Exclusive: Marco Pierre White talks to Somerset Life Editor Natalie Vizard
PUBLISHED: 08:33 23 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:53 20 February 2013
In an exclusive interview, Natalie Vizard talks to the godfather of modern cooking about his new Congresbury venture, the Steakhouse, Bar & Grill, the benefits of sourcing local suppliers and his passion for the Somerset countryside
Marco Pierre White: the godfather of modern cooking
Ill happily admit to feeling a little nervous when preparing for my interview with Marco Pierre White about his latest venture, The Steakhouse, Bar & Grill, which recently opened at the Doubletree by Hilton Cadbury House Hotel just outside Bristol in Congresbury. However, it was more because of my admiration for the man who reached the high accolade of being rated a three-Michelin Star chef at the young age of 33, than because of his allegedly fearsome reputation. I actually dont find him fearsome at all, but thoroughly charming. I have a high regard for him as a man with passion for feeding people great food, inspiring young chefs and his no-nonsense attitude to life.
Marco Pierre White first began his training in the kitchen at the Hotel St George in Harrogate, North Yorkshire and later at the Box Tree in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. Marco tells me, In those days, everything was in London, so therefore, to have the opportunity to work in a two-Michelin Star restaurant locally was like finding hens teeth.
7.36, a box of books and a bag of clothes, he began his classical training as a commis chef under Albert Roux and Michel Roux at La Gavroche
Arriving in London as a 16-year-old with 7.36, a box of books and a bag of clothes, he began his classical training as a commis chef under Albert Roux and Michel Roux at La Gavroche. Marco tells me that as he was inspired by great chefs in his youth, he now enjoys passing on that inspiration to the next generation of young talented chefs. I think the greatest gift you have is inspiring young boys and girls. Its like when I do Hells Kitchen. I dont swear, I dont scream, I dont shout, I dont belittle. I guide people and inspire people the way I was guided and inspired.
When I ask Marco about who inspired him most, he responds, All the chefs I have worked with inspired me in a different way. However, my motivation was borne out of my dear mother. My mother motivates me and inspires me. I can certainly relate to this, and I think this is true of so many people.
At 24, Marco became Head Chef and joint owner of Harveys, with a kitchen staff that included the young Gordon Ramsey and Heston Blumenthal. And it was at this time that he formed a friendship that has stood the test of time: I work with an old friend of mine called Francis Caroll, who heads it all up. We were together as boys years ago, he was at La Gavroche and I was at Harveys. He now works for Sanguine Hospitality Management in charge of all operations.
Although the Cadbury House Steakhouse & Grill follows the same premise as Marcos Chester venture of the same name, Marco tells me, Every restaurant is different, even though the consistency and style is similar, every space that you have is different so therefore the feel is different. They are all individual thats the way it should be with a modern-day chain: each one should be individual. And tailored to the environment it is created in, the area you put it in.
Marco puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of local knowledge and produce, and the team setting up the Steakhouse put a plea out to all local suppliers to come forward if they felt their wares could pass muster with the exacting standards Marco insists upon. Marco comments: I think what you have to do when you open in the countryside is to build relationships with the local suppliers. We have fantastic produce in Somerset. The only thing we dont get locally is the beef, well get that from Scotland, unless there is a beef farmer that can deliver the spec. Its all about consistency really.
Marco famously stopped cooking professionally 11 years ago, and so now it is all about the team he has working with him: You only need to employ two key people the head chef and the restaurant manager. If you employ the right people then they employ the right people. Marco also believes that it is very important to create employment in areas rather than just importing a team. It just seems to me a very logical way of working, because of the amount of knowledge, for example, a local chef can bring to you in the sense of suppliers and other chefs; the head chefs and managers knowledge of the area are greater than mine, and thats why I think it is so important that were all one link within a chain. Its about making a team decision, not an individual decision.
If you think that it is just a case of Marco putting his name to the project, then youre wrong. In part this is due to Marcos passion for spending time in the Somerset countryside, as he relishes the excellent opportunities within the county to go deerstalking and shooting. I spend a fair amount of time down there. Its a very, very pretty county, isnt it? Lots of patchwork hills, nice people, it is one of my favourite counties actually. Ive been visiting Somerset for years.
Ill be spending quite a lot of time at the Doubletree by Hilton Cadbury House Hotel for the simple reason that I spend a lot of time in Somerset anyway. So a lot of my part-time pleasure is only half an hours drive away from the Doubletree.
When I ask Marco if he is aiming for any kinds of awards, he politely but firmly replies, No, its about feeding people at the right price within the right environment and with the right level of service. If you start to chase awards then youre doing what youre doing for the wrong reason. The best reward you can be given is when customers continue to return to your restaurant and spend the money that theyve worked very hard for.
It is this attitude of mind that is so evident in the TV series Hells Kitchen. I hope you approve of the way I conducted myself in the kitchen? What I do is I hide their mistakes, I protect them, because its all about feeding a room full of people in an hour and fifteen minutes to a standard, and at the end of the day a chefs job is to inspire people. I have to be firm, because I have a job to do and I have to lead them through that minefield of complication and to guide them. What I realised is that the time I had with them was not enough to teach them how to cook. What I could do is teach them systems. Dissolve their fear of the stove and get them working as a team get them wanting to do it and not wanting to be asked off the show. Everyone has their style of leadership.
When I ask Marco finally if there are any pearls of wisdom he would pass on to aspiring chefs in the region, he replies, The best advice I could give anybody is that you make sure you work in the right establishment with the right chef. Be respectful and keep your head down and work hard. It is very important for a young boy or a young girl to step into the right establishment then they learn the right way and not the wrong way.