themselves in the position of another and I think empathy is the most beautiful of qualities that you can possess.
As you would expect from the youngest ever winner of three Michelin stars, which he earned at 33, he may have exacting high standards but had expected a surly, brusque interviewee but he was very interesting and so
Why do you have this bad boy, surly reputation in the media?
For the simple reason that as a child I was harmed and I was damaged. What had happened was that it's your self-defence mechanism to keep people away so they can’t harm you. Today what I do is I’m very simple, I'm very honest. If the person opposite can’t be as honest then that's their problem.
As I said to my son, Luciano, never forget your father came from very humble beginnings, your dear grandmother left me some very beautiful memories, my inheritance was the knowledge within the memories of the people that we loved when we were children. It's only in the last two or three years that I’ve started to take my intelligence, the memories from childhood and that I’ve taken all of that and been allowed to grow emotionally.
I made more mistakes than any other man that I ever met in my life and I know why I made those mistakes because there’s been occasions in my life when I could reflect. Making mistakes is one thing but taking the knowledge out of the mistake, is what’s important.
If they can share and be honest in return, then that’s what a beautiful friendship is all about. My methods for feeling safe within an environment are born out of honesty and great truth and the day you can open yourself up and show yourself off it’s life changing. I think that true success is self-discovery. By discovering yourself, you accept yourself. You can fall in love for the right reasons, do things for the right reasons, you have the opportunity to reach your true potential as a human being. I think that’s what is really important. I don’t do anything for fame, I just share my story.
Even in this interview, even if one person picks up on the things that I’ve said and changes their course of direction in life then I’ve done my job. I think we have a moral duty to leave this world in a better way than the world we entered.
You said before that you found it very therapeutic to write your autobiography ‘White Slave’, with James Steen.
I think everyone should write their memoirs, for their children, their grandchildren, even for themselves. It's really important to reflect and deal with issues which you’ve pushed to the back of the filing cabinet of your mind.
I think you need to bring them out and relive them and that’s the only way you can grow. It's very simple, God gave us two hands, one to receive and one to give back. If we’re all honest, we’ve all been given so much compared with some people in this world.
You are currently working ahead on the launch of your beer plus you are also writing another book?
I’m working on a book at the moment called 'Memoirs of an Apprentice'. It's about my spiritual and emotional journey as a cook and how certain characters along the way impacted on my life emotionally, spiritually as teachers.
I’m really insignificant, it’s more the characters, the individuals along the way, guiding me and protecting me who gave me opportunity. The individuals who may have harmed me will be left out of the book because I want it to be a positive book.
I want it to inspire young boys and girls, who leave school - they may or may have qualifications or they may have come from damaged or harmed families because that little book will be written in such a way that they understand. It's about sharing and passing the baton on. If you have the opportunity to enrich people’s lives you have a moral duty to do it.